The infinite well of Self-Esteem

Me and my therapist spoke in no small terms about ‘innate value’ and ‘inner dignity’. We talked about the value of self-love, how to cultivate it, how it was prerequisite for the love of another. We assumed that it was something already there, an axiom of the soul.

But I was never fully convinced that there was a source of worth inherently in us. If there was, how could my adult life be plagued with collapses of self-value? I do not believe that with enough ‘practice’ we could ‘self-love’ ourselves back into a place of worth. Nor do I believe it to be true that we need to love ourselves before we can be loved by another.

What others might call ‘inherent value’ I see in a much more nihilistic light, namely normative (or society-given) value. Nature has no inherent value but for the survival of species; cooperating or competing for life. We are no different to any other species, we are the children of nature.

If I had a font of hidden energy and self-value, why is it absent after a lifetime of searching? Perhaps my therapist was just trying to be nice!

A cursory observation of society will demonstrate that people seek to be valued by others. This may be through their position in society – how many people do you see taking pride in their work or striving to get ‘to the top’?

It may be through belonging to a community or ritual place of worship – how many towns do you know of without a church?

It may be in the form of finding a loving partner – how many people do you know who take pride in their relationships? I saw at least five couples publicly demonstrate their affections for each other on my walk through town yesterday.

It shows that we are indeed empty on the inside and in constant need of others; that it is not enough to be with ourselves. Indeed, it is precisely this need for others that drives us forward and allows society to happen. Our emptiness is our driving force and a vital part of who we are.

Despite this gaping void of emptiness and valuelessness within, there is a silver lining.

Every cloud… –

I believe it to be true that low self-esteem can create a downward spiral. The less you value yourself, the less others will value you. This prevents you from turning the tide and rising into a better place. Charity and pity does not feed esteem, nor will people lying to make you feel better. As we are dependent on those around us for esteem, we always have to factor others into our ‘equation of esteem’. This means there can be obstacles to gaining esteem –  coercive group-think and conformity, the presence of ‘alpha males’ who feed off others, prejudice against race / class / gender / and so on, the fear of crowds and groups, to name but a few. When you are low on esteem, these challenges feel insurmountable.

Yet there is nothing that can stop you developing a creative talent. On the way to work, during a lunch break, when you wake up in the middle of  the night – there is always time to develop a skill. No one can give you this talent and no one can anyone take it away. Some people might be privileged by having an earlier start but nothing can stop you from beginning your journey whenever you want.

For myself this saving grace was performance. I don’t need people to believe in me anymore to be a good performer. I don’t need people to tell me I am a skilled musician or actor. It does help to be supported, but I can get by in the hardest environment and know that I can stick it out. The development of performing talents has reached critical mass – there is no turning it back now.

This is what the article title means by an infinite well of self-esteem. It might not always feel right to perform, but when the opportunity and the will align, it is up to one person and one person alone to succeed. Myself.

This does not mean that becoming a craft should be idealized. I do believe that we need to be loved, cared for, checked-in with others, to belong, in order to be fully healthy. A course of CBT or psychotherapy solely working on self-esteem will probably be necessary to make any major gains.

However the infinite well is a factor that can always get you out of the downward spiral.

I have low self-esteem. I do not want to be around other people, so my self-esteem gets even lower. The lower it gets, the less chance anyone is going to want to be around me, so I become more isolated. The more isolated I become, the more I am depressed and therefore anxious. The anxiety prevents me from trying out new situations or talking to new people. It prevents me from taking even the smallest step forward. The lack of inner-value means that no one wants take me on, women are repulsed by the sight of weakness and neediness. Relationships are destroyed by my imbalance and vulnerability. Therefore there is never anyone there to offer a hand up and help me onto my feet.

The key to turning things around is precisely the isolation. Whilst it is not a good thing, it does allow space to develop oneself. It might be boring, emotionally harmful in the long run, repetitive, tedious – but it won’t be forever. If you can train yourself whilst in that place, even just a little bit every day, you can reach a stage where you have a powerful foundation of self-confidence and self-belief. And whats more it will be grounded in empiricism, not the platitudes of a therapist!

There is so much that can be done alone. Playing and composing music, learning how to code websites, creative writing, gardening, growing, cooking, video-blogging.

Skills that can be brought into a social context, such as playing an instrument or community cooking, are especially of value here. They enable someone with low self-esteem to have an ace up their sleeve in competitive social situations or in the predatory capitalist workplace.

Final Mentorly Wisdom –

No one can take away your creative talent, but then no one can give it to you. It is something that must be earned. It requires immense focus and patience. This is precisely what makes it worthwhile, it is truly yours. In the absence of a saviour-figure who will likely never come to rescue you, in the absence of the one-true-love who only exists in faerie tales, creative mastery is the most guaranteed way to turn the tables on low self-worth.

It is not the whole picture, because a person needs to be loved and to belong. But it is a start.

Depression – breaking it all down (Part I)

I am not one of those people who believes that depression is all about thought processes, behaviour and ‘life style’. It is something far more deep reaching and fundamental than that. You cannot think your way out of depression, just as you cannot think your way into it.

However, I still see the important role of thinking in keeping you there once you are there and the dreaded making a bad situation seem worse!

