How To Actually Stop Hating Yourself

Maybe you flunked a test, got some unexpectedly critical notes on a presentation, or just got yelled at by a crazy person on the subway. We all have blue moments; it's when those feelings of low self-esteem become ingrained that they start to rob us of control over our lives. That's why Anneli Rufus wrote Unworthy: How To Stop Hating Yourself. We talked to Rufus to find out more about beating those monsters.

Why did you decide to write Unworthy?
"My mother died a few years ago, and after she was gone, I was thinking about her life. I realized that she had spent her entire 84 years in a state of self-loathing. Although she hadn’t intended to pass this on to me, she did. Some of my earliest memories of her [are of her] looking at her reflection in the mirror, telling herself 'You’re a pig.'

"[So, I] grew up thinking that’s what grownups do; that's what ladies do. I knew other people who’d gotten self-esteem issues in different ways; [they had] suffered from some kind of exclusion, such as homophobia or racism. And, I realized there were so many ways of getting into this state of being, but once we’re in it, many of us have the same kind of bad habits.

"[For instance,] people with low self-esteem have a hard time making choices. I thought that if I wrote about ways of working out of [low self-esteem], I could help people not throw their lives away with self-loathing — it’s a waste of a life."

We talk ourselves out of opportunities because we think we don’t deserve them.

Anneli Rufus
What common behaviors could be a result of low self-esteem?
"There’s the compulsive apologizing, the inability to choose, there is a sense that everything is an act, and there’s a sense of performance anxiety for everything — everything feels fake because you think your real self (that you don’t even want to think about) is unacceptable.

"There’s a sense of perfectionism. You think you're so far below everyone else [that you] have to try a hundred times as hard just to be equal.

"It can be hard to say no or have boundaries. We get ourselves into situations that aren’t good for us, and we keep ourselves out of situations that are good for us. We talk ourselves out of opportunities because we think we don’t deserve them."

How do we turn our self-perceived "flaws" into strengths?

"The first thing to do is become aware of them. Even though I knew I had low self-esteem for most of my life, when I wrote the book, I wasn’t as aware as I should have been [of how it] completely ran my life and how much [it was] in control of my decisions.

"What we need to do is first be self-aware [and ask ourselves,] What am I really thinking when I’m apologizing for something I didn’t do wrong?

"[Then,] get below that and ask, Why do I think I deserve punishment? What is my story? Little by little, you can reach an understanding that [you] might have been believing a lie.

"We can accept [that] in little nuggets. I’m not asking for people to aim for super-high self-esteem, [which can be] self-centered. Instead, I say let's aim for the middle: basic self-acceptance. I have weak points because I’m a human being, but I also have strong points."

What am I really thinking when I’m apologizing for something I didn’t do wrong?

Anneli Rufus
What makes self-acceptance so difficult for young women?
"I think it’s always been harder on women. We are judged — not just for our personalities, but also our looks — from day one. That was always true, and it’s more true now because this is the era of social media and the selfie. Everything is much more visual than a few decades ago.

"Women are not only surrounded by images of other people that we have to compare ourselves to, [but also] these images are often photoshopped in ways that we may or may not know about.

"I was not a bad-looking person, but I thought I was, and so many women are in exactly that state. They’re not okay with how they look. Everything is 'hot or not' now, and it's just so unfair. It is a hard time to live in such a visual deluge day after day.

"It’s also so shallow. Women are told 'Looks aren’t everything! Equality is just about who we are!' But, at the same time, you can’t escape these images."

Is there one strategy in particular that’s been really helpful for you?

"Taking things in little steps. There’s a huge industry built on affirmations, and the theory is that if you say these enough, you’ll start believing them. But, studies show that they don’t work on people with low self-esteem. In one Canadian study, people with high self-esteem felt much better [after reciting affirmations], but people with low self-esteem felt worse.

"So, the best strategy is to take it in tiny steps. Ask yourself, What can I believe about myself that’s decent and okay today? If you can find something that is true and accept it — can you accept that maybe you have a good sense of humor, or that you’re a fun person to watch movies with, or that you have really cool hair, or that you're good at being fair, being patient, liking nature, being kind to animals? — you'll start to see... You know, I’m actually a well-rounded human being. Yeah, I have my stuff that I’m never going to be good at, but it doesn't matter, because someone else is good at it, and we’re not in a race.

"Life is short. Let's not waste it believing a lie about the one person we’re stuck with."

Ask yourself, 'What can I believe about myself that’s decent and okay today?'

Anneli Rufus
What should we do when we realize we have self-esteem issues?
"Celebrate that. If you realize it, that’s a great milestone. It is such a revelation. Finding out that you’re been tricked is horrible, but it’s good to know so you can shift the patterns. [Say,] My eyes are open; now what do I need to see with them?

"I compare it to being in a cult: It was a lie told to you by someone who had power in your life, and it was damaging to you. Then, when you wake up, you realize, This is what’s been happening to me, and now you can start to deprogram."

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