Why Self-Esteem, Fairness & Serenity Are Overrated

Photographed by Tom Corbett.
F*ck Feelings is the ultimate anti-self-help book. Rather than suggesting that readers honor every single one of their emotions, as many self-help books do, father-daughter author duo Michael I. Bennett, MD, and Sarah Bennett say that you shouldn't live and die by how you feel. "It’s not that you have to have an unemotional and clinical approach to everything," Sarah is quick to clarify. "It’s [about] not letting your emotions cloud how you view problem-solving."

The title comes on strong, but the Bennetts' view of self-help is definitely more nuanced than that. Michael explains that, when people act only on their feelings, it can lead to an unreasonable, knee-jerk response: "Thinking before you speak — thinking of the consequences and where it’s going to get you and how it fits with your values — is a lot better than venting and then regretting what you’ve said." When you don't let your feelings direct what you do, you start thinking and seeing your problems from a much more practical point of view. With practicality, the Bennetts argue, comes simplicity.

One step toward simplicity that's discussed throughout the book is the process of reconsidering your wishes vs. your goals. "Goals take into account that there’s a lot you don’t control, and wishes don’t. Wishes are about what you want...whether you have any control or you don’t," says Michael. He emphasizes the importance of understanding how much power you actually have to change something: "When I ask somebody to think about their goals, [I’m] really asking them to think hard about what they do and don’t control."

Along with shifting from wishes to goals comes the need to lower — or, in Sarah's words, readjust — your expectations. "Having it all" isn't exactly in the Bennetts' plan for you. In fact, Sarah quickly rebuts that idea as downright unrealistic: "Does doing your best automatically correlate to getting the best? No!" If your best efforts are unsuccessful, it doesn't mean you're a failure. That kind of thinking, Sarah explains, "is just going to make yourself miserable."

We spoke with Michael and Sarah about how you can distance yourself from your feelings in several difficult areas of everyday life. Check out what they had to say about fairness, self-esteem, assholes, and more below — and start telling your feelings to fuck off every once in a while.
Photographed by Tom Corbett.
Self-Esteem
Michael: "There’s a lot out there that says, ‘If you don’t like yourself and you don’t feel good about yourself, that’s a problem you need to work harder on.’ Our view is that there are a lot of good people who just don’t tend to feel good about themselves. Maybe they’re perfectionists; maybe they’re depressed. There are a lot of differences there, and...a lot of kinds of happiness and pain that you can’t make go away very quickly. But, if...you’re trying hard to be a good person, and you’re trying hard to find your way and do your work...then you can work at appreciating the good job you’re doing. It might not make you happy, but it can give you pride. In saying this [in the book], I feel like we’re going back in some ways — not to be religious about it — to Christ’s parables. A lot of his parables had that point. They weren’t about poor people becoming rich, great, and happy. They were about people just trying to do the right thing... That is something that’s really difficult and really deserves a lot of respect."

Sarah:
"I don’t know much about Christ, but I always think in the context of RuPaul. At the end of every episode, he says, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how can you love anybody else?’ And I don’t really hold that [to be] true. I think you need to respect yourself, but even if you wake up every day and feel like a loser...you might say, ‘Yes, that’s [how I feel], but I’m getting out of bed, I’m going to work...I’m going to be nice to other people, I’m going to meet my expectations and go home — and do it all again the next day.’ That’s a respectable effort... I do hate disagreeing with RuPaul, but I think he’s got it wrong on that one."

Serenity
S: "What we’re speaking to in that chapter is the notion that stress is just bad — that stress is a killer. We always try and look at the flip side, especially with stress and how anxiety actually is what has kept you alive, in the Darwinian sense. It led you to this moment, because you had a very anxious ancestor who was aware that the wooly mammoth was approaching the watering hole. So, we’re trying to get people to stop beating themselves up about not being able to achieve relaxation or zen. If we were all totally mellow people, we would all just be rafting guides or yogis. That’s not going to happen. There’s a plus to being a bit of a stress case. Obviously, too much of anything is bad, but the way that people torment themselves for having any stress in their lives is unnecessary. Again, it just makes you feel even worse."

M: "Living with anxiety, and not feeling like a failure because you feel anxious, is important."

