Low self-esteem? Pffft. Who the [bleep] are you?

So at the conclusion of my last post (Good Friends, or Socially Maladjusted Cretins?), I promised to offer a thought or two around the idea that it’s possible to minimize, if not eradicate, the degree to which others can make you feel bad about yourself. (Sorry I didn’t get to that yesterday, which turned out to be a complete freak of a day.)

So. About the proper philosophy to recall and adapt whenever someone is, or is trying to, make you feel bad about yourself.

Two words: Fuck ‘em.

I hate to curse. (Sort of.) But serious subjects call for serious words. And if someone is trying, or succeeding, at making you feel bad about yourself, that’s serious enough to warrant using both barrels of the best weapon in the world for fighting that particular enemy: Fuck, and Them.

As some of you know, Fuck ‘em is, in fact, the Shore family motto.

Le’ line de’ bottom: There are two kinds of people in the world: people who know who they are, and people who don’t.

People who don’t know who they are have an exceedingly difficult time in life, because they’re driven to have everybody positively affirm that, at the very least, they’re doing a fantastic job of pretending to be the sort of person they (desperately) want people to believe they are.

If you don’t know who you are, then what can you do but turn to others for that vital information? And others will rush to provide you that input. It’s true what they say: nature abhors a vacuum. And there’s nothing like the particular vacuum of not knowing who you are to attract … people who suck.

But if you do know who you are? Ah.

Then You-Know-What ‘em.

Whenever I find myself in the position of listening to someone who is trying to tell me who or what I should be, this is pretty much what shoots through my head:

Who the fuck are you? You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am. You don’t know where I come from. You don’t know what’s happened to me. You don’t know how my parents treated me. You don’t know my insane background. You don’t know who I love, or why. What the fuck happened to your life, that you feel the need to tell me about mine?

There’s no getting around it. I curse in my head. Sorry again.

Here’s the deal; here is everything: the world belongs to the small percentage of people who know who they are.

Be. Freakin’. Longs. The entire world waits to bend toward those who know who they are. Everyone else is basically just stuck on a ride they can’t get off.

Knowing who you are doesn’t mean being complete. It doesn’t mean feeling whole all the time. It doesn’t mean being perfect.

It means nothing more complicated than acknowledging and owning the simple truth that no one but you does, or can, know you.

There’s nothing tricky there. There’s nothing complex or sophisticated. This isn’t philosophy. It’s just common sense.

No one knows you like you do. Period.

Who you are; who you’ve been; who you might yet become: all of it is between no one but you and God. (And not even God if you’re of the atheist/agnostic bent. Then it’s just you and you, baby.)

It’s not between you and your mom. It’s not between you and your dad—or your spouse, your kids, your best friend, your pastor, your teacher, your boss, your co-workers. It’s not even between you and some clods in your car trying to tell you that you shouldn’t be gay.

You, and you alone, know, or can know, who you are.

So if other people, uninvited by you, try to tell you who you are?

Then you know what to say.

 

UPDATE: The young man who wrote me the letter in last time’s Good Friends or Socially Maladjusted Cretins? (of which this post is essentially part two of my response, if you’re just joining us) wrote me this morning to say:

I just read your Low self-esteem? Pffft. Who the [bleep] are you? post, and agreed with every word you wrote. Again today, on a trip back to campus after dinner, my two friends expressed their disbelief and disgust about me being gay. Then they told me how the laws in the Bible clearly state that only with a woman can a family be formed. They even said that, as I don’t go along with the “normal” flow, I’m gonna suffer for life. You were right all along. Yesterday, I was ashamed. Today, I’m boiling angry over such prejudices and bigotry. The next time they try to save my soul again, I’m gonna strike them back with all those thoughts you shared on those two posts. Thanks, John. You’re a lifesaver.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Gary

    Yup…Works for me!!

  • Joan Kahres

    I like this… Be comfortable with your own mind, knowing and accepting that you are a work in progress that YOU will figure out! I’m in progress!

  • mike moore

    I love it when you curse … lucky for you, I’m already married.

  • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

    A personal standing ovation from my kitchen to your computer. Bravo, my friend. Bravo.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      This is my third time reading it through. Pretty soon, John, you’re going to have a following, like Monty Python or Aliens, of folks who go around quoting your awesome lines, laughing till it hurts, and slapping each other on the back while saying,

      “OH! I know…wait.. wait, ‘Be. Freakin’. Longs.’ !!!!!!” (Wild uproars)

      “I know! I know! I love that one! and ‘that’s serious enough to warrant using both barrels of the best weapon in the world for fighting that particular enemy: Fuck, and Them.”

      “Oh….it hurts….”

      • Mindy

        Oh my God, Christy, we’re sharing a brain – I was thinking the exact same thing.

        LOVE this, John. Totally.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

          Brain sharing is the best. I love it when that happens!

  • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

    Ok, funny thing. I’m looking at the accompanying photo (after I’ve already “shared” this on my page) and think to myself, “Huh. I wonder why John picked that photo of a guy gazing into a mirror at his…..OH. Right.”

    Carry on.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    This feels something similar to some thoughts I’ve been thinking lately. I posted something on my blog a little while back regarding an individual’s relationship to the world: http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/12/some-dark-thoughts.html

    I determined that any given individual falls into one of three categories in regards to the rest of the world – 1. Priceless treasure (to family, friends… fans). 2. Face in the crowd/nobody/something to harvest money from. 3. A mess that needs to be cleaned up. It is unavoidable that people will put us into one of the three categories and so, you will put people in them as well. (Even if you try to avoid #3, you do probably do it on occasion. You know, that person in your like you wish would TOTALLY CHANGE).

    #3 isn’t often even personal. Very often, it’s what strangers put you in by category. I’m sure we’ve all seen people on the Internet ranting that the world will be a better place once all people who believe in God are gone. (Except of course their beloved sister, sainted grandmother or the guy who runs their favorite donut shop, but I disgress…) I’m sure the gay people here have heard it all from people who want to change them.

    Let’s just say that recognizing this categorical “Just a mess” attitude with people has helped me to mentally say “Fuck ‘em.”

    A note: At the moment, I am much more happy now than when I wrote that post, so nobody worry about me, okay?

  • Kara Kerstetter via Facebook

    Love this.

  • Jeannie

    You know the section you have set off in a box? Well, I am seriously going to print it off and put it somewhere I can see if everyday. Probably not the bathroom mirror because my kids will also see it and the rather colorful language it contains. But still, I want to see it often.

  • http://www.raymack2009.com Ray McKinnon

    Love you, bro! Thanks for your hella honesty and touch of self…lol yeah…I know how that sounds and won’t change it, lol.

  • Dirgham Tamas

    (wild applause)

  • http://www.facebook.com/brianeast Brian East via Facebook

    NICE. Thoroughly enjoyed that!

  • http://www.facebook.com/salina.ciotti Salina Ciotti via Facebook

    Love it, John!

  • Diana

    Fuck, yeah!

  • Lymis

    To the young man who wrote the original letter:

    “Yesterday, I was ashamed. Today, I’m boiling angry over such prejudices and bigotry. The next time they try to save my soul again, I’m gonna strike them back with all those thoughts you shared on those two posts.”

    Yes, you are right to feel that righteous anger is a more empowering response than shame. And it’s a more empowering response than needing their approval and essentially begging for it.

    But if you step back from it, anger is just outwardly directing the same issue that shame is the inward version of – that their opinion matters in the question of who you are.

    Anger is the reaction that they owe you the approval that you aren’t getting from them, that you deserve that approval, and that you are right to be angry that they aren’t living up to your standards of how they are supposed to be. You’re moving into trying to punish them by withholding your approval because it hurt you when they withheld their approval.

    It’s a good, and necessary first step, but don’t mistake it for the goal, because you’re still basing your happiness and personal self-esteem on their feelings about you – sort of a “you can’t fire me, I quit!” situation.

