Monday, September 24, 2012

Where Do You Keep Your Self-Worth?

my final belly ache by child is a rebel, cc license
The other night a friend was asking me about my thesis (the first draft did make it in on time) and how I was holding up to the criticism inherent in that process (my draft was promptly returned covered in red ink). I responded that I thought I was dealing quite well. I know that my advisor wants me to do well, so her red ink and comments were there to push and guide me. It certainly represented much more work in the weeks ahead, but it did not represent a personal attack on my ability to write or think. This reflection gave me pause; I have not always reacted this way. In the not so distant past, some red ink would have prompted an angry defensive response or complete detachment and significant time in the fetal position.

For a long time my self-worth was almost entirely defined by academic achievement. I believed I was worthy of positive regard and love because of what I achieved. And when I failed? When I struggled? I hid it, I denied it, and I detached. It was painful and I felt like less. Academics was not the only place I kept my self-worth. I have deposited my self-worth in the bank of other people, letting their perceptions of me (or sometimes worse, my perception of their perception) define my worth. I have valued my self-worth by the number of blemishes on my face, the number on a scale, or the number on my clothing tags. I have judged my self-worth by my paycheck and the balance in my bank account (or lack thereof).  

So, what has changed? I can’t say for certain, but for me I think it has something to do with practicing empathy. When you spend time seeing the world from another’s perspective, trying on their shoes, feelings, and experiences, you come to appreciate how they are so much more than their current mood and situation. You come to appreciate the value of their unique perspective, resilience, and vulnerability. And eventually you realize that you are no different; that your own worth is also not a variable, defined and influenced by your behavior and status in the world, but a constant, defined simply by your human experience. Every person has a unique gift and it is their singular way of seeing the world and connecting with others. Our value is unattached to worldly goods or opinions and we all have the same worth: it is a lot, enough, infinite, plenty.

Where are you keeping your self-worth these days? Who or what influences how much you matter? Is it time to close out some accounts and return your value to where it belongs?

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  1. Hi Mare :) What a wonderful blog! I love the Honest and Gentle concept, and although I've worked hard to be honest in my life I know I often overlook the gentle part. Your blog is a helpful reminder of how important both aspects are, especially now as a mommy.

    So glad to see you are doing so well, and please give my love to your mom and the rest of your family.

  2. Hi Karen! Thank you so much! I hear you, on the mommy bit. Seeing Cadence pick up my mannerisms and vocabulary drives it home for me, the importance of the example I set.

    I will pass on the love and I'm sending some back to you and your family, too!