During my adolescence, I used to dread getting on the bus to go to school in the morning because I knew it meant I’d have to face another day of being picked on by my peers. All of my self-worth was tied to what everyone else, especially my classmates, thought about me.
I often questioned:
“Why am I so ugly?”
“Why are we so poor?”
“Why does everyone hate me?”
This vicious cycle turned into me hating school, hating myself and feeling disempowered and depressed.
I’m 30 now, and while I’ve grown to love myself for who I am, not everyone who has had an experience similar to mine will share the same outcome. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34-year-olds, that’s why it’s more important than ever to talk about self-worth.
Here are five things about self-worth you need to know:
1. You Are More Than Your Material Assets
Growing up poor, I understand all too well what it’s like to go without. When I was younger, the majority of my clothes came from Goodwill or were hand-me-downs. My mom didn’t have the money to buy me new clothes, and I was teased relentlessly in school because of this.
As soon as I turned 18 I opened up a credit card and maxed it out two months later. I bought myself everything I thought I’d ever been deprived of and/or needed. But, I quickly realized the euphoria I felt when I bought those things didn’t translate into lasting happiness. Instead, I ended up in a mound of debt with no way to pay it off and more depressed than I was before my shopping sprees.
You see, our society teaches us that material items and money buy happiness, but they don’t. That’s why you can be the wealthiest person in the world with an abundance of money and material assets at your fingertips and still be miserable.
No matter who you are — you are more than your material assets. The latest trend doesn’t define you. Expensive clothes and shoes don’t define you. At the end of your life you’ll never look back and say, “Oh, I wish I was able to buy (insert thing)”, so don’t waste anymore time thinking your worth is somehow related to your purchasing power because it’s not!
2. Your Physical Appearance Does Not Define You
When I was little, I never thought about my physical appearance or studied myself intently in the mirror. In fact, I’d usually only look in the mirror when I was brushing my teeth. Otherwise, I had no reason to concern myself with my reflection.
Then one day at school when I was about 11-years-old, that changed. One of my classmates started making fun of my face and features — he said I was ugly and looked like a boy. Some of my other classmates joined in, and soon I began to feel insecure and uncertain of myself.
I went home that night, closed the bathroom door and stood in front of the mirror for hours. I deconstructed every part of myself, and then came to the conclusion that they were right — I was ugly.
This notion was reinforced every time I went to the store, saw a movie, watched TV or used the internet. Images of “perfect” people (in my case women) were splashed across every media platform, and my inability to fit into this ideal of perfection left me feeling depressed and unworthy.
What I didn’t know then is that there is no “perfect person” because all of us are unique, and it’s our ability to walk confidently in our own skin that is really appealing — not trying to conform to impossible societal standards.
It’s great to look good and feel good, but we have to learn to love ourselves for who we are, not how we look. Ultimately, everything in life is constantly changing, physical appearances included, and those physical changes don’t make any of us any more or less worthy — we already are worthy as is.
3. Don’t Believe Everything You See On Social Media
Have you ever logged into social media and thought to yourself, “Why does everyone always seem so happy and perfect except for me? Is there something I’m missing in my life that they have?”
Social media is an incredible tool that when used correctly, has the power to truly transform lives and connect people in a positive way. However, it also has a dark side — a side where people heavily edit and filter their photos and showcase only the highlights of their lives (rather than their true day-to-day realities). Posts such as these often leave viewers wondering why their lives aren’t as perfect as everyone else’s.
Here’s a recent example: this week I posted a photo on Instagram of myself at the ocean (I’m on vacation right now) with some inspiring words about nature. The photo, while truly me in that moment, didn’t also show my fellow instagrammers the horrible fight I’d had with my partner moments before. To a stranger, my post might look like I have every aspect of my life together, but the truth is I don’t.
What’s more — many people seek validation through likes, comments, shares and follows, and in the absence of these things, they often feel inadequate. But, your worth isn’t based off of how many people like, comment, share and follow you. Also, keep in mind — many people actually purchase likes, comments and follows!
That’s why you shouldn’t believe everything you see on social media, nor should you seek validation from its users. No one is “perfect” all of the time. We all have bad days. We all make mistakes. We just don’t tend to highlight those things on social media. Stop being so hard on yourself and stop comparing your life to the “lives” you see on social media.
4. Stop Taking Negative Criticism Personally
When someone has a negative opinion about you or something you’re doing, keep in mind their opinion is rarely about you, and usually about them.
When I was younger I used to get teased for being “flat-chested”, by girls who were flat-chested themselves. Looking back, I now understand this was their attempt to deflect their own insecurities onto me, and at the time it worked.
Then when I was in highschool, there was a rumor going around that my mom was a drug addict. That rumor was started by the mother of one of my classmates. My mom has never done drugs. She was however, overworked during that time, and did often look disheveled when she dropped me off at school. Her tired appearance wasn’t due to coming down from a high though, it was because she’d just gotten off of working a 14-hour night shift and haven’t slept. If my classmate’s mother had actually taken the time to speak to my mom rather than make assumptions, she would have know the truth.
You see, most of the time negative criticisms have nothing to do with you, but they are a reflection of the person thinking/saying them. Some people are insecure. Others were brought up to be judgemental. And some people are just cruel.
Whatever the case may be, there are so many potential factors that go into why certain people form negative opinions about other people without really knowing them. Rather than getting offended (and I know this is easier said than done) just keep in mind, those criticisms are almost always based off of assumptions and/or personal insecurities so why let them get you down? Spend your time doing things that make you happy, and in company that uplifts and appreciates you — let everything else roll off of you like water on a duck’s back.
5. You Don’t Need Approval From Anyone
Many of us waste so much time trying to fit in, be accepted, and gain approval from others that we lose ourselves in the process.
I used to think I needed approval from others to be happy, and in order to get this, I’d lie about my life when I met new people. I pretended we had money. I pretended we lived in a nice house (although I’d never invite people over). I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. And you know what? It was awful. I was always worried someone would find out the truth and expose me.
As I got older I realized my life was nothing to be ashamed of, and I now talk openly about it because I’m proud of where I came from, and all of the challenges I’ve overcome.
Here’s the hard truth: there will always be people who disagree with you and your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and actions — let them. You don’t need the approval of others to live the life you want to live.
Rather than trying to please everyone around you, start each day by finding ways to please yourself. Stop trying to be something or someone you’re not and spend your time honing your talents, creating and doing things that make you happy. By doing this you’ll free yourself of the toxic cycle of needing approval from others in order to feel worthy.
Above all remember, this is your life and it’s the only one you’ve got. Why waste your time worrying about what other people think or say about you? You are capable of far more than spending your precious time trying to prove your worth to others. You are worthy and you always have been. Period.