Chapter 5.Calm: Anxiety


Self-Hatred & Anxiety

The temptation, with dealing with anxiety, is always and invariably to focus on the ostensible cause of our worry: the journey to the airport, the forthcoming speech, the letter one is waiting for, the presentation one has to hand in…

But if we proceed more psychologically, we might begin in a different place. With great kindness and no disrespect, we may step past the objective content of anxiety and look instead at something else: how the anxious person feels about themselves.

An unexpected cause of high anxiety is self-hatred. People who have grown up not to like themselves very much at all have an above average risk of suffering from extremes of anxiety, for if one doesn’t think one is worthy, it must – by a dastardly logic – follow that the world is permanently and imminently at high risk of punishing one in the way one suspects one deserves. It seems to fit that people may be laughing behind one’s back, that one may soon be sacked or disgraced, that one is an appropriate target for bullying and rejection and that persecution and worse may be heading towards us. If things seem to be going well, this must just be the deceptively quiet period before others are about to realise their error and mete out some horrific punishment. For the self-hating, anxiety is a pre-emptive anticipation of the pain one unconsciously feels one is owed; very bad things must and should happen to very bad people.

Part of the problem and one of the curious aspects of the way our minds work is that it isn’t always clear that one is even suffering from low self-esteem; hating oneself has just become second nature rather than an issue one has the will to rebel against or so much as notice. To tease out the sorrow and start to feel it again (as a prelude to treating it), one might need to fire a few questions at oneself.

A Self-Esteem Questionnaire

1. Broadly speaking, I like myself as I am.

Agree strongly

Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Disagree

Disagree strongly

2. People should be relatively grateful to have me in their lives.

Agree strongly

Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Disagree

Disagree strongly

3. If I didn’t know me, I’d think I was OK.

Agree strongly

Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Disagree

Disagree strongly

4. Growing up, I was given the feeling that I properly deserved to exist.

Agree strongly

Agree

Neither agree nor disagree

Disagree

Disagree strongly

If one finds oneself at the disagreeing end of such questions, it may be that one is an agitated person not because one has more to worry about but because one likes oneself rather less than normal – and certainly less than one fairly should.

The cure isn’t, therefore, to try to dispel anxieties with logic, it is to try to dispel it with love; it is to remind the anxious person (who may be ourselves) that we are not inherently wretched, that we have a right to exist, that past neglect wasn’t deserved, that we should feel tenderly towards oneself – and that we need, both metaphorically and probably practically too, a very long hug.

The logic of this analysis is truly counter-intuitive. It suggests that when panic next descends, one should not spend too long on the surface causes of the worry and instead, try to address the self-hatred fuelling the agitation. Anxiety is not always anxiety: sometimes it is just a very well-disguised, entrenched and unfair habit of disliking who we are.

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