Content Warning: Depression thoughts.
Hello. I have a healthy level of self esteem. I don’t always feel great about myself, but it’s unequivocally when I deserve to feel bad about something. I can tell the line, bright and clear. And my mind practically has a wolverine healing factor for keeping me feeling hunkydory most of the time.
Most people feel worse about themselves than I do. Hard for me to relate, to know why or what it’s like. But I’ve had a long association with somebody who has an especially rare mix of high levels of self respect and black hole levels of self esteem. It’s a window into another world that can be educational to look into – if you’re brave enough to deal with the damage of it looking back.
Here I present a loose conversation on the topic of self esteem, between somebody who has it and somebody who will never know what it’s like to be OK with one’s self. I introduce you once again to The Abyss, my mans The Beast from Seattle.
GAS: Beast, how do you like being on the Great American Satan Show?
BfS: It’s just swell, thank you.
GAS: Nice, nice. So you’re a specimen today, if that’s alright. Can you bear the scrutiny of the howling masses of I think seven people who see my articles and probably won’t read them if the word count creeps up like this?
BfS: I think I can handle it.
GAS: So in our past discussions, we’ve reached some ideas about what self esteem is. Until I gained some perspective on what it’s like for someone without, I didn’t even notice it was a thing. But now I can see it, and I feel I should preface this with the vague operating definition we’ll be using.
It seems that as social creatures we have an instinct for ranking ourselves with regards to others – we can’t escape a compulsion to form a self valuation, often at an absurdly young age. I was among peers, middle childing. We both suffered a great deal of neglect and abuse (myself more the former, you more of the latter), but I had peers in my siblings, which helped me establish a baseline sense of myself as acceptable.
This is the thing: Self esteem is, in part, our baseline valuation of ourselves. You’re the abyss, I’m Bazooka Joe chewing gum. The perverse twist here is that you have self respect. How would you differentiate self esteem and self respect? For the listeners.
BfS: I hope they can’t really hear me… well… It’s funny that I don’t know that I would have made the distinction between the two myself, until we began to talk more about it. I knew I had lousy self esteem, but never would have thought of my self respect as being anything remarkable. I guess I would say that it’s a feature of having a strong sense of justice. Even though I can’t regard myself, I know that I don’t deserve to be treated poorly. Seems stranger for someone to have the reverse.
GAS: That is exactly how I would have stated it. We’ve talked about your dreams before, and an occasional theme of them is righteous indignation. You stand up for the oppressed, or call situations out as unreasonable. It’s part of who you are.
You can’t love yourself in the tiniest degree, but you can say, hey, the unlovable deserve a baseline level of respect and rights. It’s a deeply weird combination. It makes sense to develop the one to make up for the lack of the other, as a kind of defense mechanism maybe. The remarkable thing about it is that you have probably better self-respect than most people. It’s impressive.
BfS: Thanks? 🙂 I like to imagine it’s a bit more dignified than the other way.
GAS: It is. Self esteem is a funny beast because I think it puts someone like myself on a grade to narcissism, capable of some loathsome levels of disregard for others. And people like myself can’t help but show our ass at every opportunity. We feel entitled to share our opinions at all times and in all venues, whether that’s sensible or not. The difference between a commenter and a lurker. The lurker is never embarrassed.
BfS: Interesting you should mention that, as I once did a research project on ‘lurkers’ — AKA the majority of people on the internet.
GAS: I’ll take this aside for a moment. Any interesting conclusions, or was it too hard to find anything out about the ghosts in our machines?
BfS: It probably would have been more interesting to focus on the commenters, as they’re such a small fraction of users, less than one percent in many cases. Probably the most interesting thing I gleaned was asking people why they didn’t comment, and they generally said ‘I didn’t think anyone would care.’ Which is mostly true. So what makes commenters think otherwise?
GAS: Self esteem! Back to the point, seamlessly. I didn’t notice this about myself until I got to know somebody better who formed a stark contrast to it. I have something inside, not like a voice but just as powerful as if it was. It’s a sense of entitlement, maybe.
I just don’t doubt for a second that I’m important enough to matter in a conversation, despite all evidence to the contrary. Does that make sense? I can see the vast size of the human species, in our billions, and our cosmic insignificance. And yet I feel like I could be one of the grandiose npr liberals @ing the fascist orange on twitter, if I used that platform.
BfS: Sounds pretty wild, my dude.
GAS: They say you have a slow wave in your brain. Something isn’t as powerful as it should be, hence the depression and such. But to you it’s like time is standing still, stretching out into a horrid infinity. This is a little off topic, getting into depression more generally.
