Can a whole generation suffer collectively from self-loathing? A British politician believes that it can — and that it is.
We hear a lot these days — and scientific research confirms it — about young Americans being raised by their hypervigilant, always-hovering “helicopter” parents to become insufferable narcissists who feel entitled to the best of everything regardless of whether or not they’ve done anything to earn or deserve it. This is what happens when every player in a tournament receives a trophy just for being there, and when grade inflation results in automatic As.
But Ian Lavery, a member of parliament representing the town of Wansbeck in Northumberland, said during a debate last week in the House of Commons that 23% of the region’s 18-to-24 year-olds are unemployed, and that this dismal state of affairs is affecting their self-esteem. Lavery and others have begun calling northeastern British youth “the Lost Generation.”
“This is an extremely important issue and it has not really been touched on,” he said during the debate. “A survey by the Prince’s Trust only last year found that 40% of jobless young people suffer from some form of mental illness.
“They suffer from suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. … I have great concerns about the Northeast.”
How does high unemployment — especially among the young, which is chronically high in this country as well — affect self-esteem? Has losing a job, or being unable to find one, ever affected your self-image? How?
We came to hate ourselves for disparate reasons along disparate routes. Trauma. Abuse. Neglect. Inept role modeling. Bad luck. Our own acts. Those of others. The causes are endless. But the results are amazingly the same. Each amputee or millionaire became an amputee or millionaire through a unique and highly personal set of events, yet gather them together and you have a crowd of millionaires or amputees. They have at least one crucial thing in common, thus they think and act at least a little bit alike. We may or may not recognize the fellow self-loather trying too hard to please others (even others he or she dislikes) or saying yes when he or she means no (or no when he or she means yes) or even struggling to choose an ice-cream flavor (choosing makes us panic because we expect whatever we choose to be wrong, so the prospect of choice floods us with pre-regret).
We may or may not like each other any more than we like ourselves. But we are a crowd. This might provide scanty comfort or none at all. But get this straight: If you hate yourself, it is almost surely not based on reality but rather on something someone said to you long ago that was not (and still is not) true. Get this straight, too: If you hate yourself, the one thing we know for sure is that you’re not alone.
Image by Kristan Lawson, taken at Chocolatier Blue Parlor, used with permission.
Henrik Ibsen’s 1896 play John Gabriel Borkman was a massive hit when it first appeared on Scandinavian stages. Basically it’s the sad story of Ella Rentheim, a poor woman whose lover, the ambitious John Gabriel Borkman, leaves her in order to marry her far richer twin, Gunhild.
At one point in this play, Ella explains eloquently to Borkman how his departure shattered her self-esteem.
“There was a living, warm, human heart that throbbed and glowed for you. And this heart you crushed. Oh worse than that! Ten times worse! You sold it. … You have murdered the love-life in the woman who loved you.”
She also explains something that many of us know firsthand, all too well: that having low self-esteem can make it very difficult for us to love not only ourselves but anyone or anything else.
“I have lived my life as though under an eclipse. During all these years it has grown harder and harder for me — and at last utterly impossible — to love any living creature. Human beings, animals, plants: I shrank from all. … And yet I was not like that when I was young; that I remember clearly! It is you that have created an empty, barren desert within me — and without me too!”
It’s an old play, written by a 19th-century Norwegian. But it’s still being performed on the London stage:
And for good reason. Because haven’t we all, at least once, felt a little like Ella?
San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle wonders whether Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead yesterday, was exquisitely skilled at portraying awkward, sad, tormented characters because the actor himself had low self-esteem:
“He most often played people who were either alienated or had recreated themselves out of profound sense of alienation. Indeed, if you’re looking for a common thread in the work of this versatile and multifaceted actor, that might be it. From the shy teacher in ’25th Hour’ to the self-styled religious leader in ‘The Master’ to the second violinist in ‘The Last Quartet,’ he played lonely men who had made some uneasy accommodation with the surrounding world.
“He understood flaws. He most certainly understood darkness, particularly the kind of darkness that could restructure itself as creativity. Think of him as the political fixer in ‘The Ides of March’ or as the volatile government agent in ‘Charlie Wilson’s War.’ One must assume this darkness was also within Hoffman himself and this disturbance was part of his gift. For sure, he often exuded a lack of ease in his own skin, a submerged self-hatred. Was this real? One sensed it was, though perhaps it was just the movies.”
Hello there. This is the beginning of the new Unworthy blog. Inspired by my book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, this blog is a place where we can all talk about low self-esteem — what it is, where it comes from, what it does and how to change it. We can share personal stories, examine the latest self-esteem news, reveal how it feels to hate oneself in the era of the selfie, and explore healing strategies for hating ourselves less.