Self-worth is defined as the sense of one's own value or worth as a person; self-esteem; self-respect.
I’ve spent the last few years on an amazingly beautiful and at times painful road of self-discovery. One that has forced me to go deeper into myself than I ever have before. I’ve had to be relentless about honesty and I’ve had to be brave enough to deal with whatever comes up as I ask myself some tough questions. Self-worth is a topic that’s often on my mind as I do the emotional work necessary for me to come to an understanding of who I am and who I want to be as a woman. The more I delve into defining my own self-worth, the more I realize the magnitude of importance and weight it holds. It influences every part of my life, every decision I make. It determines the firmness of my boundaries, how I let others treat me and most importantly how I treat myself. I’m learning that for me, self-worth means a number of things. It means caring just as much about how I treat myself as how I let others treat me. It means making choices that benefit my life rather than hinder it. It means making decisions that do not unnecessarily feed my anxiety. It means setting clear boundaries and holding firm to those boundaries even when they don’t align with the wants and needs of others. It means loving me so fully that I do not seek validation from external sources. When I know my own worth, I am actually better able to see, accept, love and serve you, without judgement or manipulation.
I’ve had the “what am I worth” conversation with dozens of women. It’s such a personal topic. What defines one woman’s worth can be a non-factor for another. What’s so beautiful and powerful about that statement is that every woman’s definition can be true. There is no competition, no right or wrong, no better or worse. The deciding factor in every situation is the person directly affected. Of course there is always a ripple effect. The choices we make touch the lives of those around us in one way or another, but the important thing to remember is that this is a byproduct of living. Life will not always flow joyfully. There will be times of friction. Our job is to live with integrity and do our best daily to ensure that our actions match our intentions.
Growing Up Without Boundaries
I am a woman who grew up not knowing what boundaries were. I didn’t know they needed to be set or that I even had a right to them. There were non-existent in my life. “No” was not a word I felt I had a right to. When you grow up feeling like you cannot say no, your only other options become yes or silence. You then start to learn that yes means access to love, acceptance and safety. Anything else spelled fear, violence, isolation and shame. This was true of my dealings with family, friends and schoolmates. It was easier to be more like you, even when it didn’t feel right, than trying to be me. I desperately needed you to like me. I didn’t know who I was and so I needed you to tell me. I would accept any behavior and make excuses for it as long as somewhere in the mistreatment, you showed me that you might love me. Even receiving love was hard because my view of what that was supposed to look like was skewed. I spent years like this. From childhood to early 30s, I lived in chaos, pain and total confusion and I had no idea how to un-muddy the waters. It was like standing in a dark room waiting for someone to turn on the lights. It only occurred to me recently that I am the light. It wasn’t until then that things started to change.
Pain Propels You Into Change
When I realized I was in constant pain, I knew something needed to change. I’d never allowed myself to hope that there could be a different life for me. I was so comfortable being uncomfortable that I never considered there might be another way of living. I’d accepted my current state as my lot in life. Pain and exhaustion had propelled me into a desire for something more. All around me were people who were happy and at peace with their lives. I couldn’t even seem to keep a good grasp on being comfortable in my own skin, let alone finding comfort in the world around me. I was tired of people pleasing. I was tired of choosing men who didn’t see or value me. I was tired of not valuing myself. I was afraid to ask for what I wanted, what I needed. I didn’t trust my own judgement. I wanted to be fully seen. I soon realized that in order to be fully seen by others, I had to really see myself.
See, when you have a sense of your own self-worth life gets a lot less complicated. Your vision becomes less murky. You view the world differently. Life flows a little more naturally. Clarity, both inwardly and outwardly happens once you begin to understand yourself. You start to form a system of beliefs and you take actions that align with those beliefs. You make mistakes, lots of them at first and you experience varying degrees of the same pain that encouraged you to seek change and growth in the first place. When I started to take steps in the direction of understanding myself the word no started to feel more attainable. It wasn’t yet comfortable, but it was definitely on the table for discussion.
Unpacking the Boxes in the Attic
When you are seeking spiritual and emotional growth, you have to uncover every layer of you there is and ever was. I liken this process to unpacking boxes stored in your attic; forgotten, avoided, covered in cobwebs and dust. They vary in size, weight and age. It takes bravery, patience and vulnerability to open those boxes. When I became willing to go inward, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was full of fear. I didn’t know what was on the other side of change. Sometimes familiar pain is more comforting than the potential of unfamiliar pain. It isn’t until the weight of dissatisfaction becomes too great to handle that you become desperate enough to try anything. I remember feeling panicked when I reached this point. I felt backed into a corner and that my only two options were to shatter into a millions little pieces or jump into the abyss, the abyss being my own emotional and mental health.
I knew I couldn’t start this process without addressing my negative self talk. If I didn’t, I’d be done for before I even began. Enter the practice of self-compassion. I realized quickly that I had to be willing to accept what I found no matter what came up. I had to keep the ultimate goal in mind: to know, love and accept me so completely that no energy on this planet could push me off my beam. I knew that if I kept on with my current way of thinking, I’d get no results. I’d be the hamster on the wheel, running my little heart out going nowhere fast. It was hard at first. I found that I spoke negatively of and to myself more often than I’d initially thought. I had to build up a defense against my own mind. This was difficult, exhausting, emotional. I had to be relentless. I’ve spent hours focusing on changing the way I see, think and talk about myself. Over time it became easier and I’m happy to say that all the hard work has definite paid off.