    It may well be that the best you can do is be angry. And if so, then go for it. Any of us who’ve been in the closet understand the incredible rage that we’ve been stuffing by letting others define who we’re supposed to be – and you have to deal with it and process it. But shouting and being healthier-than-thou will only get you so far.

    Their opinion doesn’t matter either way. It certainly may have a great deal to do with whether you want to associate with them, consider them friends, or allow them input into any other aspect of your life. But it doesn’t matter unless you let it. And defining yourself as The Guy Who Won’t Put Up With It Any More is ultimately no more fulfilling than being The Guy Who Is Ashamed.

    And even from a purely strategic viewpoint, it’s counterproductive. Being angry at them and arguing why they’re wrong still keeps everything mired in the idea that who you are is up for debate, and it’s exhausting to try to overcome not only ingrained prejudice, but a deep and abiding feeling that the majority rules. If who you are is up for a vote, they’ll generally always feel that they get to decide.

    Be angry because you’re angry. Be angry because you need to be angry. Be angry because at this point, your only other workable choice is to be ashamed, and angry is better. Be angry because anger can be an important motivating tool for you to make changes in your life, your self-image, your friends, and how you present yourself in the world. Be angry because it can provide the energy to deal with narrow-minded people with class and with style.

    But don’t confuse any of that with the idea that being angry is somehow the goal, or that being angry justifies bad behavior on your part, or that being angry is somehow the point of the whole thing.

    Be angry to be able to get through being angry. It’s a way station. If you stop at angry, you just end up bitter. You deserve better than bitter.

  • Brian W

    Personally, I like the more PG version of the word; “phuq”, it doesn’t get caught by corporate email filters or into some I.T. guy’s email of “inappropriate words”. If you don’t like it, well phuq all of you then!!

    • Joan Kahres

      I like that…. phuq… it gives the same feeling of getting it off your chest without all the “do you have to go to that language level” stuff. Though speaking the original in loud ringing tones can be very cleansing to your soul.

      The beauty of letting go of others “parameters” for you is that you step outside of the boxes you’ve been closed into. You see things as TV screen happenings (and you know how much of that you don’t bother with). You can say, wow, that guy doesn’t get it. Too bad, very sad, nothing to get hot about. If they’re in your face and you’re not reacting, they can be deflated with no power over you as well (when you’ve truly reached your understanding of yourself). I’m striving for this “out of the box” experience, and I am seeing how much easier life is with this practice as I move forward. Shutting off when people are out of control and hearing about everyone’s experiences at this page helps. Thank you all.

    • Lymis

      Maybe it’s my military background, but I’m a believer in owning your cursing. If you’re going to say fuck say fuck.

      At the same time, somewhat counterintuitively, I’m also in favor of the over-the-top cutesy low-cal curse replacements, like “Oh sugar!” or “Gosh darn it” if only for the lightheartedness of them, and especially when it’s clear that it’s a deliberate choice rather than an “Oh, I could never” sort of thing.

      The in-between things like actually saying “the f-word” or using things like f@#k always seem to lack the courage of one’s convictions.

      Getting past a computer filter, of course, is a different question.

  • Joanne

    I love you and I love this. This is an all purpose guide really, not just for people that are trying to talk someone out of being gay. It’s for all those young people that are worried what their parents will think. It also goes hand in hand with the idea that you don’t have to answer nosy questions. Don’t justify yourself to anyone. Just be.

    Thank you John Shore!

  • Melody

    I fucking loved this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.w.montoya Drew Montoya via Facebook

    This post exemplifies why you are one of my favorite bloggers. And I’m even an atheist. :)

  • Don Whitt

    Brilliant and spot-on as usual, Herr Shore.

    The members of the low self-esteem club will do and say ALL SORTS OF THINGS to get you into their club.

    They will call you “self-satisfied”.

    They will tell you to “get off your pedestal”.

    They will also criticize you for “cursing” when you explain to them where you think they should go and how quickly they should travel to get there.

    Phuq ‘em.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    As the Apostle Paul wrote: “Who are you to judge the servant of another?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    Love your blog! Even tho I am a straight female Christian….. my ability to deal with those who think they know me better than I has always been your family motto!! Keep the blogs coming! Your refreshing outlook is much needed…… still!

