Spirituality & Health Magazine

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Tue, December 30 2014

What's the One and Only New Year's Resolution That People With Low Self-Esteem Should Make?

By:
Anneli Rufus

This is the time of year -- and pretty much the only time of year -- when the plural noun "resolutions" comes into frequent usage. Suddenly every blog, magazine and TV talk show exhorts us to make some.

But as well-intended as those exhortations are, the very notion of resolutions is at heart problematic for anyone who struggles with low self-esteem.

What, after all, is a resolution? A vow to change oneself for the better. And what, after all, is low self-esteem? A prolonged state of delusion whose main message and nonstop narrative is: "You're totally unbearable the way you are, so change this about yourself and change that about yourself and, by heavens, if you hope for even the faintest chance to become even marginally likable, employable and/or otherwise acceptable, then you must devote every effort to changing how you look, act, talk, walk, eat and do everything else.

"Change," command our inner critics, in trigger-pulling tones rising from singsongy taunting to spit-spraying shouting. "Change, change, CHANGE."

Not change as opportunity or change for variety or or change for fun or change to feel better. Not change to expand your horizons, but rather (and always, and only) change to eradicate the horrible self that you currently are and pretty much always have been. Change or stay horrible. What? Are you quaking hesitantly in the face of these imprecations regarding the massive changes required to render you even marginally OK?

If so, you are lazy and sluggish and cowardly and resistant and pessimistic and disobedient. In other words, you are proving yourself to be horrible in six whole new ways.

And while I know from experience that turning down the volume of those inner voices might take all your strength, try it long enough to consider this: Low self-esteem is a miserable affliction which is not its victims' own fault but whose main symptom is the belief that everything bad is its victims' fault.

So in a sense, we who struggle with self-loathing should resolve to make no resolutions—except maybe this one:

I resolve to accept the idea that I need not change anything about myself this year (or maybe ever) except the way in which I judge myself. I need not change anything about myself except the harsh criticisms I chronically unleash upon myself. I need not change anything except the warped lens through which I watch my every move. I need not change anything except the funhouse mirror which I carry with me everywhere and whose distorted reflections I believe are real.

I resolve to accept the idea that my main problem is not my face, body or résumé but my frame of mind. Granted, that's a pretty big problem, as this frame of mind affects every aspect of my life and might be making me too depressed right now to even realize that I'm depressed, much less able to imagine changing. Anything. Ever. At all.

But this is the great thing about holidays: They're temporal gateways, urging us collectively to enact virtual rituals. Today is not just any random day. It's a shift, proclaimed around the world. And into that gaping chasm between old year and new, that crevasse over which we now walk a short bright temporary bridge, we can hurl those warped lenses and funhouse mirrors, all of us. Down that gap we can yell our last harsh words about ourselves, and hear their echoes dissolve into gibberish then ebb into that vast, inviting silence as we hasten, set free, to that smiling, untried other side.

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.

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