Your Self Worth Is Not Determined By How Much You Do For Others or How You Are Perceived: Why Listening Matters

Self worth is a difficult lesson for a lot of people, including myself. And how well we learn it depends on a lot of varying factors. From how we were treated in our early childhood to the ways we see how we’re able to effect our surroundings, to make changes in our lives. If handled poorly, we can be paralyzed by fear for not adding up to our learned expectations. And these standards or expectations can sometimes feel impossible to meet, tanking any self worth we may be trying to build. But for most, it usually starts when we’re children.

Childhood’s What Makes You

During my childhood, I was told the message of not being enough, on a regular basis. There was a constant stream of criticism and negative judgements, with a finite amount of praise or positive reinforcement. In fact, I only ever remember receiving one compliment from one of my caregivers in my childhood. And it was based on how attractive my calves were. This did not make for a caring or warm, nurturing environment.

I was however, told how lazy I was regularly. Regardless of whether or not I was doing what was asked of me. A task that usually took the form of a chore of some sort. And to add insult to injury, I wasn’t shown or taught how to do the tasks that I was being called lazy for not doing correctly. Nor was I shown any amount of patience or thoughtful guidance on how to do anything that was asked of me. It was just expected that I should know how to do the task and do it perfect. This is the definition of an impossible standard and was crippling to my budding self worth.

So with all these negative messages and impossible standards I was being pummeled with and measured against, how did I find my way out of the trap of beating myself up for never feeling enough? Short answer, I didn’t for a long time. I continued to abuse myself and others in the same ways I was abused. All to hide the lack of feeling any self worth.

Living Under Unachievable Expectations

These dangerous and unreasonable expectations I was raised with, followed me throughout my life. I was using the insanity producing sentiment of, “is that all you are capable of?” to pass judgement on everything that, not only I was doing, but of what those who were close to me were doing as well. I almost always had a condescending attitude towards what others were doing. And nothing anybody did measured up to my impossible standard.

What I feel was most confusing about these impossible expectations I held and those holding me to them was, that there was nothing backing them. They had no foundation, but I held on to them with conviction. Never questioning why I was measuring everything/body up in this way. But I was holding onto this way of being while being gripped with a sense of fear that if I didn’t meet my own impossible standards, I would be abandoned again as I had felt I was in my childhood.

And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my caregivers were acting under this same convictions of feeling unworthy of feeling belonging. For no other reason than because we were withholding our acceptance of one another from each other. We were keeping the very thing we wanted from ourselves by holding it back from those we were judging so harshly. They felt as little self worth as I was feeling. And we were all trying to hide it from each other.

This is probably what is meant by we have the keys to our own prisons. But if the keys are so buried under the rubble of our unreasonable standards, how do we even know what to look for? We need a guide, or a role model to begin the search for our own release from out of our prisons of unreasonable expectations and critical judgements.

Waking Up From The Unachievable

This is no easy task. I was so saturated with the ideas of perfection that I was pummeled with in my youth, that the unachievable seemed reasonable. And this is dangerous thinking. I was acting mean, entitled and made sure everybody within hearing range knew what my thoughts on the matter, whatever they were, were.

I was so entrenched in my unsustainable beliefs, that it took an act of God to wake me from them. This act came in the form of a woman. I met, and thought I fell in love with a woman who made me change my entire way of being. The relationship didn’t start out in a way that was romantic, or even healthy. But she taught me a few lessons that were essential to me changing the person I used to be. The most important lessons being how to forgive and feeling self worth.

Learning to Forgive & Accept What is

We didn’t start our relationship in the best way, but we were infatuated with one another. The term, “real recognize real and you looking familiar”-Jay-Z, resonates with me because it describes the feeling of recognizing the same type of hurt in the other and wanting to care for it. This, I’m convinced, is what was happening with us. We would have been much better as friends. But the alure of helping each other to heal from our similar wounds was much too strong to let our relationship just be casual.

So we stayed together. And, we were tested every step of the way. Some things happened that I won’t go into detail about, but they were comprised of what usually bring most relationships to a bitter end without any chance for reconciliation. And I was asked to move past them in the first month of our relationship.

This wasn’t easy, but I was willing to come to terms with them, forgive them and heal from them. Even giving up things I loved for her sake, hoping to make it a little easier for her to bear the cost of her actions. But all my efforts were for not as she continued to spiral down. Not easy to watch for sure.

But I don’t for a second regret the changes and sacrifices I made on her behalf. Mostly because they ended up making me a better person in the end. And for that, I am grateful to her. But forgiveness was easy when I felt heard and seen for the first time since I was a child. Real recognize real has a powerful effect on those who’ve been neglected. And it was just the remedy I was looking for from feeling as though I was never adding up.

Forgiveness Starts with Stellar Communication

The ability for me to learn how to forgive myself and others, for not meeting my impossible standards and just about every other infraction, perceived or real, came down to how well I felt as though I was being heard and seen. And then reciprocating to that to myself and others. And feeling heard and seen really comes down to how well we communicate with one another. This also helps to foster self worth.