  • Soulmentor

    Hey John. Over the past several months since I came across your blog, I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend….an increase in unattractive language use.

    I have a Speech degree with some extra study in semantics and English language usage so maybe I just notice it more. I’m no language prude and I often feel the same as you express here in this blog BUT…..it seems to me that the use of the F word is getting a bit excessive. It was popping up occasionally in the comments, but now here you are using it rather loudly and some here are jumping rather gleefully on it.

    I don’t care personally and I know there is maybe a time for it, but has your use of it now given permission to everyone else and might it turn off (and away) some, maybe many of the more sensitive “christian” readers who may otherwise get something good out of your blogs? If my evangelical sister, for instance, has taken my advice and tuned in, I know she will promptly tune out after this and she is the type who NEEDS to be here. You got it outta your system. Now maybe admonish your readers to consider who may be reading your blog and THEIR words too.

    You’re my man, John, but just sayin…………

    • Marcey Schwarz

      In general, I agree with Soulmentor. However, in this particular case, I could not help but hear “The Who” song in my head. It will probably be there all day. I don’t personally use the F word, but I really can’t think of a suitable substitute in this particular case. “Who the heck are you?” or “you are not God” just doesn’t carry the same punch.

  • http://stitchinguptheseams.wordpress.com Stitching Seams

    Thanks for this, John. Hard for me to actually do sometimes, but thank you.

    I lost my best friend in the world when I confessed to her that I’d slept with my then-boyfriend-now-husband (which, in the sect of Christianity in which I grew up, was the WORST thing you could POSSIBLY do as a woman). I used to think she changed after that, but now I think she just showed me who she really was at that point. She started telling me things like I could no longer be trusted to make decisions for myself. Or smiling and shrugging if I tried to convey the depth of my sorrow about the decision. Or days before my wedding when I confessed to her that I was nervous about having an active sex life (as opposed to the one time I’d had sex before), she scoffed and said, “Since you’ve already done it, it shouldn’t be a big deal.” She thought I shouldn’t marry him, because if he was REALLY who God had for me then he wouldn’t have wanted me to go so far, etc. etc. etc. (Because women don’t want sex, only men do, apparently.)

    So toxic. So, so toxic.

    Even after I got married, I tried to stay friends with her. I thought she’d see that I was happy, that our marriage was an awesome thing, and that God still dwelled in me and loved me. The first time we talked on the phone, she asked how my sex life was going…and sounded disappointed that it wasn’t abysmal, like because I wasn’t a virgin my sex life for the rest of my life should suck even as a married woman. She stopped answering her phone when I would call. She never called back. She stopped emailing me. She just…dropped out of my life. And I so desperately wanted her back in my life. I wanted our friendship to be the way it used to be, when we swore that we were the people God had in mind when He wrote that as iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.

    It took almost two years for me to let go of the hope for friendship. Shortly after letting go of the hope, I realized how utterly toxic our friendship had been. I realized that she had assigned my worth based on the activity between my legs, and couldn’t get over it. She didn’t understand what grace really was – to her, it only extended so far.

    Sometimes it’s still hard. She’s not the only friend I lost because of having sex (we were at a Christian college when it happened, and we got expelled when the administration found out…though how they ever found out, I have no idea). Sometimes I still mourn my lost friendships. But the ones I have now are so much healthier. And I realize now that my worth isn’t based on what my friends think. I have worth intrinsically, no matter what.

    Sorry for the sudden explosion of story-time on your blog. :) Just wanted to thoroughly express how thankful for this post I am.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

      Thank you for sharing your story, SS.

  • zenobia

    man, i love this blog and (most of) the people who post here. it makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy :) i’ve been wanting to say it for a long time, but have not… it’s not easy being an “agnostic/buddhist/atheist/maybe christian/ wandering person in question” (and that only scratches the surface!!)- funny and amazing that this place makes it feel alright to be any, all, or none of the above :)


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