Roses Really Smell Like Boo-Boo-Boo
September 1, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

My self-improvement endeavors have made my self-esteem rise to astronomical levels. Now I'm super-awesome. I'm also a self-absorbed cranky bitch.

I've struggled with clinical depression and general herp-derpery all of my life, but a year or so ago, I decided to do something about it. I got into therapy, I started reading some great books, and I read a lot of "how to make your life awesome" askmefi threads.

A year+ later, my life has improved considerably. I'm no longer spending my evenings sitting on the couch eating fritos and wallowing in loneliness and misery. I'm eating healthier and exercising. I'm working on my master's degree. I'm involved in various musical and artistic endeavors around town (and have become a minor celebrity!). I learned how to dress well and do my hair and make-up, so now I've gone from "sort of cute" to "damn! she's hot!" I'm learning new instruments and new languages, I travel often, meet new friends and have incredible experiences. I love to learn from everyone I meet.

Most importantly, I've learned to take time for myself. I have a charismatic Christian background where service and self-sacrifice was highly valued. Now I'm learning how to take time for myself, how to say no to overcommitting myself, and how to enjoy life. I'm no longer a pushover or a doormat.

I feel really great about myself. I no longer think "wow, I'm such a loser, I'm such a waste of space". I feel productive and capable, and balanced. I'm "in the zone" and it feels great, but...

I thought all of this would make me happier, and it has, but I've noticed that my character has changed. I feel like I've worked so hard to improve my life, I look down on people who aren't doing the same. And that makes me feel horrible.

I'm secretly judgmental of my old friends who are still stuck in the same boring routines, living in the same town they grew up in, working boring jobs and not exploring life. I (politely) reject most of the guys that ask me out because I secretly feel like I'm "out of their league". I just feel like I'm the shit. I used to hate people like me. And now I am me!

If I were to give advice to someone like myself, I'd tell them to volunteer to work with people who are less-fortunate, to help them get their head out of their ass.

The only problem is, I already do this. That's my job. I work with homeless and/or low-income individuals to help them get a leg up in life. And I judge them like crazy.

See? I told you I was an asshole.

The problem is, I didn't always used to be this way. I've worked at this job for 4 years and the reason I started working here was because I was a tireless social justice advocate (probably due to my Christian upbringing).

Now, instead of feeling pity or empathy when I see a young woman with 3, 4, or 5 kids come to my job for help, or feeling angry at the societal system that has failed the man who has never worked , I just feel irritated...with them! I constantly think "Why did you make so many dumb decisions? Why can't you improve your situation?" even though I know that the reason they're at my office is because they are trying to improve their situation. I think this frustration is due to the fact that I work with such a large number of people and yet few of them, maybe 25%, actually follow through with the paperwork and steps needed to get help. I do all of this work, provide them with every resource I possibly can, and then they don't do their part, and end up wasting time and money. I am totally fine with helping people who will actually use the help I provide, I love doing that. I find it very rewarding to help people who appreciate the help and will use it to improve their own lives and help themselves, but I can't stand laziness.

In my logical mind, I understand the plight of the poor. I'm aware of class inequalities and privilege and institutional racism. I've read Jon Scalzi's "Being Poor" (I can identify with a lot of the items on that list!). Two years ago, I was a staunch advocate for the rights of the poor and oppressed. Now I feel like I've turned into a closeted conservative. I hear the stories of personal oppression straight from the mouths of the people I work with, and I'm unmoved. I'm more concerned with checking my facebook status than helping a single mother find a job. In the classes in my master's program, we constantly talk about social inequalities and I'm starting to sympathize more with the 'oppressors' than the 'oppressed'.

I'm self-absorbed, impatient, elitist, classist asshole and I hate everyone.

What the hell is wrong with me? How did I become this way? How can I get my head out of my ass and back in the game?

I know I'm not explaining this very clearly, so feel free to ask any follow-up questions. If it matters, my demographic background is: female, straight, mid 20s, non-white.
posted by calcetina to Human Relations (35 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
One nice thing about being self-disciplined and awesome is that you can help people and act nice to people even when you don't want to.

I think that your euphoria will subside as you continue to grow. You will start to take for granted your newfound powers and notice your flaws again.
posted by michaelh at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may sound counter-intuitive, but -- when was the last vacation you took?

