Self Love and Other Bad Advice
on blogs, GAD and Tik Tok
Too many people turn their blogs, essays and sundry internet screeds into self-help manuals. We are constantly goaded by current culture to love ourselves, understand ourselves, accept ourselves. I don’t subscribe to those lofty precepts. I don’t love myself, or understand myself. I have learned to accept myself but that’s because I’m pushing 70. There was no way I was ready to accept myself in my twenties or thirties or even forties. The whole idea of telling people to love themselves is abhorrent to me. We already love ourselves way too much. Love yourself less and respect yourself more. Easier said than done. If you respect yourself, others will respect you too - but you will never respect yourself if you spend your time on yoga lessons, massages, mindfulness training or Zen retreats. Show up on time, work hard and avoid being an asshole: self-respect will follow.
Aside from work ethic, the most important thing on your way to self-respect is to use the word “NO” as frequently as possible. “Can you do me a favor and drop this at the post office after work?” If you’re not in a rush and want to help a buddy, saying yes it fine. But if you need to to drive a mile out of your way, or even if you simply don’t feel like it, “NO” is the correct answer. “Sorry, man, can’t do it” One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was when a good friend of mine told me: “Remember: NO is a perfectly acceptable answer”
Another excellent piece of advice came from a very eminent psychologist that I was lucky enough to score a therapy session with: Prof. Arnold Lazarus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Lazarus) This was back in the mid-90’s and I was introduced to “Arnie” by a mutual acquaintance. I drove down from Toronto to New Jersey and met him at his house, near Rutgers University where he taught. Among other things he said this to me: “Whenever your brain is plagued by “what if” questions, driving your anxiety through the roof, put the word ‘so’ in front of the ‘what if’. Now you’re asking “so what, if….” and this leads you straight out of your catastrophizing”. Almost all our worries can be reduced by asking “so what”? “What if I fail that exam” leads to panic. “So what if I fail that exam” leads to reasoning out a solution. Brilliant advice. And it only cost me $100. Prof. Lazarus would have charged closer to $400 but my friend arranged a little smidge of nepotism. That can never hurt.
Forget about self-love, unless it’s tough love. As I said at the outset, I am not a fan of confessional blogs but I will reveal this much: I am a life-long GAD sufferer. GAD stands for “Generalized Anxiety Disorder”. That designation has been a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM, aka the Bible of Psychiatry) for a few decades. But back in the 70’s when I was first diagnosed, the disorder had what I consider the much more fitting title of “Free Floating Anxiety”. And indeed that is very precise: the anxiety in my case is “free floating”, not tied to specific events or even thoughts. It’s just a part of my DNA. At times I can live with it and function fine. At other times it can be unbearable. “Love is all you need”, well, maybe - but never self-love. In fact, one needs to do everything possible to get away from one’s self or, as my dear wife so succinctly puts it, “pull your head out of your ass”
A lot of advice one gets is too trite to take seriously. Even journals such as “Psychology Today” read like they’re written by Hallmark employees. The American insistence on feeling good is pathological. Life is not meant to be a series of “feel good’ moments. Transitory happiness is possible, of course, but it should never be a goal. Permanent happiness does not exist. Life is hard, and sad, and tragic - yet interspersed with lots of funny and joyful moments. When Albert Einstein was asked what he thought about life in America, one of his complaints was “Americans do not know the art of joy and pain”
This essay feels like a long, rambling tangent….which is what life is, I suppose. I don’t strive for love and acceptance but I do strive for respect and professional recognition. I’d rather lose friends and keep principles than the other way around. When asked how I am, I usually reply “fine” (which is mostly true) but never “awesome” (which can usually only be true if you’re smoking illicit mushrooms) When given a choice between a mindfulness lesson and reading a book about WW2, I’ll choose the latter…Combat is the ultimate in mindfulness.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, whose book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is a permanent fixture on my nightstand, made the observation that most mood disorders (such as GAD, depression and OCD) simply disappeared in Auschwitz. It seems that when faced with mortal danger and constant fight for survival, the human mind cannot be simultaneously occupied with what - under those circumstances - are trifles.
I expect adults to be adults and not to be preoccupied with childish things, Hallmark thinking and superficial happiness. Probably too much to ask in the time of gender bending wokeness and Tik-Tok starlets.
If you have any questions about GAD, history books, Einstein quotes or jazz harmony, I’m your man.