Just like the economic haves and have-nots there are interpersonal haves and have-nots (though obviously the wealthier and closer one is to being of privilege the more likely they will be an interpersonal have). Unsurprisingly there are forces keeping interpersonal mobility in check as near as your nearest therapist’s office.
The dog-whistle “innate worth” trope. Therapists tell their clients they have innate worth. Interpersonal haves go out into the world and this is largely reenforced by their interactions. The interpersonal have-nots also go out but are just immobilized by the blowback of experiencing how patently false this is. The have-not is pushed lower than if they were just gently told the truth.
Lionizing vulnerability. Vulnerability can be a good or a bad thing depending on the response it elicits. In the case of the interpersonal haves it’s mostly a good response. However the interpersonal have-nots it often blows up in their face. People without serious mental illnesses can be vulnerable and be accepted (just look at Donald Miller) but for those with it’s a very different story.
Stigmatizing bitterness. The interpersonal haves generally aren’t bitter because their life hasn’t contained elements that would make them so. The have-nots however often are bitter and have good reason to be. Bitterness is more understood as an evolutionary adaptation to a hostile interpersonal environment than a character flaw or something that needs to be “fixed” through mind games. People are naturally trusting. For the interpersonal have-not this causes them to be in one disaster after another. Bitterness is like an early warning system for events of trust and it has to be constantly in the background (because trusting comes so naturally). Obviously like any adaptation it has negative side effects but one must take it on balance, have bitterness’s benefits of keeping someone from getting burned again outweigh its negative effects? In conclusion for the interpersonal haves, the likelihood of being burned in trusting is low enough that bitterness incurs too much cost, but for the have-nots it’s an appropriate adaptation.
Labeling people insecure. This is the one thing that some of the interpersonal haves have as well but the have-nots have it worse. Instead of seeing insecurity as personal insight into the way the world judges someone, it is seen as part of a pathology. When someone is being judged and they take it to heart do we blame them or do we blame the ones doing the judging? Obviously the victim gets the blame, not because they are wrong but because they have less power.
There is no way to strike a balance between the idea you have innate worth and the idea that you don’t. It’s like asking someone “is a car coming?”. It is or it isn’t and based on that information your next step will be drastically different. You are going to be treated one way or the other and the lower you fall in society the more obvious it will become when you are treated as if you had innate worth.
Poor self-image comes not from someone not believing they have innate worth, but from the blowback one receives from believing they do. It’s a pathetic fact that this society plays lip service to the idea that people have innate worth and expects them to believe it on paper. Actions tell people a different story about their worth than words do. Of course there is the temptation to double down on the words but the process often produces more misery and consternation.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is designed by white, upper middle class, non-disabled people. The further you are from this demographic the worse you will fare.
The changes one is expected to make in order to better themselves are more likely to be met with roadblocks when one is far from privilege. Most changes one makes to their life involve a social dynamic. A person without privilege generally faces a harsher social environment so change is stunted. There is also the issue of a success percentage. There is a threshold (different for each person) that when dipped below the changes one tries do more emotional harm than good. Naturally those without privilege will have a lower success percentage.
Those without privilege generally can call the therapist’s self-worth bluff. They know worth is not innate, it comes from privilege. It’s asinine to hold someone of non-privilege culpable for their poor self-image. Their self-image is theirs, not yours, and it comes from life experiences.
Non-Privilege is a singularity. A white therapist generally isn’t going to reach a black teenager who has seen his brother get twice the sentence a white person did for the same stupid crime.
They generally don’t have access to positive influences. There’s this idea that people can find edifying friends. For those without privilege this is more often untrue. Addiction-oriented people are all they have to choose from.
They often cannot afford therapy. This means that therapy might only be sought after issues have gotten so bad that it is of less help than if the issues had been dealt with earlier.
The best detector of someone’s observable worth is an insecure person. An insecure person gauges their and others’ worth based on their connection to worth-making sources such as strong brands, prestigious institutions, high-status people, etc… A couple things can be gleaned from this. First of all, there is an insecurity virtuous cycle where insecurity begets insecurity. More insecure people out there means more people gauging your worth by external sources and that makes you more insecure and more likely to partake in said behavior. Secondly, the less worth-making entities in the system, the more insecure people there will be. This recession has cut off jobs (worth-making entities, especially for men), cut leisure spending and made the country’s mood negative all around.
The party line is cognitive behavioral therapy combined medication will do a whole lot of good for people with mental illness. I’m sure it works for some people but not me. A large part of that reason is I’m bipolar (cue sound of career being destroyed) and a dirty little secret of any mental illness worse than depression is they often can’t give you the most effective depression medications because it will trigger psychotic episodes. Add to that the fact that a lot of the things therapists say make no sense to me at all. Some follow below.
You have innate worth. Yes, in a paid helping professional’s office you have innate worth, but once you walk out their door things are different. You can lay claim to self-worth but nothing will come of it unless others recognize this claim as legitimate. What exacerbates self-worth issues is the disparity between claimed and effective self-worth. You may think you’re worth something because your mom and your therapist think you’re so great but in the world where what car you drive and how you look are what matters your claims of self-worth won’t be recognized. Then there is this cognitive dissonance because you have been primed to think you are entitled to self-worth. This is a result of two systems, the helping professional’s and the real world’s, both working the exact opposite of each other.
You need to compartmentalize. This is a curious thing to say as one of the symptoms of someone with a mental illness is the inability to do so. If the underlying depression and OCD is not effectively treated (which it isn’t with me) than this is a useless thing to say. People with mental illness are generally self-absorbed and take things personally so training them to be otherwise is difficult if not impossible. Take rejection for an example—the rejection should not be taken personally, it just represents the sentiment of the rejector at that particular time. Just taken as a single event ignoring everything else one could take this view. But in the aggregate, once you compare the amount you are being rejected by that particular person verses how much others are, things get different. Add to this the fact that culture has gotten nastier and personal attacks are more common and you see it’s hard enough for mentally healthy people to compartmentalize not to mention those with mental illness.
Go out of your comfort zone. Once again for this advice to be helpful depression and OCD have to be way under control. If you dare go out of your comfort zone and things turn out not OK or bad you will be reminded of it constantly for a time proportional to the amount of discomfort the risk took. For example if you tried asking a girl you liked out and things went bad you will be reminded of it constantly—the more you liked her the longer you’ll be reminded of it. Therapists will tell you the reward of going out of your comfort zone is worth the risk but for people with depression and OCD the risk is a lot greater and more immediate.