The reason I fear it may sound counter-intiutive is that taking a vacation because you think you've gotten self-absorbed maybe sounds even MORE self-absorbed. But -- everyone DOES need to kick back and take a break now and then. Especially if you've made such a major turnaround -- you may not have ever had a whoop-it-up, kick-up-your-heels phase in your life, and I really believe that we need to do that once or twice in our lives because it gets some self-focus and self-gratification out of our system, and we can settle down again. There are wise and unwise ways to do it; a mildly decadent, "what happens in dallas STAYS in dallas" kind of vacation is one of the wiser ways. (The total hedonism approach works too, but is kind of overkill.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't think that you're a cranky bitch. You can still think people made dumb choices, while having compassion for the flawed humans that we all are. Sometimes people are lazy, stupid, and all the rest--but so are you. Slopping sympathy does nothing for anyone, rich or poor. You've been able to push yourself into a better life, and you can certainly assist others to do so.
You can feel impatient and compassion at the same time. I don't know anyone who's in social work who isn't pissed off at the clients at some time or other.

Your actions are what matter. Helping some client fill out those endless forms is what matters--not what you think of her or the forms or any of it as you do it.

Classroom understanding of "the plight of the poor" is so far removed from real life.

But are you burned out by your job?
And while I'm not a believer, I respect those who are--and as one of them reminds me--We're all children of (YOUR DEITY HERE). And trust me, you'll mess up again, sometime, someplace, and you'll want to have some compassion for yourself.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:40 AM on September 1, 2011

Sounds like you're still judging yourself. First you were "worthless waste of space" now you're a "self-centered bitch." It seems to me that even though you've improved your lot in life you still don't think very much of yourself. From where I sit, it sounds like you've always compared yourself to other people and found either them or you wanting. The question isn't where you stand against them (or they you) but are you happy with yourself and where you are? Don't concern yourself with how they stack up against you, or you against them. You say that you've tried therapy, but perhaps this is something else you might look at?
posted by patheral at 9:40 AM on September 1, 2011 [26 favorites]

I can't speak directly to the self-improvement part, but I know first-hand that working with the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free can really wear on you precisely because of the attitudes you describe. Sometimes people are just there to fulfill some court obligation. Sometimes they're sober today, are trying, but are unable to kick their old habit tomorrow. Sometimes they just don't have the life skills to manage all the difficulties they're in (self-inflicted or not).

That shit wears on you. It makes you hard. You feel like you have to be or you'd go crazy or break down crying.

If you can, talk to someone (a counselor) who deals with people in difficult service jobs. Teachers, policemen, pastors, etc. You have to develop ways to cope, ways to both remain involved and keep yourself distanced enough that you don't burn out.
posted by introp at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you are burned out and over-policing your emotions.

It's hard to be a confident, independent woman sometimes because our society doesn't really have much of a script for that besides maybe "horrible bitch" or "secretly insecure". I don't really know the solution to that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:48 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: what the frell?

being a little picky over men because you feel too good for them = AVOIDING NEGATIVE HIDEOUS POINTLESS RELATIONSHIPS

working with homeless folk but keeping in mind how they got there and being a little tough on them mentally sometimes = AVOIDING DROWNING IN THE FEELING OF FUTILITY AND OH-MY-GOD-IT'S-ALL-SO-SAD-NESS

realising you have the potential to be teh hotness = SELF ESTEEM, WORK IT BABY

ok, so this may be casting it all in an overly rosy light, but you see how these thoughts can be potentially beneficial? even essential for your survival in some cases - why waste your time on a man you don't think is right for you? how can you work with the homeless if you spend every day getting trodden down by the unending sad stories and losing the will? you NEED these thoughts, to function, and to be you.