Depression for me makes all the bad things seem inevitable and the source of the bad things far more powerful than it truly is. It is like a wall of despair, a vast amorphous barrier, so tall you cannot possibly see over, or around it. But when we focus in on this behemoth, we see that it is made up of individual components, and our perspective is that of someone hunched, low and defeated.

Stand up to your full height and the wall, whilst still imposing, is not so large. Focus in, and though you will see the strength of your enemy, the weak points also reveal themselves.

Breaking it all down –

My new direction is to break it all down in my mind; to dispel this mythic image of an undefeatable, invincible, inevitable foe. I know that the hostility of capitalist society is a very real thing, not just an imagined enemy. But lets use our imagination too break it down into realistic components.

Nature is being destroyed by the machine, but cracks in the pavement are full of life, chopped down trees unexpectedly sprout a thousand branches, certain species thrive even in this era of mass extinction. In ten years time an abandoned neighbourhood will become a wild garden, in a hundred it will become a grove, in a thousand there will be nothing left of it, strangled and hidden by thriving life. Nature is going no-where, and it is never far from regeneration. This ancient thing is more resilient than us, and we will always live in its beautiful shadow.

The officials who keep the machine running, do they truly believe in what they are doing? Would they not rather be pursuing some goal more true to themselves, spending time with their children, resolving emotions they have repressed, exploring and finding themselves? The amount of coercion and brainwashing needed to keep people in their place to blunt their true dreams and ambitions is proof positive that most people, even those in positions of power, are themselves led along and trapped by the madness of civilization. The lack of self-knowledge and true ambition, this is a reason to pity the machine-servants, hypnotized by digital screens, life void of meaning but for the targets from above and the will of invisible figures more powerful than themselves.

Advertising is everywhere, shallow, crass, idiotic pleas for conformity. But there is nothing democratic about advertising; it is there, but who wants it there but the sad corporations trying to control our choices? No one is really taken in on a conscious-level; eyes are rolled on the tube, people take the piss out of the sell-out celebrities, a bad pun elicits a long groan. Deep down, a subconscious lever may have been triggered, a greater sense of dissatisfaction and desire to go on holiday to ‘discover life in Greece’ (or whatever). But this is again an affliction – how many of us would vote to give powerful corporations thousands upon thousands of square metres of space to try and influence our decisions? The ubiquity of advertising only demonstrates how fucked up property and power is in our society, not the democratic will of the people. Some of the more idiotic populace might find advertising interesting or be consciously duped by its bullshittery, what can be done for such a hopeless minority?

It can be a loveless existence suffering from mental illness. You are vulnerable and need to be loved more than most people, but that same vulnerability makes trusting others difficult, and that same hurt makes you less desirable. The lack of strength and stability is a massive turn off. Month after month of failure and rejection makes the chances of finding a woman who is interested seem less and less likely, a feedback loop of frustration and disappointment. But all this doesn’t make things impossible, only more difficult. The spiral down into despair is one that is hard to avoid here; it is informed by the deep subconscious wounds and triggers of childhood, but it is not inevitable. Am I totally helpless and disadvantaged by this depression and anxiety? Everything to do with this mental illness and the abuse of the past makes the whole sphere of love much harder for me. Still, the act of breaking down how mental illness is contributing to isolation and lack of love dispels the mist, promotes understanding. It is the gargantuan wall which leads to despair, not the individual bricks. Maybe through understanding things will change and improve, though I cannot promise this to myself or anyone else. At least they cannot get any worse. Going from things are hopeless to who knows what can happen, I will have no judgements is a massive luxury for me at the moment. Neutrality – feeling neither loved or unloved, does not feel so bad.

End of Part I

The worst thing about disability…

My difficulties are compounded, the spiral leads downwards.

A lack of energy or confidence > Inability to socialize > Depression > Low mood and energy.

A mental health disability is hidden inside. You can’t see it – people assume you are a ‘normal person’, expected to cope with what everyone else copes with.

But most people do not have to cope with the compounded factors of mental health disability. To deal with those, traumas, collapses, indignities, poverty and the hostility of a sick government institution or capitalist work place… it doesn’t seem possible.

It is like gazing up at an immense wall when you are already bleeding, wounded and tired.

All of these compounded factors themselves compound into a living hell of frustration, and of course the tingle of despair that leads you back into depression. The cause of mental illness is psycho-logical and obvious.

Mental illness has left my confidence all but broken. Project after project starting, gaining momentum, then going nowhere. Lack of social skills or confidence makes moving forward extremely difficult, internal collapse leads to outer collapse, it all falls into a pointless fucking heap. So many people have no one to support them, and some times I am one of them.

This isn’t to say it is impossible to make it, to be loved, to be independent and useful. But it is much harder. For some it is too hard.

Not everyone has the same personal history, so why are we expected to be equals in the machine? That expectation and all the self-righteousness that comes with it, from all the mindless workers and their masters – that is what destroys my confidence every day.

Some people brutalized me a long time ago and now huge gaps have been left in my memory, where trauma has turned past events into one long, dark blur. Who will account for this, who will care about it enough to try and mitigate it and give me a fighting chance?

Much of my energy is spent staying afloat, in not drowning. There is no way to fake this – you can see the effects on a person, the worklessness and lovelessness and hopelessness.

No one would choose this.