First of all, let me say this: I’m not a scientist, nor do I pretend to be. These are just observations I’ve had mixed with some shit I’ve read. So if you want to win self-righteous points by pointing out scientific flaws, go fuck yourself.
I’ve always been a pretty confident, upbeat person so I never understood why some people had problems with self-esteem. I would always offer banal, unhelpful advice like “fake it till you make it man!” or “just think you’re awesome.” However, I’ve recently learned that low self-esteem is a mental disease that begins with strong emotions elicited by natural biological reactions, stemming from evolution. Let me explain.
Ranking Human beings, like a lot of other apes, are naturally hierarchical creatures – so much so, that we rank each other. In a human “tribe,” each person has a rank – there is a #1, a #2, a #3, etc… This ranking system is biologically wired into our emotions by evolution, whether we like it or not. Scientists studying bonobos (one of our closest ape cousins) came up with a device that could mimic a bonobo voice. They realized that if they emitted a sound equivalent to the #7 ranked bonobo sounding disrespectful to the #6 ranked bonobo, not only would the #6 bonobo get angry and upset, EVERYBODY IN THE TRIBE would get angry and upset. In other words, bonobos (and probably humans) are wired to organize ourselves into a very specific hierarchy and then have everybody respect that hierarchy. This makes sense – if you look at most human societies, companies, and social groups, they are clearly organized into hierarchies, with an alpha male at the top, a #2 beneath him, etc… And the reason these hierarchies work is that everybody generally accepts the order.
But what does it mean to be “ranked” higher? It works like this: the #1 ape gets to do whatever the fuck he wants. He fucks whoever he wants, eats whatever he wants, and goes wherever he wants. Scientists have observed chimps moving out of the way when the #1 ape walks by. Chimps even bow to the alpha male. Naturally, the #1 ape (the alpha male) gets to be #1 because he is the strongest and most powerful ape in the group. Then, the #2 ape also gets to do whatever HE wants, subject to deferring to #1. And so on. As you go down the ranks, the apes get less freedom to do what they want because they have more people they have to take orders from. From an evolutionary perspective, this arrangement makes sense: the tribe is more likely to survive and be healthy if there was a “leader” who gave orders to his underlings, rather than if every ape just did whatever they wanted to. This is why many companies are organized hierarchically. This arrangement has the added advantage of ensuring that the strongest and healthiest apes eat the most and reproduce.
The #1 ape doesn’t really care about the other apes because he is stronger than them and can do whatever he wants. But the cohesion of the tribe depends on the lower ranked apes obeying the higher ranked apes so the lower-ranked apes evolved to form a deep emotional attachment to higher ranked apes and constantly obsess over how to please them. What does the alpha male want? What is he thinking? Am I upsetting him? This makes sense too – if the lower ranked apes didn’t give a fuck about the alpha male, they would try to eat the same banana the alpha male was trying to eat and the alpha male would knock them the fuck out. Lower-ranked apes are also wired to bow and act submissive around higher-ranked apes. For this reason, the lower-ranked apes are full of stress and anxiety because they don’t want to fuck up and piss off the higher-ranked ape. In fact, scientists have theorized that social anxiety comes about because lower-ranked individuals don’t want to talk to or even be around higher-ranked individuals out of fear they will make them upset and get their ass beat.
The fact that the lower apes obsess about the higher apes and the higher apes don’t give a fuck about the lower ranked apes has caused a lot of stress and misery in human affairs. It is the reason slavery, poverty, inequality and abuse exist. Religion had to force higher-ranked people to care about lower-ranked people because we don’t naturally have those emotions. Sure, we feel a mild bit of compassion, like when you see a homeless guy, but those emotions are not strong enough to make you actually treat poor people well. This is why rich white people lose their minds if a rich white girl goes missing, but don’t care if the same thing happens to a poor black girl.
The worst part of the not caring thing is that in relationships one party is “inferior” and obsesses over the other party, while the “superior” party feels nothing. That’s why some people are shocked when they get dumped – they had intense feelings for their partner, and they don’t understand how their partner could feel NOTHING for them and walk away with the relationship like nothing happened.
