When You Don’t Like Yourself ~ Alex Lickerman M.D.

Some people have the misfortune to have been born to abusive parents who belittled them and prevented them from developing a healthy self-esteem. Others are born predisposed to view themselves in a negative light because of their physical appearance, a disability, or for no reason anyone, including themselves, knows. Research has consistently supported the notion that it’s difficult to be happy without liking oneself. But how can one learn to like oneself when one doesn’t?



People filled with self-loathing typically imagine they dislike every part of themselves, but this is rarely, if ever, true. More commonly, if asked what specific parts of themselves they dislike, they’re able to provide specific answers: their physical appearance, their inability to excel academically or at a job, or maybe their inability to accomplish their dreams. Yet when presented, for example, a scenario in which they come upon a child trapped under a car at the scene of an accident, that they recoil in horror and would want urgently to do something to help rarely causes them to credit themselves for the humanity such a reaction indicates.

Why do self-loathers so readily overlook the good parts of themselves? The answer in most cases turns out to relate not to the fact that they have negative qualities but to the disproportionate weight they lend them. People who dislike themselves may acknowledge they have positive attributes but any emotional impact they have simply gets blotted out.


Which makes learning to like oneself no easy task. Many people, in fact, spend a lifetime in therapy in pursuit of self-love, struggling as if learning a new language as an adult rather than as a child.

Before such a change will occur, however, the essential cause of one’s self-loathing needs to be apprehended. By this I don’t mean the historical cause. The circumstances that initially lead people to dislike themselves do so by triggering a thought process of self-loathing that continues long after the circumstances that set it in motion have resolved, a thought process that continues to gain momentum the longer it remains unchallenged, much like a boulder picks up speed rolling down a mountain as long as nothing gets in its way. For example, your parents may have failed to praise you or support your accomplishments in school when you were young—perhaps even largely ignored you—which led you to conclude they didn’t care about you, which then led you to conclude you’re not worth caring about. It’s this last idea, not the memory of your parents ignoring you, that gathers the power within your life to make you loathe yourself if not checked by adult reasoning early on. Once a narrative of worthlessness embeds itself in one’s mind, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to disbelieve it, especially when one can find evidence that it represents a true account.

But a narrative is just that:  a story we tell ourselves. It may very well contain elements of truth—that we are unattractive, that we do fail a lot of the time, or that our parents didn’t find us all that lovable—but to proceed from facts such as these to the conclusion that we’re deserving only of our own derision constitutes a significant thought error.


The problem is that we common mortals can hardly avoid deriving our self-esteem from the wrong source—even those of us whose self-esteem is healthy. We look to what in Nichiren Buddhism is termed the “smaller self,” the parts of ourselves that seem better than those of others and to which we become overly attached. In other words, we ground our self-esteem in things about ourselves we perceive as unique: typically our looks, our skills, or our accomplishments.

But we only need to experience the loss of any one of these supportive elements to recognize the danger of relying on them to create our self-esteem. Looks, as we all know, fade. Unwanted weight is often gained. Illness sometimes strikes, preventing us from running as fast, concentrating as hard, or thinking as clearly as we once did. Past accomplishments lose their ability to sustain us the farther into the past we have to look for them.

I’m not arguing that basing our self-esteem on our positive qualities is wrong. But we should aim to base it on positive qualities that require no comparison to the qualities of others for us to value them. We must awaken to the essential goodness—to what in Nichiren Buddhism is termed our “larger self”—that lies within us all. If we want to fall in love with our lives—and by this I don’t mean the “we” of our small-minded egos—we must work diligently to manifest our larger selves in our daily lives. We must generate the wisdom and compassion to care for others until we’ve turned ourselves, piece by piece, into the people we most want to be.

In other words, if we want to like ourselves we have to earn our own respect. Luckily, doing this doesn’t require that we become people of extraordinary physical attractiveness or accomplishment. It only requires we become people of extraordinary character—something anyone can do.

A simple thought experiment supports this notion: think right now of your favorite person and ask yourself, what is it about them that attracts you the most? Odds are it isn’t their physical appearance or their accomplishments but rather their magnanimous spirit; the way they treat others. This is the key quality that makes people likable, even to themselves.

Treating others well, it turns out, is the fastest path to a healthy self-esteem. If you dislike yourself, stop focusing on your negative qualities. We all have negative qualities. There’s nothing special about your negativity, I promise you. Focus instead on caring for others. Because the more you care about others, I guarantee the more in turn you’ll be able to care about yourself.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman’s home page, Happiness in this World(link is external).