All I would say is, keep them in check. Don't dismiss ALL the men. Don't harden your heart so much you can't hear the poor folk trying not to cry. Don't love yourself so much you forget to love others too. But stop judging yourself so harshly - everything in moderation, including chocolate cake, expensive shoes, and self-congratulation.
posted by greenish at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

(To be clear you don't sound like a horrible bitch to me, but I can hear you saying that to yourself and a lot of it is societal sexism--in fact I find the song you're referencing in your title to be a prime example of "confident women suck because they won't do me" sexism)
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:54 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i have noticed my friends who decide to get in shape or eat healthier or name your self improvement tend to go through a phase where they are weird and judgey at my lazy self.
i have also noticed that once all the new changes they have made became second nature to them and a real permanent way of thinking for them, the weird judgey goes away. It does seem to take awhile for their old personality to come back out and i think it is because they are so focused on not getting off track with their improvements, it is always in the forefront of their brains. You have been aware of your awesomeness for just a fraction of your life, soon you will forget what it was like to not feel this way, and i expect you will mellow some then.

if you were truly an asshole, you wouldn't be this self aware. cut yourself some slack, check your tongue when necessary and continue to be proud of yourself. it might help to look at your clients as beginning on the same journey you just went on instead of focusing on their past and to remember what it is like to feel a little lost. You found your inspiration and drive - these are people still looking for theirs.
posted by domino at 9:56 AM on September 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

Men: I see no problem with being choosy about men, as long as you make a point to put yourself in the places where you will meet men that you think are good enough. (I'm assuming that men exist in the world that you think are good enough for you.)

Job & Friends: Remember how you felt before you changed your life? How many times did you try to fix your life; how many times did you think about how miserable you were without really making the necessary changes; how many times did you think you were going to do something awesome, but slipped back into the old patterns? What was the final impetus that made you do better? How did you reach the critical mass to actually DO SOMETHING about your life? Was it a person, a book, a situation, an event?

It may help to remember all your false starts, regressions, failures at changing your life. In your job, you are one tool for someone to help change their own life. Often one tool is not enough, but you're still contributing. Even if the results of your contribution aren't evident in the next month, year, five years. (And this may also not be enough...and then I echo vacay. And riding it all out until the new you is habit.)
posted by Kronur at 10:00 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with EmpressCallipygos, I think you're suffering from some burnout. It happens to a lot of people in social-work professions, it's part of the reason turnover in that field is so high. Make sure you're getting enough rest and relaxation in your new busy life.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:00 AM on September 1, 2011

Hmm, this seems like an interesting combination between social services burn-out (totally normal!) and a sort of intellectual (spiritual?) transformation regarding the work you do.

First of all, you are still being really hard on yourself (you're an "asshole," and you spend every day helping poor mothers get food for their babies? really?). Stop that.

Second of all, it is totally normal (and healthy and good) for people working in direct social services to have a skeptical and questioning view about received wisdom about "the poor" and "the oppressed" and "the system." This includes received wisdom on all sides -- sterotypes about the poor being lazy, and the poor being oppressed angels. It is also totally normal for direct service workers to get burned out, pissed off, and resentful of the people they work for.

It sounds to me like along with your emotional and physical transformation, you may also want to start thinking about a professional transformation. Take it to the next level beyond just doing benefits paperwork. What do you see is actually going on in the world of the poor, on a structural level? What are you providing to your clients besides just paperwork? How do you want to use your time an energy to make change? To what extent are you a "tireless social advocate" because you're just running on auto-pilot set by your Christian upbringing?
posted by yarly at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2011

You mention your Christian background a few times. If you consider yourself a Christian, it may help to remember this: each of those people you are helping was created by God, in his own image, and they have incredible innate worth. Each person, no matter how down in the dumps they may be, no matter how much of a serial screw-up they are, or how much they are ignored by society, is treasured by the same God you (perhaps) serve.
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." -Jesus, AD 30
posted by BurntHombre at 10:02 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't sound self-absorbed.

FWIW, I've done the self-improvement thing, too. Your situation sounds a lot similar to mine. What happened to me was, I decided I needed to change my self-esteem, which meant changing my thought patterns, which took tons and tons of work, and then I had to adjust emotionally to HAVING these new thoughts and beliefs. I totally had that period where, in becoming more assertive, you think you swing a bit over the line in the opposite direction and feel like you're becoming a selfish ass. You're not. It just takes a long time to get used to it. It's only been a year, right? Keep working on it.

As for the "getting frustrated with working for others" part, I like what the young rope-rider said, about over-policing your emotions. What you're describing just sounds...normal. It sounds like you're trying to live up to a saintly ideal that doesn't actually exist. I bet Gandhi had his moments, too.