Not only do human beings respect the hierarchy, we feel good when we are in what we perceive to be our rank. If you put a person at a rank they don’t feel they belong in, they feel anxiety (remember the bonobos freaking out). If you took a janitor and made him a CEO he would feel a ton of anxiety and would want to go back to being a janitor, even though he logically knows being a CEO is a better job. If you’ve ever had a depressed friend, you might have noticed that they insist they suck (i.e, they are ranked at the bottom of the tribe) even if they aren’t – they are purposely trying to put themselves at the bottom because that is where they emotionally feel like they fit. If it weren’t for people accepting (and liking!) their position, the hierarchy wouldn’t work.
But if we are born equal how are rankings established? I’m not exactly sure how, but I think it goes like this: we meet somebody that is in our peer group (aka the tribe). We size them up and try to determine how “powerful” they are. Powerful means different things in different contexts and communities, but it could mean rich, attractive, strong, etc… Then, depending on how they act (and how we act) and if we feel like they are more powerful than us, a powerful biological reaction occurs in our brain where we see ourselves as being “beneath” them and them as being ranked higher than us (or vice-versa). Sometimes, the word “powerful” doesn’t even make any sense – nobody is “powerful” in middle school, but there is always a “cool kid” that had a sidekick and then a bunch of losers that followed him around everywhere and did everything he told them to. Of course, this interaction and reaction only occurs with people we emotionally care about – we don’t rake ourselves against the guy at the bank or people in the highway, but we do rank ourselves against our friends, people at our graduation party, people we date, etc… The problem is that once we’ve spent enough time “beneath” somebody that emotion solidifies and we see ourselves as beneath them forever – no matter if they become homeless and we become a CEO.
Rejection anxiety If a person gets rejected from the tribe completely, they feel rejection anxiety. Because our biological processes think we are in the woods alone, we lose our appetite (to conserve food), can’t sleep (you shouldn’t sleep when you are in the woods alone and the tribe won’t protect you from predators), we feel terribly alone, and we constantly ruminate on what he did to get rejected, so we can fix it and so the tribe takes us back. Rejection anxiety is one of the worst feelings a human being can experience, and it make sense – evolution has designed us to not do anything that would get us rejected from the tribe, and for us to feel terrible if we do.
Now we can understand low self-esteem. A person gets low self-esteem when they enter into an emotional relationship with a person they see as “above” them and that person treats them like shit. The parties subconsciously “agree” that one person is beneath the other. Their body and mind undergo a biological process where they now believe themselves to be a low-ranking individual dependent on the higher-ranking person, even if logically they are not. In my life I am seen some incredibly attractive, smart, successful people with low self-esteem. It’s not a conscious “decision,” but a biological process that produces overwhelming feelings of inferiority that are hard to eradicate.
The low self-esteem person forms an emotional attachment to the higher-ranked person and subconsciously feels it is their duty to please them. Human beings do a thing called confabulation, which is where their brain justifies their emotions, so their thoughts rationalize their behavior. People stay in abusive relationships because they subconsciously feel low-ranking and confabulate reasons why they deserve the abuse. Their emotions and thoughts team up to create a toxic reality for them. They are afraid to leave because then they will lose their rank, or, worse, be rejected from the tribe altogether. And of course, the relationship offers them a lot of good feelings as well so they learn to ignore the abuse.
