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Book Review – Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself

After 30+ years of reading books on psychology and self-help, it’s unusual for me to come across a book that absolutely knocks my socks off. But that’s just what Anneli Rufus did in Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Penguin Group, NY, 2014). Truly, this is a life-changing book. First, it tells it like it is—like it really is—for people who suffer from self-hatred, through the words of an author who has been there and then some. Then it lays out a reasonable, comprehensive, doable plan for learning to value yourself. Plus it’s written beautifully with a down-to-earth style.

Some highlights. Rufus asserts that someone stole your self-esteem. Bull’s-eye: you had it at one point and then it was wrongly ripped away from you. She says, “Maybe no one directly told us we were worthless, but we came to that conclusion anyway as the only rational explanation of how we were treated or how we felt.” Of course, that was the only “rational” explanation a child could come up with. The true rational explanation, we now know as adults (don’t we?) is that our parents or care-takers weren’t capable of treating us any better than they did. The problem was them, always, always, never us.

Here’s how it happened. We’re told certain negative things about ourselves or they are implied and we sop them up and fill up on them. And think that our parents’ beliefs, then ours based on them, are true and this shapes our self-perception. Rufus includes a vivid description of the this process, quoting Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, as he compares “the human mind to a wet washcloth in that it ‘takes the shape of whatever it rests upon. If you routinely rest your mind on self-criticism, anger, or anxious rumination, your mind will take a negative shape. Alternatively, if you routinely rest your mind on positive, constructive emotions, it will take on a positive shape.’” But, of course!

Rufus quotes psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold, author of the book, Soul Murder: “Soul murder…the deliberate attempt to eradicate or compromise the separate identity of another person.” I would add that the attempt need not be deliberate, because your soul can still be dead even if the damage which did it in was done without malicious intent. There is such a thing as manslaughter, you know. Shengold goes on to say, “Every child has an urgent need for good parenting, and this makes him or her cling desperately to whatever fragments of realistic benevolent parental functioning exist and to what is frequently the delusion of having had a concerned, loving parent.”

Here’s a brief overview of what Unworthy covers: Your so called “personality flaws” that are really your internalized misperception of what turns out to be your parents (or care-takers) real personality flaws. 10 self-esteem booby traps and how to dismantle them. A path to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Seven powerful strategies for healing. Along with enlightenment, Rufus lends you hope and support to overcome.

There were times when this book made me teary and other times I laughed out loud, often at the ludicrous things parents say to their children under the guise of love and caring. I’ve heard my personal share of these ludicrous things and find, due to many decades of distance from my childhood wounding, laughter more appropriate than sadness or anger. I’m aware that there’s a great deal of hyperbole said about books these days. I assure you that I’m engaging in nothing of the kind when I tell you that this book will help you turn over a shiny, bright new page in your life.