A Queer African Tale: On Trauma, Gender Transitions and Acceptance ~ Ola Osaze

When I first embarked on this journey of queerness I was a woman. I went to lesbian bars because that’s what non-hetero women did, while ignoring that nagging voice in me that spoke of an identity more complicated than gay. In these bars I was usually the most femme presenting person in sight and, in retrospect, the prettiest thing around — my black body sticking out like a flagpole in a sea of weather-beaten white faces. I didn’t think myself pretty then, blinded as I was by ideologies that maintained people like me — dark-skinned African women like me — could never be beautiful. With my long braided hair extensions and dark brown lipstick-ed lips, in my form fitting clothes and my undulations on the dance floor, I rarely got the attention that I longed dearly for because, then as it often is now, a high femme expression of femininity was reviled in lesbian spaces.

My friend Candy – the tall and husky white butch dyke I used to hang with who had a thing for fucking femme cis boys – called the lesbian bar I frequented “the chicken rotisserie room,” because “every dyke in there is over fried and over done.” She was referring to the way all the mullet-bearing and flannel-wearing white dykes in there repeated the same pick-up lines and carried on the same tragically doomed relationships with each other. I went there often because I thought that’s where you go to find love. What I found instead were the empty expressions and foolish acts of betrayal at the arms of forlorn dykes, many of them white, many of them confused out of their minds about what this life was supposed to give them.

There was Star, a stout stonebutch with a shaved smooth dome, who had the shaded blue image of a star carved into her left hand, right between the thumb and forefinger. Everyone called her the resident “wigger” and it took me a while to fully understand the awfulness of such a term or the depths of confusion that would lead a white person to mimic a mode of blackness they think they understand. She talked with a Southern black drawl, peppering her language with tired sayings America liked to call ebonics, making college-educated me feel like I’d gone white. And she called me as much when she was trying to pick me up. On that night I strolled into the club with newly done braids, wearing a tight black on black button-up and jeans combo. I walked in there imbuing my steps with a confidence that I didn’t even halfheartedly possess. Through my thick glasses I stared into the cavernous hall of the club. A few disco balls dangled from the ceiling, buckled here and there by water da mage. Disco lights flashed red, blue, yellow, and purple while something resembling techno music droned on overhead through speakers precariously nailed into the walls high above the dance floor. People swayed, moving in dreamlike motions. I took all this in then eyed the bar where the bartender stared into space, boredom a more prominent feature on her face than her actual facial features.

Why am I here, I asked myself. I’d left the comfort of my warm apartment on the outskirts of Charlotte near the college I attended. I’d driven through the unusually cold January night and here I was, for what? I sauntered to the bar, ignoring that internal voice that teased me for daring to venture out alone, daring to be in this lesbian meat market alone. Was I looking to get laid? I couldn’t figure it out so I got a tequila shot. “And you’re the prettiest thing in here,” Star said, leaning towards me from her perch on the barstool. I was so desperate for acknowledgement that I leaned right in, gobbling her attention right up. On the dance floor she moved in a way that let me know I was supposed to respond rather than initiate, I was supposed to let myself be dominated. She grabbed my hips and slid her hands down the back of my jeans as she pulled me closer to her, but I wrenched myself free because I didn’t want to give in, or at least not in the way she demanded. After a few run-ins at the club, Star stopped coming to the bar for some unknown reason. Did we make out? No. I was too disturbed by the stereotype she was performing. As confused as I was by my black identity, her performance of swagger and ebonics both intimidated and repulsed me.

I moved on to Angel, another butch white dyke I met through an online lesbian dating site. She was everything I was supposed to stay away from: newly out of prison and on parole, drinker of Robitussin like it was water, passionate about alcohol, weed, cocaine and ecstasy. She had a mother long dead and a rich father who wanted nothing to do with her “because I’m a druggie bulldagger,” she laughingly revealed. I wondered what he reacted the strongest to — the drugging ways or her gender nonconformity. The latter I was inexplicably drawn to, wanted to try on in my own way but didn’t yet have a lexicon to capture and understand, trans not being a word or identity I was familiar with at the time.

At night, steeped in herb and alcohol, we’d fuck relentlessly, exploring each other’s bodies and surfing our mutual highs when the drugs in our systems crested, then devolving into grouchy teeth grinding trolls when their effect wore of. I was so feverish with desire for everything her body was about and weed took that feverishness to a ferocity I didn’t recognize. One night, Peter, her drug dealer friend came over to her apartment and all three of us occupied her brown threadbare precariously tilted couch, passing the pipe from hand to hand, smoking and watching crappy TV. I climbed onto her lap, took her face in my hands and stuck my tongue in her mouth. She in turn clasped me closer to her warm cough syrup smelling body and the make-out was epic. We looked up after what felt like hours later to discover Peter had quietly slinked out.

