It’s incredible to me how quickly I gave my worth away. My worth has always been placed in the hands of others. I cared (and still do sometimes) so deeply about what others think of me. I didn’t like disappointing my parents, so I tried my best to avoid it by “following the rules”. I like being perceived a certain way by others so I wear the mask of the person I think I should be. I know, we’ve been over this.
In my early 20s, my worth was placed in the hands of my ex-fiancé. What a dangerous thing to do in letting anyone dictate how you feel about yourself. The moment he made a small comment about my being “too much”, it was detrimental to my self-worth. With a declining self-worth, I became defensive, scared, sensitive, angry. My self-worth was purely dictated by what he said to me and how he acted towards me.
I then went to China for a mission trip and took my limp, sad self-worth with me and placed it in the hands of my professors, my peers, our colleagues. Oh, did they love on me. They poured love and gratitude into me, watering my spirit, and my self-worth flourished. It blossomed and bloomed, and I felt like myself again. Then, as I packed up my bags, I tucked my newly rooted worth in my suitcase to return it to a man that could not tend to it like I desired. I should note, that is on me, not him. Nobody should ever have to be the sole caretaker for someone else’s worth. Anyways, I’ll never forget the day I picked him up from the airport after being apart for over two weeks. My worth was hanging by a thread at this point and that final thread was severed when I was met with a one-armed hug and a “hey, it’s hot”.
You aren’t worth more than that, I said to myself as we walked to my car. My throat had tightened, my heart was wilting, and my self-worth was next-to-nothing at this point. Shortly after this, I ended the engagement, realizing I was not fulfilled. Up until recently, I blamed him for a lack of fulfillment. Ultimately, my misplaced worth is partially to blame.
Enter a tall, handsome man who had been a small, yet oddly significant part of my past. He had been a “what if” that had never been explored. And my, was he enamored with me. What occurred after that was nothing short of a whirlwind. It was everything I wanted. Passionate, real, exciting—it was the love story I had been waiting for. Upon his entrance into my life, I took my self-worth from one man’s hands and placed it in the hands of another, without even tending to it myself. He loved it. He tended to it. He nurtured it. I relied on that. I craved that. I needed him. And again, what a dangerous game to play, needing someone’s approval and nurturing so desperately.
As the relationship spiraled and he began to pull away, I watched my self-worth dwindle in the hands of someone I thought would always hold it. Why? Because he didn’t attend to me like he used to. He didn’t laugh with me in the same way. Oh, what that’ll do to your self-worth if you don’t have a grip on it. The frequent inner dialogue was, he knows some of the darkest corners of your life, are you surprised he’s pulling away? Sneaky, sneaky self-doubt penetrated my weak mind as I watched the man I loved become someone I no longer knew and watched the person I had become doubt every single fiber of her being because of it.
When he walked away, I was left sitting on the floor, cradling the smallest bit of worth I had left. That worth came from my job. I looked at my diminished, lifeless self-worth sitting in the palms of my hands. I’m sorry, I thought to myself as I cupped my hands around it, wondering how to get it back.
Oh, there are few things more fragile than misplaced self-worth. You know those videos of baby deer or giraffes trying to walk for the first time? That’s how I felt this process has been. Wobbly, shaky, and very unsure of what the hell is happening. A small breeze of doubt or insecurity threatened the already teetering balance and would knock it to the ground once more. I remember shortly after everything, I was at the gym with him and one of our friends during a Sunday morning lifting class. I missed a lift and actually knocked it on my head. I nervously laughed, swore under my breath (maybe a little louder than that), and excused myself to the restroom. I remember looking at myself in the mirror, bags under my tear-filled eyes, mortified at my failure. No wonder he left, look at yourself. My skin was blotchy from the stress, my eyes were tired, my expression was sad. I went home that day, filled with grief. I felt lost. I felt empty. I felt worthless.
I went and sat at a bar a couple months later, eager to maybe catch someone’s eye. I remember sitting there, looking at the condensation slowly drip down my beer, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I went home that night, looked at myself in the mirror, and thought, no more. No longer was I going to place my worth in the possession of anyone but myself and God. I looked at my pitiful self-worth in my hands, carefully and protectively wrapping my hands around it. We got this.
Now, as a perfectionist, this has been difficult to navigate. I have unreasonably high expectations for myself most days. Although, I do lower my expectations when it comes to the cleanliness of my apartment, but you knew that already. I want things out of this life, especially out of my youth. It’s a fine line to walk between wanting to be better and placing all your self-worth into the achievement of certain goals. So, it has been baby steps. I tell my patients’ parents this all the time: baby steps are still steps.
I will no longer let the opinion of a [insert petty nickname for whoever is making you feel less than worthy] dictate how I feel about myself. It works for anyone you encounter: an ex, a family member, a random pissed-off-at-the-world woman that was snippy at the grocery store.
You know what’s also helped? Being kinder to myself. Oh yeah, we’re going there. I am the queen of dodging compliments and using self-deprecating humor. We all do it, don’t we? Ah, your shoes are so cute, one friend might say. Oh, these things are like 10 years old. Okay, and? ACCEPT THE DAMN COMPLIMENT. Letting people bless me with the kind things they have to say still makes me cringe on the inside, but it’s been an important step for me. It’s allowed me to feel worthy of some of these compliments. Yes, I know I said some. Not all. Baby steps, folks. Meet me with grace here.
OWN WHO YOU ARE. We’re all pretty kick ass individuals. You know what’s awesome? The Creator of this wild, crazy world looked down at the world at this particular time and decided it was missing you. Now, what you do with that, that’s on you. Whatever you do, as screwed up as you feel, own the hell out of it. We are far too valuable to allow anyone dictate our self-perception. We are far too incredible to allow someone that much power over us. *mic drop*
Seriously, our self-worth is one of the most precious things we’ll ever hold. How easily we pass it off to people we think are worthy of tending to it. We should place little pieces of it in our partners, our careers, our fitness, our whatever. That’s healthy. That can build confidence. That can foster growth. Hold tightly to that self-worth, though. In the end, as people move in and out of our lives, we can confidently look down at our hands wrapped around that worth and say, we got this.