When prompted to consider the idea of self-worth, I often find myself faced with the memory of my 14-year-old self.
In so may ways I feel incredibly distant from the newly-adolescent girl who dreamt of marrying Kian from Westlife, dressed in the best of Tammy Girl, and felt herself to be pretty repulsive to most people around her. This distance I feel makes it easier to set aside the memory of this girl, to set her aside as an isolated part of myself; the part that is most well acquainted with what it is to have an almost non-existent sense of self-worth.
And yet, even as a 24-year-old who looks and feels drastically different to this teenage girl, I’m increasingly aware that issues surrounding how I feel about myself have not disappeared as quickly and simply as my early noughties’ fashion choices.
Instead, I find that an ongoing battle with issues of self-worth rages on in spite of life bringing circumstances and general contentment my 14-year-old self would have envied. This makes me wonder whether struggles to see ourselves positively are an innate part of our very humanness; a part of our human nature that refuses to be conquered by life experience, acquisition of knowledge or the passing of time.
Don’t get me wrong, I think things change as we get older. As we mature some issues fade away. For others, we develop strategies that render them all but powerless. But certain struggles with self-worth merely change shape, and sometimes, entirely new beasts emerge and demand to be contended with. I have not found it to be true that there comes an age or a certain milestone of maturity that obliterates issues of self-worth into dust.
For my 14-year-old self, my low sense of self-worth was largely rooted in my physical appearance and popularity. Feelings of inadequacy stemmed from feeling too fat, too flawed, too friendless. Although I still experience the echoes of these issues in some ways, now, the underlying idea that I’m not good enough mainly wears different masks. It encourages me to look at those around me and play the comparison game with regards to career direction, jobs, salaries, relationships and successes. It causes me to measure my self-worth in relation to my most recent achievements, and feel like a failure on the days I can’t tick as many boxes on my to-do list.
Even as I write, I’m plagued with the idea that struggling with issues of self-worth beyond the years of adolescence smacks of weakness and selfish immaturity. And yet, I must admit that when they are left unacknowledged, inner voices of self-contempt and self-doubt seem to more effectively gnaw away at my joy to leave me feeling less than my full self. I think – and hope – there is some sort of power or relief to be found in simply admitting that we still experience feelings of insecurity — on any level.
Christians often like to talk about issues of self-worth in relation to trying to seeing ourselves, and others ‘how God sees us’. We are taught to try and view our worth in light of our faith, in light of the belief that God made us, loves us and died to save us. For me, battles with my own self-worth will continue to be accompanied by a sincere desire to more fully grasp what an ancient Roman cross says about who God is and my value, and the value of all people, to him. The immense value of people inspires a sense of wonder that leaves me questioning how I view myself, life — and ultimately, the origins of all things.
But regardless of how we perceive God, or ideas of God, and even if we don’t know how to best articulate it, I believe we all share the innate knowledge that the people we encounter day-by-day are of immense worth. Deep down we know that there is something remarkable about people, something set apart, something uniquely amazing about each human soul and its relation to others.
Perhaps if we could all take off our little social media masks of positive and cautious self-representation long enough to be vulnerably honest with each other, we could encourage each other by affirming each other’s worth. We could build up rather than tear down people around us with the sort of knowledge of people’s worth that comes from our gut when we enter into real relationship with other people — not to superficially glorify ourselves and others — but to silence the voices that disempower and alienate us.