The reason I bring it up is that it seems like as powerfully intelligent as you are, and as much as you get done compared to the rest of us, wiling away your dark infinities, how could there be anything slow about you? But science mans said there is.
BfS: That’s true, my neurologist said it would be normal for a 70 year old man. Does seem strange, doesn’t it? That people being able to sit still to watch a TV show have more active energy in their brains than I do. Takes a lot of energy to feel okay, apparently.
GAS: And that’s the magical mystery. I feel like I am not doing anything extra at all. When I see you hating yourself, it seems so energetic, so much like that is the extra. That is the energy. But no, I am the one with energy. It’s an invisible energy that says, hey dude, the world is yours.
BfS: You got tha power.
GAS: But you say it seems like everyone around you is bottomed out barbiturate zombies. Nobody has the energy for a real conversation at your speed, or at least depth. You say something meaningful and one of us is like, “Cool bro. Imma go watch commercials for laundry detergent now.” It just seems funny to think that slow wave produces more thought than whatever energy it is that allows me to live in comparative bliss.
BfS: Yeah, that it takes more juice to sit around and watch the Avengers for the 10000th time than to have a decent conversation. Does really astound me how difficult it is for some people to think about anything. Nothing to do with intelligence, it could be about their opinion on peanut butter cups. I’ve had better conversations with four year olds than some adults. And to think, that being an undead on downers is actually more processor-intensive?
GAS: I’m probably a little aberrant in this respect, a little more chatty. But I’m a lot closer to them than I am to you. Something that’s become a topic of discussion in our lives pretty often is the difference between passive and active media. Writing, RPGs, even some video games require some active engagement. Reading books, watching movies, listening to music, perusing social media – these are the things that can wash over you. Minimal effort, passive.
For a person like myself, passive media is an anesthetic to chill me out after the tension of a day’s work. But you have no attention span for passive media. Can hardly watch TV and movies, always have to be doing something active. It seems exhausting. You are allowed no anesthetic.
BfS: Even listening to music seems a bit beyond most people these days. They gotta hear it 10+ times before they can decide if they like it or not. I guess to me, if I was chilling out that much, I’d just go to sleep! And I hate going to sleep.
GAS: Guess that’s getting off topic into the undiagnosed ADHD territory. Bringing it back, you have the major depression / nega self-esteem combo, even if it’s higher speed than people expect. It’s vexing.
It’s one of the things that convinces me there is no justice or inherent goodness in the universe, certainly no god: that humans are cursed with having this self-valuation. We can’t just be – we have to rank ourselves. And for some people that means never knowing what it’s like to feel alright.
What’s the best you’re able to feel, and how do you do it?
BfS: Oh man, I have this app that tracks your mood, and I’m basically ‘fine,’ tops. I went to a couple good concerts that bumped it all the way up to ‘good’ back in 2019. Best for me is being able to focus on something I’m interested in and forget I exist.
GAS: For me, it feels like I always forget I exist. I can lose myself in anything that catches my eye. I’m not a consideration or sticking point in my own life, which is one reason self esteem is invisible to me – feels like a non-thing. But it seems like, if this slow wave of yours is related, maybe my self esteem is a constant reassurance that I am OK, and can safely be forgotten. Sound about right?
BfS: It could be, might be a secondary thing. I’ve met people with lousy self esteem that can seem to forget while they veg out, and only feel bad when they get reminded of their own existence.
GAS: The other way this difference between us manifests is in loneliness. I rarely feel lonely, but you often feel that way. I’m not socializing any more than you are. Why the difference? Is my self esteem, my fast wave if you will, something like company to me? An unspoken voice in my head? Or is it just that the pain of hating yourself makes you feel the need to be more engaged – as a way of getting outside of your own mind?
BfS: It could be as simple as an extrovert/introvert thing, I might be some kind of repressed extrovert for all I know. We know some people with bad self esteem that are also extreme loners, so it’s hard to say.
GAS: It’s vexing to know I can be over here chilling, and just being in the same room as you without speaking, I’ll feel good about that. Like I have whatever company my mind needs. Meanwhile, the reverse can never be true. I am insufficient funds for your social needs. I’m not offended, exactly, but I do feel sad for you on the regular.
BfS: LOL it’s okay, man. Life sucks.
GAS: Well, per the words of the great sage Dr. Phil, I think there is a cure for your bad self esteem that you could try. Might help. Next time you feel inclined to hate on yourself, just simply STOP DOIN’ THAT. It’s the wisdom of Texas.
BfS: (Insert thinking emoji) Will do.
And with that, he was cured!