Cogs in the Machine
When I was attempting to answer this question, I realized I already knew the "correct Buddhist answer," which is something akin to "feel what you're feeling, notice what's going on in your body," etc. etc. But when it comes to self-hatred, I want more help than that. So I took a risk and wrote a more creative response about self-hatred and work. The magazine didn't want to publish my response, so I'm publishing it below.
It's not a perfect response by any means. In fact, I would probably answer the question a different way if someone posed it to me again. I would write about radical self-acceptance. But it's interesting to consider what magazines and publishers consider worth publishing. What is attractive, commercial, sanitary, sexy, and palatable, and what is dangerous, subversive, too political, not "Buddhist enough?"
What are the limitations of our creativity, critical thinking, and spiritual growth? Who decides what the boundaries are, and how far we are allowed to push? Who decides what is and isn't wisdom? If something is not attractive to the mainstream, does that make it more or less true?
My answer to the reader's question:
Some worry is a natural part of life; stress has an evolutionary purpose because it helps us escape from danger. However, if you are constantly worrying and this is interfering with your ability to work, sleep, or enjoy things, you may have an anxiety disorder. If this is the case, a therapist might be the best person to help. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular is useful in helping identify maladaptive thoughts and replacing them kinder and more realistic ways of relating to yourself. Running and other aerobic exercise is also quite useful.
I’ll be honest with you—after an important job interview or after I’ve turned in a rough draft of an essay, I usually feel I have performed poorly (even though I am a good writer!). For the next few days I am often flooded with intrusive self-critical thoughts and even feelings of shame. Of course, meditation is helpful for seeing that self-criticism is just a thought and not an ultimate truth. It’s good as well to have a trusted friend, spouse, or counselor to share these thoughts with. Externalizing and verbalizing self-criticism is important because more often than not, an outside party can recognize when you are exaggerating or being too hard on yourself.