The first time I smoked bud, it was with Sam, a thirty-something slim-framed white man in his 30s. We spent so much time together that everyone at Gray’s bookstore, where we both worked, thought there was something going on. I can’t tell you why I chose Sam as my friend. Maybe it was because in a way we were both outsiders, him the oldest in the group and me the sole immigrant, African for that matter — an exotic species to the staff who’d known nothing but bible belt America their entire lives. “You need to get back to your roots,” one black man in his early 20s said to me, befuddled by my musical excursions into the worlds of Fela and Nine Inch Nails; by “roots” he meant Hip Hop, not Afrobeat.

One night, sitting on the steps of a co-worker’s house, a ruckus party was happening around us. Sam, his easygoing nature creating an isle of calm around us, was as perplexed as I was by the drunken college kids — many of them screaming at nothing but just sheer air, fueled by a chemically induced joyousness. Sam and I chatted about nothing special. He passed me what I thought was a rolled cigarette. I took a hit, after he told me what it was. I choked, spat in mild disgust. “That’s disgusting,” I said handing the burning spliff back to him. The end glowed deep orange suddenly; smoke trailing off it curling into a blue haze. I noted that. Noted also the feel of seeing something as mundane as smoke anew. As the curiously jubilant people around me came into sharp focus, I noted the hidden truths seemingly unearthed by this thing that charred my throat and smelled like skunk. That was the beginning of my belief in the church of weed and my dependence on it for connection with others. Thanks, Sam, wherever you fucking are.

My two-month affair with Angel brought a sexual freedom, the likes of which I’d never seen. The weed, drugs and booze probably had a lot to do with that, but just as crucial was the absence of gender when we were in bed. I didn’t feel like a girl or any gender in particular. We were just two warm soft bodies — one black, the other white — fitting together in ways that made sense for us. I remember sitting up in her bed one night my hands still sticky from her, letting my eyes roam over her body in the dim light of her bedside lamp, settling on her flat chest and square shoulders, wanting her again, wanting a body like hers.

In spite of these self-discoveries that led me to question a gender I’d assumed was unquestionable, we were dysfunctional. For we traversed the terrains of coy sex to reckless sex to passionate sex, but we never had sober sex. And how unready was I to be out about being queer. I couldn’t dare come out to my very traditional Nigerian family, most of who were either back home, in the case of my parents and extended family, or in the case of my sister, had escaped the oppressive 2nd class status of Nigerian womanhood for the UK. The only relative who lived in the same town as me at the time was my older brother and, given that year in the early 80s when we were both still in Nigeria and he did those strange unwanted things to my 7-year old body, I didn’t like to be around him much and didn’t like to reveal any details of my personal life to him. I remember clearly the day I tried to introduce Angel to a co-worker we’d run into at the local Hollywood Video. Anxiety over being seen with my gay lover by a straight co-worker forced me to momentarily forget her name. High as she was at the time, she laughed it off like it was nothing, like she didn’t expect anyone to remember her name — least of all her lovers.

When she later dumped me for the love of her life who was getting out of prison, I too swallowed the heartbreak like it was my lot in life to be left for someone else. What never came into our relationship were the realities of our lives outside our drug-fueled fuckfests. I never told her about the lifetime of physical and sexual abuse at the hand of my family I was doing my damndest to flee. Nor did she know about the ways I was hustling for under the table jobs or lying about my immigration status to claim jobs that paid me a pittance and called it wages. Or how every other Saturday I drove my Dodge hooptie to the other side town to sell plasma for $25 a pop. During intake at those vampiric clinics, right after the blurb about gay men not being eligible to sell their fluids, the form would ask me if I was Nigerian, because apparently Nigerian blood, like gay men’s blood, is tainted by AIDS. I needed the $25 something fierce so I decided to shirk my Nigerian identity, all hundreds of years of Yoruba and Edo history, all 19 years of my born-and-bred-in-Port-Harcourt life, to lay in a stupor for the hour or two or three it took to drain the requisite amount of blood out and pump the plasma-less gruel back into me. “Make sure you eat,” the attendant would say to me as I stumbled out of there disoriented and ashamed.

