Friday, February 17, 2012

depression is stupid - part 3

Among my most annoying depressive symptoms is my struggle with self-worth. On any given day, I really don't have any.

One day, my therapist asked me about my self-worth. I forget the exact wording of her question, but the gist of it was to ask what the basis of my feelings of self-worth were. I couldn't really answer her at first.

Then I said I thought I was good at certain things, like teaching and cooking. I said I was intelligent and articulate. She interrupted me, and said that intelligence isn't something that you do for yourself or create for yourself, and being good at something, although you do in large measure create that for yourself, isn't intrinsic to you. She restated her question: why do you regard yourself as having worth as a person.

At this point, I got kind of frustrated, and argued, not in so many words, that my worth as a person was contingent upon my doing good or being worth a damn in the world. She responded that those were measures of others' esteem, not my own self-worth.

I still struggle with this, on two levels - practical and theoretical. (I suppose Aristotle would approve.)

Practically, having a tenuous sense of self-worth means that I'm dependent on a daily basis on others responding to me as though they value me, in order to feel good about myself. Most people who attempt to be entertaining feel this way, I believe. The vast majority of stand-up comics do, for sure: they need people to laugh with them, to assure themselves that people aren't laughing at them. The upshot of this is that bad days make me feel like I'm a bad person, not a person who had a bad day.

Theoretically, I still don't understand the concept of self-worth very well. The other day it occurred to me to distinguish self-worth from self-esteem. Self-esteem looks to me like a fairly vacuous self-boosterism, and I'm not sure what it's supposed to achieve. Do people who believe that they're always doing such good work do better work as a result? Self-worth is more a matter of having dignity and respect for oneself, and regarding oneself as worthy (sorry for the circularity; Aristotle would approve). But to my therapist's question of its basis, I'm still perplexed. I guess she had in mind something like "because I'm me, because all humans ought to have self-worth," but I'm not sure I buy that. (Too Kantian? Maybe if there was an eschatological explanation of self-worth, I'd find it more plausible.)

In any event, the problem of self-worth is yet another reason that depression is stupid.

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