I started to read Elaine Aron’s lesser-known book The Undervalued Self. And then I stopped reading and starting swiping through it. (It was a e-book.)
It reads like a college-level psychology textbook but it’s also very much like every other self-help book that seemed promising at first … and then I skimmed through. The book could have been titled “How to Raise Your Chronically Low Self-Esteem Without Paying a Therapist”.
I realized quickly that a book like this requires a commitment and an investment of time. But, like all other self-help books, there is some value in it. Aron introduces the ideas of ranking and linking and how the two influence how we see and value ourselves. Ranking is about comparing and competing. Linking is about connecting. I recognized immediately how important ranking is to me. I recognized that I often think in terms of power and positioning. I wasn’t fully aware of it and now I am. Gaining this awareness alone makes the book worth reading.
My rank and my feelings about it are the number one contributor to my feeling undervalued. I used to describe it as feeling like crap because I wasn’t measuring up.
I didn’t think or I didn’t like to think I thought about myself or others in terms of ranking or power. I thought I was like one of those people E.M. Forster was describing in his essay “What I Believe”, the “aristocracy of the sensitive” who do not think in terms of power.
But I’m not. I certainly believed other people thought in terms of rank and power. I was very aware when I was being compared and judged. I thought the people who were judging me were boring, bourgeois, and blind. It felt like I was being devalued. Were they judging me or was I just seeing things through the ranking prism? Hmmm…
What I wasn’t aware of until Aron laid it out was how I protected myself from being devalued. She listed six Self-Protections people use to deal with being low-ranked:
I found out I mostly use inflating, projecting, and noncompeting. There are all sorts of tests, questions to answer, and lists to make in the book to help you see yourself, your feelings, your past and your relationships more clearly.
The most helpful thing Aron provided in The Undervalued Self is simply awareness. Knowing that I care about ranking, knowing when other people are operating with a ranking mindset, knowing how I protect myself and how others do is INVALUABLE. A kaleidoscopic shift has been made.
Aron wrote that “being aware of what we’re born with allow us to adapt better to it”. Put another way: being aware of how we operate, how others operate, how we respond instinctively, and the WHY of it all helps us better adapt. Being an objective observer as you move around in the world helps us better adapt. The few pages of Aron’s book I read have helped me adapt.
As I wrote earlier, I’m a practiced noncompeter. I refuse to play the games everyone else plays. If you’re highly sensitive, you know the ones I’m talking about. I keep losing or feeling like I am. Not good for the undervalued self. So I create my own games, play by my own rules, and at my own speed. Even before reading The Undervalued Self, I knew people were judging me based on the rules of the games everyone agrees to play and I used to care but I couldn’t care less now (minimizing) because my game is better (inflating). I’m kidding. I care very much and my low-ranked undervalued self cares.
But I’ve adapted. I’ve figured out a way to raise my value in my own eyes. Author Anneli Rufus wrote about this adaptation in an article in Spirituality and Health Magazine, “The Benefits of Being a Big Frog in a Small Pond”. Until I read this article, I didn’t realize I was using this noncompeting, self-protecting device. Rufus describes it as being a “Small Ponder” — positioning yourself as a big fish (or only fish) in a small pond:
… we gravitate towards things for which we’ll have little or no competition…because we’re so certain that we’ll lose any competition in which we engage, we actively seek dregs.
I wouldn’t call the stuff I really enjoy “dregs”. Unpopular certainly. I like the unpopular, the odd, the unappreciated because I get them all to myself. Rufus perfectly describes my mindset: “No one else wants this? No one? Are all of you absolutely sure that none of you ever in any way would possibly want this? Then OK. It’s mine.” Why do Rufus and I like the “dregs”? Because we get to set the value. Creating our own rules.
It’s noncompeting and inflating. Valuing things no one else values allows me to be a discoverer and influencer. I get to be first.
My undervalued self increases in value as I give value to undervalued things.
Wanting what everyone else wants evinces a certain confidence: I deserve what we all agree is the best! But, for the confident, it’s easy.
Wanting what others reject requires courage.
So many things and people out there in the world—the unappreciated, the unsung—would love for us to love them. We, the Small Ponders, know how.
I love reading and following little read and unappreciated blogs. Why? They provide me the best opportunity for linking. It’s easier to connect with those bloggers and when you’re one of only a few fish in a small pond, it’s more likely that the other fish in the pond are similar to you and have similar tastes. It makes it easier to link to them. I have discovered so many great blogs that way.
Linking is the answer to being poorly ranked: “Where ranking was, let linking be.”
I’m going to end by trying to provide value, by linking and encouraging you to check out Anneli Rufus’s book about loners Party of One: A Loners’ Manifesto. If you’re a loner and feel bad about it, you won’t after reading this book. It changed my life. I stopped trying to play the extrovert game and starting playing my own stay-at-home-alone-and-like-it game. And I’m winning!