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Fri, December 30 2016

Now Write Yourself a New Year's Thank-You Letter

By:
Anneli Rufus

Studies show that New Year's resolutions are notoriously hard to keep and, statistically speaking, don't work. In other words, for people with low self-esteem they're like time-bombs, tick-tick-ticking with the probability of making us hate ourselves more.

So, instead of declaring what we should do and maybe "will" do in 2017, why not gaze backwards to see all the useful, helpful, healing things we've done in 2016? Marvel at these, just as you would at a sheaf of gifts. Then write yourself a thank-you letter.

Here, for example, is mine. Feel free to use it for ideas, but because hardly anything could be more personal, yours will be different.

Hey, Self—

Thanks for still being here.

Thanks for continuing to pursue progress if not toward sky-high, dancing-in-the-streets self-esteem, then at least medium self-esteem, aka acceptance, which is all you've ever sought, to the extent that you've ever sought self-esteem at all, because even seeking it, wishing for it, is itself a sign of self-esteem. This is because hating oneself equals believing to your core that this hatred is justified, legitimate, appropriate: a fact of life like leaves on trees, and that seeking relief, release unto a state of slightly less self-hatred is obscene, absurd, like letting killers out of jail.

So just pursuing hazy, lazy, don't-run-screaming-from-the-mirror noncommittal self-acceptance, as you have done in 2016, is worth thanking you for, because it's taken a long lifetime even to reach this milestone which some would call rudimentary: the acceptance of acceptance, which rudimentary as it sounds still feels like hewing a tunnel through solid rock, using a single pickaxe. Yeah, so thanks.

And thanks for trying to keep your self-hatred from destroying your major relationships. Yes, you're still somewhat as you always were, infecting would-be joyful moments with I-don't-deserve-this doubt and what-will-go-wrong fear, transforming every compliment into an argument—but now you see how hard this is on others, ruining their fun while forcing them to act like rescuers and therapists and saints and save you from yourself, which they do because they love you but it makes them also resent you. Now at last, at least, you meet such moments with compassion for them and yourself and with a dawning new awareness which stems that cycle sooner, or at least quiets it.

Which is another way of saying: Thanks for learning to shut the F up. I know, I know—you spent a lifetime shutting yourself up, and being shut up by your parents when they raged at tiny little you for saying "barf" and other ordinary words is largely how you learned to hate yourself. But this is different. Learning not to blab every negative thought that pops into your mind—and, when one hates oneself, nearly all thoughts are negative—means learning not to force those thoughts on others. Shutting up can manifest respect. It is also a sacred silence, teaching you that thoughts are only thoughts, and need not carry you away like crazy clown cars. This is radical. You learned it in 2016.

Thanks for realizing that not everyone will always understand, nor need they, and this topic need not enter every dialogue.

And thanks for finally understanding your self-hatred—all self-hatred—as a situation, a condition, not unlike left-handedness or shivering in the cold or liking red. Part nature and part nurture, it was almost surely in your DNA: Mom hated herself. What chance had you to dodge that? She never tried to hide or heal it. She thought she deserved it. Decades later, long after she left this world, you still suffer the consequences just as you still have the small head and nearsightedness and love for polished rocks that you inherited from Dad. But now you know: Self-hatred is a state of being, which like all those other things can be accepted but not necessarily submitted to.

In other words, thank you for feeling a little less doomed.

Thank you for reading at least two and a half books. Thank you for drawing creepy hybrid creatures with wings, ankle bracelets and extremely lifelike hands. Thank you for watching documentaries. Thank you for feeding birds. Thank you for sitting still, observing all your default terror and regret and—well, remaining still.

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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