Driven by deep feelings of unworthiness, I spent my early queer years chasing broken white women like Angel. I surrounded myself with people, white people in particular, that so ardently invested in a vision of me that was anything but me. Dating broken white women became a way to reprise a powerlessness that years of sexual abuse and generations of blackphobia had tricked me into believing in. I drowned this feeling of powerlessness in weed and seeking out relationships in which I could engage in yet remain completely hidden from view. Neither did I really want to know these lovers either, because that required a deeper level of engagement that I was unprepared for. This is what happens when you can’t bear to look yourself in the eye in the mirror: you can’t bear to look at anyone else either.

As I write this essay, I’m well into my 30s, no longer that twenty-something who wandered wide-eyed into the chicken rotisserie room. I am now living full time in a body that’s beefy and slim in the places I want, square shouldered and hairy in the places I like. People call me “sir” and “man” and throw a male-gendered “dude” my way in salute. I tell the ones that will listen that I’m neither a man nor male-privilege-seeking. I’m starting to occupy the complicated transgender space I spent years carving out for myself.

And yet. Why am I staring at the ruins of another weed-soaked and silence-filled relationship? Why am I once again looking at that confused twenty-something, the me who tried to escape childhood trauma by drowning in invisibilizing relationships?

Rather than cast that confused twenty-something aside, I’m realizing I have to take her hand. I’m learning she still has much to teach me.



The Average Black Girl Who Speaks White by Naeemah

As an educated black woman, I often have this comment thrown in my face. “You speak so well.” At one point, I was even asked if I had gone to school to speak the way that I do. Yes, I did go to school, but that is not a question you would ask a white person.

Ernestine Johnson, a Spoken Word artist, showcased her piece on The Arsenio Hall Show, and it resonated deeply with me. Take a look below and see what she has to say.

BB by Naeemah

What happened? Standing over a body that’s flat out on the ground, I can’t feel anything.

Not sure what’s happening. Is it mine or someone else’s? Whose body is it? Who does it belong to? I don’t know. I try to look for help, scream, but no one is listening to me. No one sees me, no one sees the body on the ground. At my feet.

People are walking by, not even paying attention to what’s on the ground, who’s on the ground. I scream again, but no one hears me, no one is listening. I try to turn the body over, to see who it could be, but my hands go right through. What is happening? My hands go right through the body again and again and again and again.

That shirt looks familiar to me. I look down at myself and realize that I’m wearing the same clothes as the person on the ground.

We are the same. I can’t breathe. I’m not breathing.

I look around in confusion, hoping someone can help me, help us. Help. No one is there. No one is even looking at me, at us. I crouch down, trying to protect myself from the outside, as I finally see the blood leaking from underneath the body. The blood that’s pooled underneath my body. I’m dead. I’ve died. I crouch down for hours. No one looks at me, no one looks at us. Tears run down my ghostly face, as I slowly lay down on the hard cold cement next to myself. There’s no one else that will care for us, we are alone. Always alone. No one else is here. No one will ever be.

Traces of Identity 2 By K. Kenneth Edusei

I trace my identity,
Back to the death of my friend,
Back to the reality of life,
And back to realizing,
People end.

I trace my identity,
Back to reading all the news,
Back to precision in my moves,
And back to the enjoyment,
I struck a rhythm in school.

I trace my identity,
Back to my environment,
Back to academic enlightenment,
And back to ink on a page,
Words so inspiring.

I trace my identity,
Back to unheard rhyme schemes,
Back to a Higher Being,
And back to that kid who,
Created a new dream.

I trace my identity,
Back to my notebook and pen,
Back to my expressive desire,
Back to boys becoming men,
And back to my love,
That of a writer.

Traces of Identity By K. Kenneth Edusei

I trace my identity,
Back to Babs and Buster Bunny,
Back to Batman-Superman Adventures,
And back to having no money.

I trace my identity,
Back to Turtles in Time,
Back to Super Street Fighter 2,
And back to being afraid to climb.

I trace my identity,
Back to two-hand-touch,
Back to 5-on-5 full-court,
And back to not being enough.

I trace my identity,
Back to fearing the truth,
Back to beatings by a brute,
And back to realizing,
I am strong too.

I trace my identity,
Back to cutting class,
Back to bad report cards,
And back to honors in math.

I trace my identity,
Back to being told I would fail,
Back to my high school diploma,
And back to the start of my journey up hill.

36D, Bra Not Necessary – On Acceptance By Giovannah Philippeaux

Yes, I am a 36 D which means I am pretty well endowed (which I am grateful for), but it also means that I am little chubby. News flash rubenesque women have rubenesque body parts; think Christina Hendricks, Adele, Queen Latifah. Sorry we all can’t be Sofia Vergara (tiny and curvy, still love her though don’t get me wrong).