I actually think it's great you're taking steps to make sure you're still taking care of yourself while you're working in a job that's entirely about serving others. That's healthy behavior.
posted by world b free at 10:04 AM on September 1, 2011

Are you still Christian? Doesn't the Bible have a lot to say about judginess?
posted by desjardins at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2011

Oh, didn't mean to be so blunt there. What I meant was that when I get off track, delving back into my faith helps me not be such an asshole. (Buddhist here, so whatever that is for you.)
posted by desjardins at 10:11 AM on September 1, 2011

You're burned out.

I'm a hardcore social justice type, who has spent an enormous of time reading and thinking and talking about the ways that race and class and gender conspire to fuck people over in this country. I believe VERY STRONGLY in these things, and have torpedoed more than one social or professional relationship for the sake of sticking to my own ideals.

I spent the last three years living in a building in East Flatbush where most of the other tenants were lower-middle-class families who had been there for twenty to thirty years. When I moved this past spring, I wanted to blow the building up behind me. I mean, I could sit there and yammer on about how all of their lives had been shaped by forces out of their control -- what it must have been like to be a young man in that neighborhood in the 70s and 80s, the compromises they would have had to make and the ways that the system would have left them very little room for error, how hard it must be for the teenager next door to deal with living in a small apartment with both his parents and his grandmother, how these families were suddenly being inundated with white 20-somethings who drive up the rent and call the cops when people play their music too loud. Like I GOT IT, I totally did. Even when the people in all three neighboring apartments were screaming at each other all night, even when some dudes were drinking and playing dominoes and blasting misogynistic music out of their SUV's stereo out front for hours and hours, even when I stepped on yet another chicken bone in the hall or had to wait for a bunch of kids smoking pot in the stairwell to move so I could pass, I was 100% intellectually aware that it was not my place to judge any of them; that I was the intruder here on a community that had existed for decades before I showed up.

But oh my god. OH MY GOD. The things I was thinking for those last few months.

They were not good things. Not things that I was proud of. And not things that I would ever have thought myself capable of thinking.

I hated the person I could feel myself turning into.

So I moved.

A couple months later?

My empathy is back where I want it to be.

Sometimes you need some space to get perspective. Sometimes you just get burnt. out.

That doesn't make you an asshole. It makes you a human being that only has so much energy to deal with things, and can only feel so much before you start to get a little numb to it all.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:18 AM on September 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

You are going to even out. I promise you. You have made a bunch of changes in your life and are feeling all of the glow that comes from true, real, hard-won work. You're reaping all of the rewards of true self-confidence and basking in the glow of what truly loving yourself and being kind to yourself can do for you. That's great! You can never undo the work you've done. You will always understand what it entails to be happy.

Here's the other side though - you will very likely struggle with this later - you will get knocked off your path of awesome, have a bad week, be destabilized somehow, and will have to right yourself. You probably won't get knocked into a hole as deep as you were in, and even if you were, and this is great news: you have the tools with you, always, to claw your way out.

This will help you to even out. But a thing you can do now to help yourself even out sooner, and to keep on keepin' on with that righteous, totally and completely deserved high-on-life feeling, is to forgive the old you for having such a hard time. Because when you judge people who are, as you perceive at least, living where you were and no longer are, you are not actually judging them. You have not walked in their shoes and you don't know their demons. You are judging yourself. You need to accept the old you, the sad you, and respect that that person was doing the best that they could. And that in the future, if you go through another rough patch, you will do the best you can. And that it's all part of the process, and you have always deserved to be happy, and deserved to be loved, even when you didn't feel loved, and even when you weren't happy.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:20 AM on September 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

I know exactly what you are talking about. One waypoint on this journey is learning to accept ugly emotions and feelings as they come. They will come.

You want to take them as they come without hurting yourself or others, or spending your awesome energy self destructively.

You're doing better than most with your obvious ability to identify and clearly articulate your feelings. Now you have to find a way to settle with them. Someone linked to this poem on askmefi, and I've found it super-helpful in understanding and living through ugly, judgmental feelings.

I know that my internal criticism - the driving force that led me to this state -would be extraordinarily harsh and cruel if applied to others. Remember that your internal yardstick is longer, more precise, and sharper-edged than the ones others are using to judge you. Remembering this may help you return the favor.