Gain and Loss
I’ve gained so much over these past few years. Clarity, self respect, peace of mind. There’s a sureness of self I haven’t known before. I no longer laugh at things I don’t find funny. I no longer say yes to you at the expense of me. I found my dream job. I have wonderful women (and a few amazing men) in my life who not only love and support me as I am, but continue to be pillars of strength and encouragement as I go through personal growth development. With these people, I am able to show up as myself, the good, the bad and the ugly. Most importantly, I am able to love and accept all of me no matter where I am in life. When I look at myself in the mirror, I can see beauty, courage and bravery.
There are also some things I’ve had to give up. When I started to consider my well-being before saying yes to people, it created some friction. Not a lot, but enough to cause some difficult conversations and the loss of a few friends, even a couple of jobs. This was difficult to process at first, but once I accepted that this is the natural flow of life, it got easier. I found that there were some friends who’d only remained in my life for what I could do for them. There was no real investment on their end and if I’m being honest, there wasn’t any on my end either. People pleasing in order to receive love from others is its own form of manipulation. I wasn’t seeking them as a person worthy of their having their own wants and needs met, I was seeking what they could give me; the love I never received as a child. I did not come by this realization easily. I was so used to being the victim I never picked up on the fact that I was trying to force others into a role they never signed up for. It never occurred to me that I was actively setting the stage for my own self-victimization.
Boundaries and Self Respect
Boundaries and self respect tend to go hand in hand. I didn’t realize this right away, but it’s true. If you have no sense of your own worth, you either don’t know what you want or what’s good for you, or deep down inside you don’t believe you have the right to ask to have your needs met. I’m here to tell you this is simply not true. This is an acquired frame of mind and what you need is a shift in beliefs. You need to find the root of this problem. Why is it that you don't believe you deserve to have your needs met? Why is it that you feel you have to put the needs of others before your own? I felt a desperate need to be liked. Because I grew up with little affection in my home, when I got out on my own, I searched for it everywhere except the one place I needed to look most; inside my own heart and soul. I needed you to define me, because I didn’t feel I was a person worth loving. What I thought of myself, which wasn’t very much, didn’t matter in the least. You can’t have healthy boundaries with that sort of thinking because to do so would mean risking not receiving love at all. For someone who does not know what it means to love him or herself, this is simply not an option and as a result, you end up forfeiting all pretense of self-respect.
The first time I said no, I thought I was going to burst into flames. I felt worthless. My anxiety was out of control. I had this unshakable feeling that I was ruining people’s lives. I was walking around expecting the world to start crumbling around me. I was waiting for people to hate me and tell me they never wanted to see me again. What happened was actually quite the opposite and so anticlimactic that I actually had to stop and ask myself why I hadn’t started saying no sooner. The typical response was “okay”. Sometimes they asked what would work for me. Sometimes they even apologized for asking in the first place. Quite frankly, I was blown away. All my life I had believed that the only way to get people to love and respect me was to give them what they wanted all the time. All my life, I’d been a doormat and I didn’t need to be.
Coming Into My Own
Self-discovery is hard work. It’s hard and it can be lonely, intimidating and exhausting. When I decided I wanted a different life for myself, I did so without any comprehension of what it would take to get to that better life. There were periods of time when it felt like the anxiety would never end. There were times the pain got so bad, I wanted to quit. At one point, I wondered if I would cry forever. I remember sitting in my apartment one night feeling like my mind was literally being torn in two. This was about six months into my growth process. I thought I was going insane. There seemed to be a battle happening in my head, one between the woman I was and the woman I was becoming. Old thought processes were fighting with new ones and my ego was that friend on the sideline cheering on the old me, loudly. You see our egos like familiar. It knows what to expect and it can remain in control. When we seek change, we challenge our egos.
When you spend a lifetime telling yourself you’re worthless, trying to believe anything else seems almost impossible. But it is possible. I am living proof. This hasn’t been an easy change. Once you start opening those boxes, it’s hard to walk away from them. You know they’re up there waiting patiently for your return. Life today is indescribable. I’m learning that the woman I used to be never quite goes away. I’m thinking I’m okay with that. I want to keep her with me so that I can give her the love and attention she so desperately needed for so many years. I want to continue to consider her needs, to take care of her, to remind her that we no longer need to live in survival mode.
Today life looks a lot like stability, self-care, good friends, honesty, integrity. I’ve gained confidence in myself. I’ve learned to trust myself and the world around me. I genuinely love myself. I make decisions based on my well-being and I do not allow negative self talk to take up space in my head. I am constantly searching for how I can better myself, how I can go deeper into me so that I may be of better service to you. I now approach those boxes in my attic with courage and without shame. Sometimes when I sit and reflect on what life used to be like versus what it’s like now, all I can do is shake my head in disbelief. It’s almost overwhelming. All the hard work has been so worth it, I now welcome growth and change with open arms. I didn’t do this alone. I found out very early on that though this is a road that can be walked alone, it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be. Not only do I have my own tribe of my own personal superheroes I can reach out to at any time, I now work with women (and a few brave men) who are seeking growth and change in their own lives. It brings me joy to see another soul light up from the inside out. If you’d like to find out more about what coaching is and how I can help you, visit my calendar to sign up for a complimentary session. Until then, be well.