Communication
M:
"It certainly feels good when you can communicate well with people. But, sometimes you can communicate well with somebody, and...they’re not going to do their share. They’re not going to be solid people, but they’re going to be great communicators... Whereas, you [might] have some friends or business partners or a spouse [who] is not a good communicator but is really solid. Overvaluing communication can be a problem... If communication on certain things isn’t so hot, but a lot of other things are really good, that’s when we urge you to think of [communication as something] that might not be that important to you, given the other things that are."
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Photographed by Tom Corbett.
S: "A friend of mine [is] dating this guy who, she says, doesn’t talk that much. But she’ll mention that he does really sweet things for her. He once drove out into a snowstorm to pick her up from work because she wasn’t used to driving in bad weather... And I said...'If you really want someone to communicate with...find a good hairdresser, [or] have your girlfriends for that.' For [people] like that, who just don’t want to chat that much but have so many other virtues and are good partners, is it really worth weighing whether they want to hear the full run-down of your day versus whether they’re going to be there for you?"

Fairness
M:
"We’re Jews. (Laughs.) We have a passion for fairness. That...can even cause more unfair things to happen. [We suggest that you try] accepting that life’s unfair while still trying to do good when you can — not feeling that you have to stand up and say something about everything that’s unfair... Getting people to think in terms of more complicated ethics and not responding in a knee-jerk way... I think those are very important skills for living and being a good person in a world that has tons of unfairness."

S: "We’re not advocating that everyone should just swallow injustice. It’s more about looking at justice in a pragmatic way. You wouldn’t just rage against something because it’s unfair; I mean, that’s what toddlers do. The idea that, That’s unfair, and I have to do something about it, well, what’s the positive thing that you can do? What’s the real-life application? Would a boycott be more effective than an angry protest?... That’s the real problem with unfairness: [It causes] such a visceral, emotional reaction. It can often lead you to act rashly, do things that aren’t very constructive — things that will not benefit you or lead to any positive return... [With] millennials...[the stereotype is] they expect that if they do the best, they’ll be the best, and when that doesn’t happen, it feels unfair. There is a fundamental unfairness to life. That’s just the way things are. It’s learning to accept that unfairness and keep going...[Don't] sit in the corner and say, ‘Well then, I’m taking my toys and going home.’"

Assholes
S:
"It’s not that my father has seen a lot of patients who are assholes; it’s that he sees a lot of people who have been the victims of assholes. And they often come in baffled as to what happened — why did their business partner or their best friend or their spouse suddenly turn on them? It [happens so frequently that] it necessitated a clinical diagnosis... When someone comes after you with the wrath of god, it feels very personal. But if they’re an asshole, that’s just what they do. [This thinking] helps people who’ve been victimized by assholes [to] get some perspective, feel a little less wounded, and be able to get enough space that they lose that motivation to try...to fight back, because you can’t win. You’re just going to make it worse... To get that distance, to take the deep breath, will help you recover from that asshole attack much more quickly and minimize the damage... People also think that assholes [have] neon signs over their heads that say, ‘This is a bad person'... It never works that way. They’re often very charismatic and ingratiating. They don’t have a lot of boundaries, so they make you feel very close to them very quickly, and then that’s where the blindsiding comes in — and the trip to the psychiatrist comes in not long after."

M: "People would feel like they were in a conflict and, if they found the right thing to say, or were forceful enough or assertive enough, that they could straighten out a relationship... Some of the time, the facts of their relationship suggested that the person they were dealing with was really a jerk...and no matter what they said, it would just be experienced as something that would stimulate that person to be angrier or nastier. Sometimes, [people can] seem very nice when you get to know them, maybe particularly nice because they’re more available emotionally and they’re more responsive...but, when you look hard at them, the bad experience that you have with them is similar to other experiences they’ve had [with others]... Accepting the fact that some people can’t [change their behavior] — they’re really awful, and they can’t help it — is also part of...moving on... A lot of the problems shrinks see are because of assholes. If there’s one good reason they’re in this world, it’s to make business for shrinks and lawyers. [Laughs]"

S: "Talk about grappling with the unfairness of life. There’s one reason that life will always be a little unfair: The world is populated, at least in part, by assholes, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it… But, at least it’s not personal."

You can preorder F*ck Feelings, available next Tuesday, September 1, here.
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