So the lesson I learned in the above relationship was, that for me, communication and feeling heard and seen were most important to feeling self worth. This may seem like a no brainer, but for the chronically neglected, this set off a large lightbulb. The ability to be recognized in my emotions, and having someone react to them in real time, was what had been missing from my emotional world for what felt like my entire life.

It felt so comforting. To be held in a space of feeling heard instead of the feelings of not adding up to the others expectations, that I would do just about anything to hold onto that feeling. This is what made forgiveness so easy for me. This space of feeling heard and seen allowed me the courage to overcome the feelings of hurt and sense of being done wrong. And it’s from here that I was willing and able to build a healthy relationship. One built on a mutually felt sense of self worth.

These were the tools I was missing. The ones I was never taught by my caregivers in my youth. No wonder my relationships all failed in the past. But I also learned from our relationship that, just because I was ready to communicate open and honestly with my partner, didn’t also mean that she was ready to also. So in the end, our relationship failed. Though not for lack of me trying to make it work.

Finding the Right Person & Being Willing to Do the Difficult Work of Communicating

As I’ve said above, it can’t only be one person doing the work of communicating. If this is the case, there will most likely come with it a feeling of unrest. Of not feeling heard and not quite knowing why. This was how I felt when I was unable to communicate my feelings to my partners. And in my case, I chose partners who were outspoken and knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted somebody who would come along for the ride while they made the decisions. This is not conducive to listening. And I was looking for someone to do the work of living my life for me.

It seemed like a win win, but this type of control over another usually leaves one person feeling as though they have no control over their life. And as though they aren’t doing enough to feel loved. For me, I was feeling listless, a lack of self worth and left wanting more. More out of my life, out of my relationships, more belonging. I was drinking too much to numb the dis-ease of these feelings. Of lacking and feeling isolated. It was a lonely place to be.

So now that I know what was lacking from my past relationships, what’s changed? How does what I know now, change the ways I see and choose my relationships in the present? For starters, I’m more aware of the people around me and their ability to listen to what I have to say.

Listening to Feel Heard

A partners ability to listen to feel a sense of being heard is now at the top of my list of desirable attributes. Before I was looking for one thing only, and that’s how good looking my partner was. This seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me, but looking back now it was the number one value that all of my caregivers could agree on. The lesson being, you could do terrible things to others, but as long as you were attractive, it was okay.

Only, this type of foundation in a relationship leads to connections based on superficialities that do not last. It also breeds resentment from my experience. There is a feeling of distance between each other that brings up the question, am I enough? Do I have self worth? This is because our emotional worlds are usually left unattended to, uncared for by our partners. And probably ourselves. And if you don’t feel heard or seen in a relationship, then you have what I’ve described above. Something that is based on control over the other. And feeling as though you have to do more or be more to feel loved. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I have what you want and you’d better do as I say or or fit my idea of you or I’ll take it away. Conditional love.

But if we listen to each other, attune to each other’s needs, then we begin to build true intimacy. Feeling heard brings with it a sense of feeling loved and belonging. So being heard and listening to one another is a way to feeling belonging to each other. Feeling enough for the other person. The sentiment in this type of relationship being, I hear you and I’m here for you. Unconditional love. This is how we build connections that are strong and lasting. Not withholding love from the other to feel belonging. But giving love to be open to receive love.

Giving Love to Feel Enough & Self Worth

So in the search for healthy relationships, we don’t have to push ourselves to give as much as humanly possible to feel loved and accepted. This is a trap that we get caught in. Usually because we already don’t feel as though we’re enough as we are. Instead of focusing on what we can do for others to feel loved, let’s instead focus on how do we accept ourselves and others as we are. Then we’ll be driven to do for ourselves and others. Only not from a place, as Brene Brown so aptly puts it, as “hustling for approval”. But we do so because we want what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones.

So if you feel as though you’re not adding up in some way, or have to do more in order to feel loved, self worth and belong to and with another, slow down and take a look at why you feel this way. Question what you’re believing about yourself and your belonging. You may just find that you’re already enough. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie” by dziner is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Updated: 1/20/23

Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

Being professional. For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they want to do and pursue that interest in a professional setting. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lay. Maybe they read an article that sparked their interest and with it, a desire to understand and learn more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they want to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

Finding Your Barings

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to do as a professional and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going the traditional college route, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparks joy” into a fulfilling and professional career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

Know Your Values

I would argue yes. And to use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect.

You Want Me to Take a Test?!

Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight possibilities. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain personality type that you very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

It’s Not All About the Money, But It’s Nice to Know How Much to Ask For

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against.

Legacy of Secrecy: When Your Role Models Don’t Role Model well

In my family, money wasn’t just not talked about, it was treated as a secret so volatile, that the mere mention of the subject set everybody in the room on edge. This was a topic that was downright feared in most people’s families from the generations of the 70’s and prior. I’m not sure what the reason for this was, but it got in the way of my family building trusting bonds that would be able to withstand difficult times.

