Anneli Rufus: Low self-esteem in a high self-esteem city

Anneli Rufus is a Berkeley resident and the author of the newly published book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Tarcher Penguin 2014). Here she writes about living with low self-esteem in a city she believes doesn’t have that issue:

Cities, along with the people who live there, have personalities. Some are breezy, some banal. Some cities even seem to hate themselves, shrinking into their own skylines in shame.

Collectively speaking, Berkeley is a city I’d characterize as having high self-esteem. You see it on the streets, in the parks, and especially in the supermarkets, theaters, restaurants, and cafés. Abundant spiritual and psychological resources notwithstanding, Berkeley can torment those who struggle with low self-esteem. The confident, yoga pant-wearing, chai sipping, tattooed bicyclist with an abundance of piercings and a cool hair-cut can be more than a little intimidating for those who aren’t so comfortable in our own skin. Or our own yoga pants.

I often feel at odds with Berkeley, having suffered from low self-esteem since I was a child. I thought my Cal diploma would lift my self-image. Decades later, it has not.


But the path out of low self-esteem starts wherever you are right now. It’s a matter of muting the volume of our inner critics, listening once and for all to those who love us and aiming, step by brave-even-if-minuscule step, not for self-adoration but for empathetic, mellow, midrange self-acceptance.

Here are five local spots where members of this mostly silent, mostly secret self-doubting sector of the population can seek respite and assemble strategies for healing.

Downtown YMCA. Photo: Carrie Olsen.
Photo: Carrie Olsen

Downtown Berkeley YMCA: Outfitted with several swimming pools and a vast number of classes and equipment spanning several floors, this might be the world’s most welcoming, non-judgmental, come-one-come-all fitness club. Gaining body confidence doesn’t feel so impossible here.

Grocery Outlet. Photo: Angela Russell
Grocery Outlet. Photo: Angela Russell

Grocery Outlet: At this original flagship store of a thriving national discount-supermarket chain, everyone gets to feel smart. On everything from Pop Tarts to pork ribs to organic bisque to fresh fennel to magnesium supplements to Pinot Noir, unbelievable bargains abound.  Maybe tonight you should focus your energies more on trying out a new recipe and less on your own self-loathing.

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary chapel. Photo: Daniella Thompson
Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary chapel. Photo: Daniella Thompson

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary: In a seminary-studded city, PLTS stands out — literally, because its endearingly hodgepodge array of strikingly modern, quaintly colonial and unpretentiously functional architecture occupies panoramic prime acreage at the top of Marin Avenue.

Albany Beach: Boasting some of the Bay Area’s best but least-known vistas, this unsung strand wedged between Golden Gate Fields and the Albany Bulb, just outside the Berkeley border, is humble but beautiful. Its wavelets, seaweed-scattered sand, and soaring vultures don’t care where you went to school or what you wear.

Savers Berkeley. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Savers. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Savers: As with Grocery Outlet, this massive thrift emporium occupying the ex-University Avenue Andronico’s site offers all shoppers that sense of victory that comes of spending very little on items of substantial value — and knowing that your money is going toward charity. Mulling over a makeover for your living room? Or your wardrobe? Do it here for less.

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