Which costumes does your low self-esteem wear?
Low self-esteem is a lot of things: isolating, painful, dangerous, even deadly. But also sneaky.
Low self-esteem is a master thief and creepy stalker and tireless trickster all rolled into one.
It is a stage magician turning ropes into roses, then — shazam! — into ropes again. It is that awful bully who hid behind corners, sticking out a leg then laughing as you tripped over that leg and fell.
It is the clown who shakes your hand while hiding a joy buzzer inside his.
It is the ghost you cannot see, then ... Boo!
Self-loathing is deceptive because it lives in our minds, and human minds are built to be creative and resourceful.
You might think self-hatred is the opposite of creativity — just a grinding dead end — but no. Self-hatred employs creativity to hide itself, to masquerade as other things, because self-hatred doesn't want us to see it plainly for what it is, because if we saw it for what it is, we might feel shocked enough to make eradicating it our first priority.
If we could see our self-hatred for what it is, we might feel — surging from our dark, long-denied depths, surprising us — rage: not at ourselves, for once in our lives, but at self-hatred as a thing, an injustice, a state of mind. We might feel self-compassion, which self-hatred really — ha ha — hates.
Self-hatred doesn't want to take the risk of showing itself too plainly, because self-hatred doesn't want to die.
So it attempts to prolong its existence by pretending to be other things, to make us think our real problems are addiction or obesity or social phobia or boredom or big ears.
And while we chase those puffs of smoke, self-hatred sits there chuckling like the dick it is.
Which costumes does your low self-esteem wear? Which forms does it assume to send you running here and there, to keep you off its track?
My self-hatred has many masquerades. I spend days consumed by concern about something or other before suddenly remembering that this disaster and that other one last week, and all the rest before were problems, sure, but more importantly were all offshoots of my main problem, the one that creates the rest and dispatches them in their clever costumes to dismantle me.
In writing or with diagrams or drawing, let's identify those wicked masqueraders our low self-esteem sends out into our lives. Here are two of mine which you can use as guidelines to unmask your own.
• Fear. Not the ordinary Yeek! A spider! sort of basic self-protective scaredness which is built into most species and helps us survive: my fear is constant, chronic, always either actively fixed on an object or seeking one frantically. I fear earthquakes and bombs and rejection and blindness and a billion other things, but that's because what I really fear is myself: my perceived clumsiness and inattentiveness and foolishness and whatever else puts living creatures into danger and prevents them from escaping. Every panic attack over unanswered texts or airplane turbulence boils down to my fear — aka mistrust, aka dislike — of myself.
• Passivity. Seeing me sit nearly motionless for hours, staring at a screen or into space, casual observers might mistake me for meditative, or at least serene. They might even praise me for not being restless or easily bored. Less charitable observers might call me a slug: unmotivated, unproductive. Missing out. Neither type of observer might suspect that what makes me so passive is my lack of confidence: Why engage in any activity at which I'm sure to fail or (see above) run into danger or look silly or which will make me hate myself more, e.g. What kind of loser spends two hours watching old Russian cartoons?! Better to do nothing at all.
And this is how we snatch the masks off, one by one.