I often feel like the world (and by that I really mean the media) likes to pick and choose the parts of me it likes and the parts of me it doesn’t. So big chest, YES!! Big body, NO!!!!! Thick lips, YES!!! Dark skin, NO!!!! Speaks English, YES!!!! With accent, NO!!! Long hair, YES!!!! Kinky hair, NO!!!!! And this could go on. But here’s the thing, I am a whole package; I can’t divvy up my parts for your liking. And I am not the only one with this story.

You’re a tall gorgeous blue-eyed blond…..with your body covered in tattoos and piercings

You’re a typical Abercrombie and Fitch male…..with depression and bipolar disorder

You’re a top black male athlete in your sport…..who’s openly gay

And there are many other people like this, whose true stories don’t match what the media tells us it should be and it’s crushing. It’s crushing to the people who can’t find a place to belong, who feel alone, scared, and bullied. It’s been crushing to me, being bullied by friends, teachers, and family, just because I was a little different they couldn’t understand. This is what happens when you, when we, have a single story.

Well NEWS FLASH WORLD….We’re not buffet tables. You can’t just pick and choose the parts of us you like and the parts of us you don’t. It’s all or nothing. And as we are here to stay it’s going to have to be all.

Amends by K. Kenneth Edusei

My reflection haunts me,
I don’t like who I see,
There are so many things I despise about him,
I wonder how I live with me,
I have so many reasons to hate him,
We must exists in the same space,
I am the steward of his bad habits,
Daily forced to see his face,
There is no place to hide from him,
I fight him all the time,
I know he cannot swim,
So I drown him in a glass of wine,
I hate to make eye contact,
With a reflection I wish would die,
He tells me all I try to forget,
The one person to whom I could never lie,
He’s my eternal score keeper,
I can never run from him,
I’ve grown so strong in hatred,
Cause I can’t forgive my sins,
I am weary of this battle,
How do I make peace with me?
Maybe it’s time we talk about this,
Maybe it’s time to set things free,
Maybe I need to let go some pain,
And work on becoming better,
When I asked for wings earlier,
I didn’t expect such stormy weather,
I don’t have any answers,
But this needs to be fixed,
I’m trying to find a way to love him,
He’s someone I genuinely want to live with.

TED Talk Tuesday – Hetain Patel: Who am I? Think again

“How do we decide who we are? Hetain Patel’s surprising performance plays with identity, language and accent — and challenges you to think deeper than surface appearances. A delightful meditation on self, with performer Yuyu Rau, and inspired by Bruce Lee.”

This is such an interesting and creative way to question our assumptions on identity. Artist Hetain Patel takes a personal look at who he really is and invites us along for a one of a kind ride. Identity is such a personal and complex subject, I am still in the process of discovering who I am. But the question is when do you know? When do you really know who you are? In a world that is always changing, is it possible to have a solid definition of self and identity? Share your thoughts in the comments.



Cell: Your Image by K. Kenneth Edusei

Over 83% of the people in America own smart-phones. After recently taking a brief hiatus (unwillingly of course) from owning one, I became curious as to what impression I make when one notices my phone. Questions of identity and technology have been looked into by researchers such Pew and Nielson. There are also more humorous takes on the subject. So what does your cell say to people?

For starters Android users are probably in their college or pre-college years. The pew survey found that student cellphone users are adopting the Android platform at much higher rates than iOS. If you’re in college you’re probably sporting an Android phone. 26% of those whom fall within college age are android users. Do not fret iOS users. Your niche is found among college graduates and working professionals. If you’re in school with an iPhone, you’re just ahead of your time. Education is one thing your cell-phone tells everyone, what else is your phone saying?

Your phone also speaks volumes for how attractive you believe yourself to be, if you own an iPhone. iPhone users are arrogant enough to  believe they’re the most beautiful, most ambitious, and their boss thinks highly of them. Users also spent the most on clothes and grooming. They also used adjectives like confident, daring, bright and most flirtatious. I am convinced that iPhones makes one shine with the light of greatness or maybe it’s those annoyingly bright cases I see them in.

While our Apple friends feel the world reflects their inner glory, Android users feel inspired by the world. Self-described as artistic, creative, and calm, Android users see themselves as polite. Other traits of Android users are they’re the most active on social media, consume the most alcohol, and they watch the most television.

It is true cell phones are consistently telling someone facts about his or her owner. An image of whom we are isn’t distinguishable enough from an accessory we carry. Having been without a phone for a few weeks I recently asked “what is my image?” After giving thought to the variety of ways one could answer that question, I looked as the darkness on my phone reflected the image that matters.