My advice, if you’re coming from a similar background is, to talk openly and often about your financial situation. Now this doesn’t mean telling everybody your checking account number, but talking about promotions, pay scale, debt and other broad strokes of your financial situation shouldn’t be grounds for being ostracized from your family unit.

For starters, being open with your pay to others is a good way to gage what your cohort is making. It also acts as a way to keep employers honest. If everybody has an idea of what everybody else is making, then those who don’t know their monetary value will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this isn’t often talked about and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether. Or try reaching out to a friend and asking their opinion who is in a similar situation.

Take a Breather, You’ve Earned It

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience. Also setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself. Just remember, it’s possible and don’t give up. Peace and thanks for reading : )

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 2/13/2022

Self Care: Do you Know What you Want?

Here’s a question that you may hear when you are out getting coffee or something to eat. “Do you know what you would like?” We’re asked this question often enough but if you’re like me I’m willing to bet that you often go on what you are used to instead of what you actually feel like having. Some of this has to do with the degree of importance of the task at hand.

For instance, we don’t have to search our feelings everytime we get to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to find out what our deepest self wants to drink for a morning beverage. If you like mochas, it’s probably a safe bet to order a mocha. But somethings are worth the time to investigate.

Learning to Listen Ain’t Easy

If you’ve read my post, “Self Care: Spiritual, Meditation, Am I Doing This Right?” you’ll know that I was raised in a man’s man family. This included most of the macho cliche standards of what it means to be men. Among them, not having feelings, getting what they want when they want it and that being vulnerable was a sign of weakness… the list keeps going. But basically what this meant for me was some things men just didn’t do.

This was tough for me, because one thing men didn’t do in my family was raise children. This was a job done by women. So to my chagrin when my mother told me she didn’t know how to raise a man, that left me pretty much on my own. What this meant for me was, I had know idea how to pursue and develop interests or even to find out what I liked. I was so focused on whether or not I fit in that I didn’t stop to think, “am I doing what I like?”

On top of that when I found out what I liked ran counter to my learned ideas of what men “should” like and act like, I was confused. In the world I knew, men weren’t supposed to like yoga or the Grateful Dead. Men weren’t supposed to be vegetarian or vegan or like running.

They were supposed to lift weights so they could be strong and in charge and hold their own in a fight if they had to. Men weren’t supposed to be about peace and love but they showed anger freely and often. The world I grew up in, men hunted and grilled, drank beer and swilled scotch while watching football. I’m not trying to say that any of those ways of being or personal interests are inherently bad, but when your acceptance hinges on whether or not you fit a specific mold or set of criteria, therein lies a problem. So now that I’ve explored some of the pitfalls of how I didn’t know what it was that I liked, I’m going to take a look at how I found where my interests do lay.

Taking the Deep Dive

It started with knowing how I felt. Truly felt, without the influence of drugs or alcohol or the threat of being cut off from belonging by those who “loved” me. But that took some digging.

First, I had to change the ways I was doing things. I had to slow down first, which meant not drinking so much coffee to force my way through the day. Second, I slowed down on my alcohol intake which was my way of winding down from drinking all the caffeine, to avoid being present in my feelings as they happened. Then I had to stop and listen to my feelings as they were happening.

It was a mixed bag. As feelings usually are, but the more I listened the more I understood what my interests really were and why. For example, I love The Grateful Dead. But the more I explored my love the more I realized that it was the culture I loved. The freely expressed emotions of love and acceptance that I so longed for. I like the blues, don’t get me wrong, but they can be tough to listen to if that’s all you’re listening to. You end up, well, blue.

I liked watching football with my friends. We’d get loaded and scream at the T.V. for a few hours and get into trouble or at least have a good story to tell for the next week. But the violence of the game always made me a bit uncomfortable and reminded me of how I never felt like I quite added up as a man to those that held my belonging in their judgements by expecting me to fit in with what’s expected.

Yoga and running were ways of getting in touch with my body in a way that was soothing. I could take care of my physical needs for exercise while pushing my personal limits and grow in a safe way. They also have a meditative quality to them. You can get lost in the cadence of your heart beating in rhythm with your feet against the pavement. Or get lost in your body as you’re flowing through downward dog to plank, to upward facing dog. All of your body parts moving in a succinct language, freely expressing itself. And you won’t get a hangover from a heavy night of yoga.

Change On the Rise

Getting in touch with our wants isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to pull them apart from others expectations and your own perceived or anticipated expectations of “if” you’ll be granted acceptance from others. But it’s worth it to find the things, people and places that bring you peace and a feeling of belonging. Not at the expense of what you are like but because of what you are like. And to quote someone really famous, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

Image Credits: “Playing withthe Bombay Mix and asking ‘Why?'” by Supermum1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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