Finally, you may simply need to leave your current line of work. As your new self becomes more awesome and more capable, your new awesomeness and capabilities may be best used some other way - a way that doesn't inspire a self-destructive, judgemental orobouros. I am sure that you are excellent at helping these people, but there may be other contributions you can make that are still greater.
posted by fake at 10:24 AM on September 1, 2011

I find my judgment of others (particularly when I don't have any real "stake" in judging them, i.e. their changing wouldn't significantly impact my life) is generally rooted in self-judgment. Whenever I make an effort of consciously feeling compassion for myself my judgement for others diminishes.

I wonder if part of change for you was getting "drill seargent-y" with yourself, and if this has become a habit of thought - Identify the slackery! Stomp it out! I wonder if you are fearful about reverting to your old ways and habits and inwardly feel like if you relinquish a sense of judgment you will lose your own grasp on the reins of positive change.

I wonder if you are feeling some disappointment about fixing things not doing more to make you feel fulfilled. Early in your question you say I thought all of this would make me happier, but on the other hand you say I'm "in the zone" and it feels great and the rest of your question doesn't really get into not feeling happy, except indirectly in that you feel guilty about your judgmental attitudes. Maybe you have some sneaky sinking feelings that getting "in the zone" isn't ending up being all that? Maybe you are wondering inwardly what is wrong with you that all this positive change hasn't made you content with life?

It sounds like you're feeling a lot of conflict about your upbringing. It sounds like Charismatic Christianity is not something you particularly identify with any more, and you describe it causing you in the past to not allow time for yourself, not enjoying life and being a "doormat". With apologies for browsing your history it also sounds like your family has some real issues that have impacted your life negatively in ways that have a lot to do with being burdened with responsibilities you felt weren't fair (rightly in my opinion). You also attach your profession and your connection to the cause of social justice to your religious upbringing (for context I am a devout but very unorthodox Christian who practices in a liberal mainstream protestant community). It all sounds like a lot of reasonable material for doubts and conflicting feelings in your professional life. In general maybe you don't totally know what your motivations in life are, as your attachment to your religious foundations becomes doubtful.

Are you still in therapy? If you're like me it was a hard and extremely dumb temptation to not want to get into the ever-present dark sides when I felt like I was making "good progress". Talking about them would mean they were real and important! Don't admit problems! Always the basis of a healthy psyche! It sounds like you would have a lot to talk about.

My advice, such as it is, I guess is to look for self-judgment and see what actively repudiating it in your mind does for you, and to dig deeper into how you feel about what you have identified in the past as your motivations, and how this relates to the shifting of your relationship to your family and their faith.
posted by nanojath at 10:25 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

My self-improvement endeavors have made my self-esteem rise to astronomical levels. Now I'm super-awesome.

OK, now you need a new challenge. There must be something you think is hard. Find that and do it. Both success and failure can be very instructive.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:30 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Remind your self about all the support and help you have gotten in your life to get you where you are. Many people who are struggling have the same issues you had, but may not have the support. What you did for yourself is awesome and inspiring, but you didn't do it alone.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:40 AM on September 1, 2011

You are seeing your previous behavioral patterns in others, and you feel helpless. That's what I got from all of that. You want them to see that their status in life can be changed with effort on their part. You are getting burnt out because they're not seeing it. You can't change others, no matter how hard you want to. I agree that you might need a mini vacation away from your job. I don't think you are a bad person for feeling the way you do; it's so hard when you know that people are fully capable but they aren't even filing their paperwork. Try hard not to judge them. Reformat your emotions into knowing that they can do better, but don't get too invested. You say that you are Christian, and you might want to look at this as a test. Before your transformation, were there people that might have seen you in a similar light? You are judging them because you are not far from where they are...just a year plus, right? Let yourself experience those emotions and recognize why they are surfacing. You would be feeling the same way if you were talking to the very lazy children of immensely wealthy people at a party.

I think that you feel guilty for enjoying yourself now. You don't feel 100% comfortable loving yourself and making the best choices for yourself. It's ok to turn down guys because they aren't what you want to be with. You aren't hurting anybody. They will find somebody else. When you find the right person, you won't turn them down. You're doing you, and that's awesome.

