What I share below is something I never have verbalized to anyone in full. I share here, in a judgment-free zone, to start a conversation about something I feel is very important to my lasting happiness. This is not easy for me, but I am hoping it will helps someone else.
Today I share a lifelong and ongoing journey with understanding my self-worth. When I talk about self-worth, I’m referring to my intrinsic value as a human being.
Our ideas about who we are and what makes us valuable are often shaped at a very young age. How our parents/guardians spoke to us, what they praised us for, how we were reprimanded, if we sustained abuse of any kind–all of that will begin to shape our ideas about our self-worth.
In my family, appearances were very important. To have the biggest, nicest house and the nice vehicles was valued. Not only this, but our individual physical appearance was valuable. We were all nice looking children. This was praised and resulted in admiration from my parents and grandparents. Others who didn’t live up to their standard of beauty or attractiveness were put down and demeaned in conversations at home. Hearing this kind of dialogue over and over formed the idea within me that I was valuable because of how I looked, and that somehow made me a little better than other people who weren’t physically attractive. I am ashamed to admit this but it was true.
Another valued attribute in my family was being able to make things happen and get things done. Accomplishing tasks, getting good grades, working hard–these were all applauded. Again, I heard talk of others who had depression or similar invisible health problems and they were disparaged and put-down in my hearing. I learned that I needed to be accomplished to be valued and that others who couldn’t do this were “lazy” and less valuable as people.
In admitting this, I am not trying to throw my family under the bus. I love my parents and acknowledge that they taught me a lot of valuable skills, truths and work ethic that have helped me throughout my life. Please, don’t judge them too harshly. I think that the generation preceding them (my grandparents), really drummed these ideas into them in a similar way to how they were drummed into me.
So, as a young person, in good health, I felt I had a lot of value because I was attractive and thin and smart and could get things done. (It’s horrible to admit, but true).
However, when my physical and mental health began to decline due to hypothyroidism and depression, I struggled with feeling that I had any value at all. I had gained a lot of weight and I was no longer the fun, vivacious person I used to be. I had difficulty getting things done. My house was often a mess. In general, to say I was struggling is an understatement. I felt that I had lost all of my value. On top of my health problems, I was ashamed to be me. What a tragedy!
As years went by, I finally got the help I needed for my health problems, got gung-ho about getting healthy and lost a lot of weight. I could accomplish many things again, I felt fun, and cheerful again. I felt I had worth again. I no longer subscribed to the false idea that I was better than others but my value as a human being still depended on these outward circumstances, just like they always did. So, while all the circumstances were “perfect” I felt that I was worth something.
Then, things came crashing down again when I got pregnant with my last child. Weight gain most significant and severe depression hit again. A big part of my misery during this time was feeling, again that I had lost my value. I didn’t want to be miserable about this so, I finally got to the point where I asked myself, “What if I’m stuck in this state for the rest of my life?” I realized that I would want to be happy and love myself, even in my current state. I needed to learn how to so that I could try my best to be satisfied in the present. So began a journey of self-love that I continue to this day.
As I thought about self worth I had to ask myself some hard questions. What makes an individual valuable?
Here’s what I learned: my value and yours is constant. It does not change with fluctuating circumstances. This means that I am worth the same no matter my pants size, no matter my hair color, what my face looks like or how I talk. How I appear and how I show up in the world, has no bearing and no effect on the value of who I am inside. Don’t believe me? Consider the following story. A man, young and healthy is diagnosed with diabetes. Time goes on, and he struggles maintaining his health. Complications of his disease result in an amputation of one of his limbs. Would we say that he is now worth less now because his body has changed? Of course not. But we do this to ourselves all the time.
I also learned, importantly, we are all worth the same. Period. Regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, or sexual preference we all have the same value. This goes without saying and yet many people in the world think that their group has more value than another. This is a deplorable but a prevalent problem in the world today.
And here’s something else: nothing we can do, or not do, will change our worth. It remains constant even when we mess up, even if we excel–there’s nothing we can do to change our worth, either by attempting to increase it or diminish it. How do I know this is true? Consider my own story. Was I really worth less because I couldn’t accomplish much due to my depression? Of course not! Yet, I allowed myself to believe it. In the same way, I am not worth more if I can do more! If it is true for me then it is true for others as well. The child that makes a mistake is not worth less because he messed up. And that same child is not worth more if he seemingly does everything right.
Logically, this is easy to acknowledge and yet it’s hard to live it. I’ll tell you why I say this. Consider your own life. Consider what you feel makes you valuable. Make a mental list. Did you list anything about your appearance, culture or accomplishments? If so, consider the following. How would you feel about your worth if circumstances beyond your control took all of that away from you? Imagine you’ve been physically disfigured and your ability to continue with your accomplishments is taken away. Do you still feel valuable? It’s hard, isn’t it? We often think we are worth something for all the wrong reasons. Then when we feel we mess up or don’t live up to our ideals, or circumstances change our abilities, our self worth plummets in our minds, and so does our happiness.
Where does our worth come from then? If you subscribe to a belief in God, then know that you are of worth because you are His child–end of story. You can’t add to that, or diminish it. If you feel you exist by chance or evolution, I add that it you are of worth because you are you. You are unique–the one and only you in the history of the world. Your DNA is original. Your presence in the world is irreplaceable. Your effect, incalculable–just by being present and alive. Like Clarence says in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life:” “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
So, in my long-winded way, I am saying that you are worth more than you know or understand, and so am I. I believe in self improvement and learning and changing and growing with life’s circumstances–but I also believe in the intrinsic worth we all have as humans. And that doesn’t change, no matter what.
Many circumstances can effect our level of happiness in life, and getting on or off the changing rollercoaster of our own self worth will certainly have an effect. What has been your experience with self-worth? How has it affected your level of happiness?
Think on this. And tell me how you feel about it. Am I off base here?
Do you ever struggle with your self worth?
I still do from time to time. I’m still internalizing all this, but I know it’s true and I know that, because of this, I am always enough.
And so are you.