I took an extended break from this book, not because I stopped reading it, but there were several exercises I wanted to work on before I proceeded. Most were simple but incredibly effective ways of unhooking thoughts or distancing yourself from them by inserting something extra.
For example, now I am responsible entirely for my own income, tax returns, NI payments and everything else associated with being self-employed, I have had some negative feelings about the amount of work I might get. These feelings are perfectly normal and I acknowledge that, yet that doesn’t mean I cannot and should not attempt to do something about them.
After the exercises, he moves onto a chapter about self-esteem. I would recommend anybody read this chapter alone if you do not understand what it is or have never suffered from it. The biggest point he stresses is to point out that high self esteem is not a goal… self acceptance is. Where it falls down is he assumes that treatment of low self esteem is to encourage high-self esteem, to hold oneself with high regard. He has fallen into the trap of misunderstanding the problem and the treatment and this for me set a bad tone for the chapter. Proceeding on an erroneous premise meant that he was likely to continue to make erroneous assumptions.
High self-esteem is the extreme in that research psychologists have equated it with narcissism, arrogance, discrimination, self-deception and a defensive attitude when faced with feedback. This last point is poignant for me because a person with low self-esteem does not get defensive when faced with criticism, instead we turn on an internalised self-punishment:
* “Of course I messed up, I’m useless”
* “I’m not good enough”
* “Of course she wouldn’t go on a date with me, I’m too short, overweight and not very good looking”
Self-acceptance differs from high self-esteem in that you acknowledge that you are a human being, a flawed character, you make mistakes… you will continue to make mistakes, screw up, do stupid things, hurt people. You are not and can never be perfect and self-punishment is the default position for the human mind. But these thoughts should not rule us and nor should we punish ourselves for these failings.
He asks a question that I found sobering and made me laugh out loud. “If beating yourself up were a good way to change your behaviour, wouldn’t you be perfect by now? Did the floggings, beatings and hidings help you or did they just make you feel bad?” Guilty as charged, Doctor Harris And I hadn’t realised until reading Fennell’s book just how much an emotional drain such self-punishment is. Self-acceptance is about letting go of all self-judgements. Interestingly, he warns as much against self-praise as he does against self-criticism. It does not do well to have an incredibly high opinion of yourself because we are all flawed. We need to accept those flaws as part of ourselves.
I feel I must again return to ubergeek because the situation again provides the perfect example. I accept the situation for what it was – she had unresolved issues with her ex. Yet at the time, I felt myself slipping back into old habits – or at least – trying to resist slipping into old habits. I confess to looking for reasons for why ubergeek did not choose me. I did indulge in self-punishment but these moments were fleeting because I knew I did not have a leg to stand on. I couldn’t rightly claim it was because I wasn’t good enough a potential boyfriend because of the clear indications I got from her of mutual attraction, her agreement to a second and then a third date, her desire to stay in touch and offering to cease contact if it was what I desired. Had it not been for the ex, there is a strong possibility we would now be in a relationship (note: I am not dwelling on this it is more a statement of what the evidence suggests). In recognising this and weighing up this evidence I could not indulge in the same self-punishment that I did with anybody else.
We could argue the quantity of women I have met through dating had already made these negative self perceptions untenable anyway. I couldn’t claim to have nothing to appeal to potential partners when women are wanting to meet me. I am being approached and those I am approaching are responding at pretty much the average rate for a typical man online dating.