Remember, "If you can't love yourself, how are you gonna love anybody else?!"
posted by 200burritos at 10:48 AM on September 1, 2011

Humble thyself...

Two things:

(1) There was all that crap wrong with you that had to be fixed, and yet you went around with that for years! Probably there're still parts of you that need fixing, so, stay humble.

(2) Remember where your head was at when you were on the couch eating chips. Everybody is at a different point in their journey; no reason to scoff at the ones still on the couch. When you "can't stand laziness," think back to the old, depressed, scared calcetina, and re-frame others' "laziness."

You may enjoy (?) reading "Theodore Dalrymple," who really is (by appearances, anyway) an asshole in the way you fear you are. He has the awful thoughts with the inability to see past the surface, and no guilt about it at all. It may make for entertaining reading and a bit of "Okay, I'm not like THAT" relief...

Also, my answer to much of what you are frustrated with is largely: social capital. Clearly you have it. I have it, probably much more than I deserve. People going to you for help: probably usually not so much, or else they would've been helped long before they hit your office.
posted by kmennie at 10:50 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's natural to say math is easy when you've recently found what works for you. Oh, I'm a visual learner, I understand all of this, what aren't you assholes getting about this singular perturbation?

Step back. Plenty of people overcame your obstacles before you did and there are plenty more to follow you. You didn't get here on your own.
posted by at 11:04 AM on September 1, 2011

So, you used to have a Theory Of The Poor: they were luckless, hapless, blameless, oppressed; God wanted you to give them a hand that they had gotten nowhere else; none of them had ever contributed to their own problems.

Then you discovered, through personal experience, that concerted self-improvement CAN be effective. It was no longer possible for you to believe that effort and savvy do not help determine life outcomes.

So you adopted a new Theory Of The Poor: they're moronic fuckups; they lack effort; they lack savvy; they are the exclusive sources of their own problems.

But neither of these Theories Of The Poor seems plausible or productive. Surely it is the case, and always has been the case, that SOME poor people are luckless or oppressed; while SOME poor people are just habitual screwups; and MOST poor people have both (i) made one or two serious life errors (as has everyone!) AND (ii) periodically been dealt bad hands through no fault of their own (as has everyone!).

I would diagnose you with a bad case of Manicheanism. Acknowledge and fight your impulse to give a single blanket explanation for all poverty. You can correctly feel disdain for a given person's Stupid Decision X without also feeling disdain for the entire person. You can believe that concerted efforts to improve oneself can succeed, without also believing that anyone who has not done well must not have put forth enough effort.

The same Manichean fallacy seems to lurk behind the other self-doubts you express. Either you're a waste of space, or you're super-awesome, or you're a self-absorbed asshole. Either you're In Someone's League (at all times and in all ways), or you're Out Of Their League (at all times and in all ways). Either your friend is improving himself like you are, or he's in a contemptible rut. Either you smell like roses or you smell like boo-boo-boo-boo. (?)

Make it the next step in your campaign of self-improvement to begin viewing the world in a more nuanced resolution. You are allowed to feel X at a given moment (contempt, impatience, superiority...) without incorporating it into your identity and worldview. You are allowed to simultaneously believe, about the same person: "he's a close friend"; "I have very little respect for him"; "I like him a lot"; and "he's an asshole".

(Answerer credentials: late-20's, I have worked with the poor, I have at various points felt contempt for myself and/or for the poor, I have over the course of my 20's executed various plans of self-improvement. To the best of my knowledge, however, I have never smelled like boo-boo-boo.)
posted by foursentences at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you had any treatment for your clinical depression? I don't mean to armchair diagnose, but there was one point in my life that I suddenly got my shit together, felt like I was hitting on all cylinders for the first time ever in my life, and my self-esteem went sky high.

Turned out I was having a hypomanic episode, and while it was glorious while it lasted the crash into depression that followed was not fun.

Might be a good idea to see a shrink just for an evaluation. Sometimes antidepressants can cause hypomania, and sometimes people who have been diagnosed with depression are re-diagnosed with bipolar after a manic or hypomanic episode.

