Let's Write Our Real Résumés at Long LastBy:
Sometimes life with low self-esteem is like life on a horrible high-tech treadmill outfitted with boxing gloves poised precisely at face-level and programmed to pummel—bam bam bam—at spontaneous intervals, for random spans of time. The boxing gloves have no "on/off" switch. Nor do the treadmill's headphones, from which blare nonstop insults and humiliating jokes. Nor, for that matter, does the treadmill. Too rapid to let us hop off easily, it goes and goes.
One way I've found to short-circuit the treadmill—reach around the back and yank its plug out of the wall—is by not thinking of myself. At all. Distraction. Action. Getting totally absorbed with anything that is not me: a song, a chore, a job, or those two birds on that branch right now.
When that's not possible—during sleepless nights, say, or when contemplating holidays—try this exercise. Yes, it requires thinking of our selves—but in fresh, harmless ways.
Let's call this exercise the "Rescue Résumé," because it might rescue us from ... ourselves.
First, list some basic facts that prove you're not a monster. For instance, in my case: I've never murdered anyone, poisoned a lake or burned a town. Such statements might seem baldly obvious, but realize: Other people really do those awful things. And you have not. Quickly, keep listing I-am-not-a-monster facts. I've never harpooned whales, held hostages or fed my family shattered glass. Make it a game, but understand that it is also deadly serious, because it's true. Call this scraping the bottom of the esteem-saving barrel, but it feels as welcome as ice water after thirty years of thirst.
And while it's generally toxic to compare ourselves to others, as this can spur chronic envy, self-beration and perfectionism, comparing ourselves (positively) to killers and arsonists is fine. Trust me on this.
Let's move on to achievements. Ask yourself: To whom—or what—have I brought comfort, order, joy, ease, beauty, healing, hope, inclusion, revelation, resolution, entertainment, safety, wisdom, wellness and/or peace? The answer(s) need not be specific individuals, or anyone you personally know, or human beings at all. It might be loved ones, sure, but just as validly might be customers, coworkers or random passersby. Members of other species. A region. An ocean. Trees.
Make this list as direct or abstract as you like, right down to My customers love these haircuts I provide or I made Sarah laugh when she was scared or Sailors arrive safely in port thanks to this satellite I helped design to I feed bees by planting flowers. Create concentric circles of actions for which you deserve thanks. Maybe you never received hugs or smiles, but not all gratitude can be seen, heard or touched.
Remind yourself of this. Now make another list.
This time, ponder accomplishments that are great in and of themselves but, given the personal struggles you overcame to attain them, are truly astounding. In my case: I earned a BA from a famous university. But how I managed to attend classes and study—much less earn good grades—while in the grips of anorexia and hypochondria, while despising that university and while in constant combat with my roommates is a mystery. This is not inscribed upon my diploma, but yay me.
As shameful and forbidden and unmerited as this might feel, consider writing down or printing out your Rescue Résumé, then keeping it where you can read it during self-loathing emergencies. I cringed like anything while writing mine, but realized in the process that these weren't lies or grotesque boasts but facts. One symptom of self-loathing is temporary memory loss: So easily, so willingly, as if instructed to do so, we forget our own feats.
Remember. And, for five or fifty or a thousand things, yay you.
Anneli Rufus’ latest work, Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, was released by Tarcher Penguin in May 2014 and continues this path, addressing self-esteem.