A few bugs of human psychology exacerbate this problem. Our biology can’t differentiate between one person rejecting us and the entire tribe rejecting us (apes didn’t have monogamy) so when we get dumped we feel like the entire tribe rejected us and we are in the woods alone. This is why a person with one-itis thinks crazy things like “I will never find another girl like her” or “I will never be happy again” or “the world hates me.” Worse, our biology doesn’t know there are multiple tribes in the world. Logically, if a person gets dumped or treated like shit, they should just move on and find somebody else who doesn’t do that to them. But because our biology thinks the entire world is just one tribe, if a person treats us like shit we think we have been permanently relegated to a lower rank and the only way to regain that rank is for the abuser to accept us again. And oftentimes, the abuser will happily pretend to accept us (to feed his or her own ego) and then treat us like shit again at some point. This is why it is so difficult to fix low self-esteem. Even if P moves to a new city and finds a new group of friends who see him as high-ranking, he still thinks the world is one tribe and will still feel low self-esteem until his high school bully approves of him even if P is a rich lawyer and his high school bully works at McDonalds.
Having low self-esteem makes people emotionally unstable and shitty to others. They are wracked with depression and anxiety that paralyzes them so they don’t do anything that might offend their superiors. This prevents them not only from interacting with people in a healthy way, but also from achieving their goals, being productive, etc… Furthermore, everybody wants to have a higher rank – so when low self-esteem people meet somebody who isn’t “ranked” in their world, they have a strong desire to step on them to make up for the inferiority they feel with others. On one hand, they want to be highly-ranked but on the other hand they feel extreme anxiety if they leave their lower, shitty rank. These conflicting emotions produce crazy behavior. You may notice that women with low self-esteem will act submissive for long periods and then suddenly do something shitty to assert her “dominance” over you.
Happy, spiritually enlightened people don’t play the “rank” game. They resist their ape-like urges (it’s difficult) to make themselves “better” or “worse” than others, and they just treat everybody equally, with respect and dignity. They realize their true value comes from their character and accomplishments, not from other people’s approval. They take legitimate criticism from others, but don’t become affected emotionally. If somebody disrespects them, they don’t fight to get their rank back; they just cut them off. If a person sees themselves as “higher” than you, nothing you can do can change their mind – they will fight you tooth and nail to keep their rank. Because healthy people are not haunted by feelings of inferiority or superiority, they can assert themselves in relationships logically.
Withdrawing from the ranking game makes one an alpha. Remember, the “alpha” male, by definition, does whatever he wants and is intimidated by nobody, so if a person refuses to let his actions be constrained by others he will look alpha. People gravitate towards the un-ranked person because he isn’t trying to push anybody beneath him. Paradoxically, if somebody refuses to play the ranking game, they win.
It is extremely important to draw strict boundaries in relationships. People are like kids. If you let them act shitty they will act shitty and not even realize what they are doing. When people act rude and fuck with you, they will slowly cause a shift in both of your minds that 1) they are above you and 2) you deserve to be treated like shit. A lot of guys take crap from girls “because she’s hot, bro.” Fuck that. You may think disrespect from a girl isn’t affecting you, but it is – it is slowly fucking with your biology and wrecking your self-esteem, subconsciously making you drop in rank.
So how can we prevent low self-esteem?
1- Assert yourself in every relationship – like I said, don’t let yourself fall “beneath” anybody. If somebody is being a dick, call them out on being a dick. Don’t let people push you around. Use your logical thinking ability rather than your “feelings” to determine if behavior is appropriate.
2- Stop trying to please people. Remember, girls (and guys) are attracted to the alpha male, aka the #1 ranked guy in the tribe. As we have stated, the definition of the alpha male is that he does whatever he wants. So if you do whatever you want (within legal and moral boundaries) people will respect you. It’s going to feel weird at first, especially if you’ve been trained your entire life to supplicate to people and make them happy, but once you start not giving a fuck what other people want, you will realize that people respect and like you more. You need to continue to be polite and to take people’s emotions into account, just don’t constrain your actions based on them.
3- Guard your self-esteem. Now you know that self-esteem is a fragile, biological state of mind, guard it. Let’s say you approach a woman at a club and she rudely rejects you – your self esteem will take a hit because a person who you were mildly emotionally invested in told you to fuck off. It’s obviously an irrational emotional reaction, but you need to keep that in mind so that it doesn’t affect you. Keep this in mind.
Tldr: human beings naturally rank themselves and low self esteem results from having a shitty rank. Resist that.