Was laying in bed this morning thinking about self-worth… so perhaps I’ll share some of my half-formed ideas before I finish waking up…
If you’re dismissed, devalued or otherwise undermined when you are young and impressionable, (or hell at any time. If you are mistreated long enough at any stage your self-worth begins to die because you start to believe the mistreatment has a cause in you rather than in the person mistreating you) then you tend to not develop a high level of self worth. (“You got a B? You should have done better.”, “You could lose a few pounds.”, “Don’t be stupid, think!”, “You’d be prettier if..”, “Girls would like you better if…” etc.) Perhaps these kind of knock-you-down comments and behaviours are made all the worse by how naturally sensitive you are, or because of who it is that makes you feel badly about your own abilities. I.e. if it’s someone important to you who tells you that you are stupid, or otherwise undermines your sense of accomplishment, self-esteem and/or intelligence, that has a greater affect than some random stranger saying the same kind of things. (And it doesn’t make it better that some people use these things as “character-building” to make you “tougher”. They may be coming from a well-intentioned place, but the fact remains that it is hurtful behaviour and ends up having the opposite affect more often than not.)
This becomes problematic when it comes to relationships because when you find someone who loves you, you may not feel worthy of the kind of affection they are willing to give, which makes you feel pretty awful. (This is because you have been conditioned to believe that there is no such thing as unconditional love – that their love is based on something you do, or not do, or how you look – which perhaps instills an underlying fear that this person’s affection will only last until they realize that you really aren’t that great. But this is, of course, a concept created by years of being knocked down, and even, perhaps, a cycle of self-defeating behaviours that simply compounds the problem.) That awful feeling could be interpreted as something missing in the relationship (and may even be exacerbated by unwitting behaviours of your partner) and cause you to look for that missing something elsewhere when what’s really missing is something in your self. (This is what I mean about self-defeating – since looking elsewhere gives your partner an excuse to not love you – which you feel you deserve more than their love anyway.)
The problem remains: how do you recover that sense of self-worth, or build it up in the first place? One basically has to throw out all the perceptions they’ve built about themselves over the years and reevaluate everything from scratch. I imagine this is harder and easier the older you get. Harder because you have to force yourself not to second-guess, not to take yourself down a peg every time something doesn’t go well, and easier because you have the tools to recognize cause and affect in a way you were not equipped for as a child.
And this, this is why you cannot derive your self-worth from others. If you do, you are dependent on them for your happiness, dependent on their moods to feed your existence and could cause you to do things you would not normally do – perhaps even so far as to compromise yourself – to please them. And, after a while, this could get tiresome and cause them to feel suffocated and then accordingly, to push you away – unless, of course, they are of a like kind who feed off the struggles of another…
Vicious, vicious circle.
listening to: To the Moon and Back – Savage Garden