If it's not that, then I recommend a couple of things I've read that help me with my tendency to be judgey: the chapters on compassion and judgement in the book Self-Esteem; and also, in the book The Complete Tightwad Gazette there is an excellent essay about how the author learned to be less judgemental towards poor people who make bad choices. (The Tightwad Gazette book is a fun read, totally worth the price of a used copy.)
posted by sock puppy at 12:35 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I offer this because you mention that you come from a Christian background.

I struggle with a problem similar to the one you describe: pride. My Christian faith helps me a great deal in this regard. Nothing that I do or have or achieve is the result of my efforts alone. Rather, I do it or have it or achieve it only because God has made it possible.

What's the difference between me and the homeless people I work with in the inner city? It's not that I'm smarter, or more awesome. I was born in completely different circumstances than these people, and that is solely by God's grace. Anything I have that's positive is not mine because of who I am or what I've done; it's in spite of who I am and what I've done.

This is helpful to me, and I hope it's helpful to you.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:04 PM on September 1, 2011

You felt sympathy with the poor when they reminded you of yourself. Fundamentally, this is a type of self-absorption that may or may not have some coincidental social benefits, so really nothing has changed, you're the same person you were. You sacrificed yourself for others and helped them, but only on the condition that they were basically extensions of you. And you continue to see them that way. Now, you see the poor as the old you. You hate that person now, and you hate extensions of her.

You love yourself now, but it's a very conditional kind of love. All you've done is checked certain boxes and acquired some social capital that you can exchange for status, praise and respect and that makes you feel good. But it's not remotely the same as unconditional love. Once you get to a point where you feel that the previous version of yourself should not have had to earn love, you should just get it for free because you're a person, you will discover for the first time what empathy means.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:05 PM on September 1, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm self-absorbed, impatient, elitist, classist asshole and ...

Drama queen. You forgot drama queen.

Honestly? If you're going to enjoy your newfound self-esteem you're going to have to chill out a little.

Two years ago, I was a staunch advocate for the rights of the poor and oppressed. Now I feel like I've turned into a closeted conservative.

It's easy to be an idealist (liberal or conservative) before you have life experience. A healthy adult is going to be more of a mix. Right now you're seesawing a bit but it seems likely that you'll end up as one of the 35% of people who identify themselves as moderates.

It's a nice life, but it doesn't spark the burning passion that you're used to. Once again, if you're going to enjoy your new life you're going to have to chill out a little.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: As an activist and social service worker, I concur with the burn out diagnosis. Go do something else for awhile. Or, take a vacation.
posted by hworth at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: You sound like you're spread really thin: social justice work, master's degree, learning new instruments and languages, musical and artistic endeavors, new friends, travel, etc (and you're hot and dress well, too!). It reads like a checklist of so many great things, and they are great things, but it's a very superficial checklist and it seems like maybe you're using the quantity of these awesome new things as a cover. Because you sound like you're still lacking a true and deep self-confidence that would allow you to be comfortable with who you are rather than putting all your esteem in the things you do.
posted by 6550 at 1:04 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Another echo for "burnt out." I worked as a case manager for the homeless/about-to-be-homeless for a short while in my early 20s. It was the main reason I am now a librarian. I was horrified by the forty-something-ers in the social work system who seemed to not care about their clients and were cranky and mean. Then I started to become cranky and mean. These jobs take a lot out of you every day, even if you're great about leaving work at work. It took me about a year to decompress my feelings about the down-and-out after I left that job.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:31 AM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: I'm wondering if maybe you have a little of that new achievement zeal like the reformed smoker or dieter or born again Christian. You've found something that works for you, you managed to achieve these things and now you are wondering why the hell everyone else hasn't just pulled their finger out and done the same thing. Combine this with what I imagine is a case of burn out and I suspect you've swung to the other side of the pendulum swing.

Take a break, maybe look at another line of work, or another way you can help. Use some of your zeal and new found drive on the reform or political side of things and less on the wearing face to face side of things. You can still live up to your beliefs and help but find a way to channel your energy that is less spiritually draining and helps make you a little less cynical and angry.
posted by wwax at 7:41 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. Wonderful answers. I think you're right: I am burnt out. I just got back from vacation a few weeks ago, so I don't know if another vacation will fix things, but I'll keep it in mind.
posted by calcetina at 1:33 PM on September 2, 2011

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