Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Self Worth

Img (c) Lauren Newman
Do not use pls and thank you
Hey tulips,

I haven't blogged "properly" in a while. The reason I use "properly" is because I haven't really zeroed in on a subject for a long time. I miss it. I had initially thought that the summer holiday would mean that I'd be blogging daily, however, I hadn't factored in how busy I would be and that the reason why I'm constantly on my computer during the academic year is because of assignments, reading and research. I will admit that blogging was a very satisfying form of procrastination because it is somewhat productive.

The topic I want to tackle today is mainly about self worth, but also about insecurity, jealousy, body image and relationships we have with others. It's not a secret that many of us struggle with our worth as a human being, and that these worries about ourselves tend to show themselves regarding our appearances and character.

Throughout my life, I have had issues accepting my body and my general appearance. I have completely loathed my body, thought of myself as ugly and repulsive and spent many long days wishing that I looked like someone else. Sadly, these feelings will be all too familiar for many of you. As someone who can proudly say that they have made a lot of progress in this area of my life, I want to offer some words of wisdom that I use on myself and hopefully they may help others as much as they help me.

1.) Try not to base your self worth on the opinions of others.

Now, I'm not saying that in order to do this you need to become completely emotionless and no longer care about what people think of you. I, like many others, am a sensitive person and a people-pleaser. I admit unashamedly to wanting people to like me and caring about what kind of person they think I am. In my unprofessional opinion, it is perfectly human behaviour to enjoy positive feedback from other humans. However, the difference for me now is how I respond to that feedback. I do not allow others to define my identity or worth, no matter if their opinion is good or bad.

Basing your self worth and confidence on what others think may work perfectly for you if you have a steady stream of praise and admiration showered on you each day, for whatever reason. I'm not telling you that you should not enjoy this and absorb it and allow it to boost your confidence and happiness. However, the danger of this is if it stops. If, for whatever reason, you begin to receive less and less attention until eventually you are left with nothing at all, what do you do? If you cannot emotionally support yourself and give yourself a sense of worth, you are surrendering your identity and sense of self to others. In my opinion, this isn't a healthy way to live. Furthermore, what if the feedback suddenly becomes incredibly negative? If you allow others to define your worth, you may also absorb the bad just as intensely as the good and begin to believe any horrible thing that is said about you. This will chip away at your self esteem and make you feel awful.

When I was young (warning: more highly subjective background info from Lauren), I always placed my worth in the hands, or words, of others. I internalised every single time I was called ugly and worthless and by the time I was in my early teens I truly believed that I was repulsive to look at. However, my achievement in school had been good and teachers had always commented on my good behaviour and conscientiousness. I took this and ran with it into high school, and into relationships as well. Again, still fully believing in the power of others' opinions, I began to absorb the bad grades I achieved due to illness and low attendance. I also accepted the negative and cruel criticisms about my nature from a boyfriend at the time. Despite grasping ferociously onto this person who contradicted others by describing me as "beautiful" I also became "lazy", "childish" and incapable of doing anything right without him, in his words. My issue became that instead of building my own self worth, I focused entirely on what others thought about me and very easily accepted their observations as truth. I would offer myself up to others as being passive, scatterbrained, incompetent and only worth something if I was helping others achieve their happiness.

Additionally, even if someone is being nice about you, that doesn't mean you have to adhere to their opinion of you still. For example, if someone describes you as "nice" and "quiet" and "agreeable", this doesn't mean that you are not allowed to describe yourself as other things that perhaps might contradict these meanings.

Learn to accept that others can form opinions of you without you using it to collage your identity.
This is not a linear process. It is long and difficult and not without many bad days. You are trying to rewire your way of thinking, which, I'm afraid, is a large task to undertake, though very much worth the results.

Disclaimer: Sometimes we, as people, make mistakes. Sometimes we treat others wrongly or hurt their feelings. Sometimes we need to do better in education or work. Listening to constructive criticism can be really good for us and it helps us to improve as human beings. We must remember to process criticism from others and try to assess how and why they are criticising us. If your lecturer asks you to try and apply more critical reading or restructure an essay, don't scream "I AM TOO WORTHY FOR YOUR PROJECTIONS ON MY CHARACTER". This is an extreme example, but I think you get what I'm trying to say. Generally, the difference between constructive criticism and unnecessary, hurtful criticism will be obvious but it isn't always, which is why I feel the need to point this out.

2.) Your boyfriend, girlfriend, sexual partner etc. are included in "other people's opinions".

I know that it is wonderful when we find an exciting human that we love and everything feels magical. You see that person entirely through rose-tinted spectacles and everything they say and do will be impossible to not freak out over. However, just because you love or like or admire someone does not mean that you should allow your identity to be swamped by theirs. You are an individual, not so-and-so's boyfriend/girlfriend/etc. and you should never need to shrink to make room for them. Whenever I have felt low about my appearance, my boyfriend's reassurance that he finds me beautiful is nice and always appreciated, but it isn't the antidote to low self worth. It doesn't change the way I see myself. I have had to do this for myself, though having someone who doesn't feed you negative things is always a huge help, it's important that we can still feel positive about ourselves, even when others are not expressing positivity about us.

It is great to feel weak at the knees when your significant other tells you how they feel about you - believe me I do - but we should still be our full selves if they were to suddenly leave. The whole idea of "I can't live without you" might be very romantic, but do we really want people we love to be so unhappy with themselves that they need others to feel worth something? I certainly don't want that. The idea that my boyfriend could have happily lived without me, and I him, makes our relationship all the more special. It is a choice, not a need. Obviously, I'm not saying that it's okay for your partner to say "I'd honestly be really happy if you weren't here" and it's normal that we feel like we've lost a limb when we lose someone we love. I just mean that you need not feel that you are half of a person or not worth being described as a whole person without someone else. A partner who loves and cares about you should want you to feel whole.

3.) Stop comparing yourself to others - no really. Stop. It.

The mere existence of other women seemed to be the sole cause of my insecurity for a long time. I hated seeing beautiful women and I came to resent them. I allowed my fear of being judged and my shattered self-worth to make me shrink away from supporting fellow women and enjoying their beauty and self-appreciation. Many friends I have spoken to have felt exactly the same way, and I realised it's not uncommon. This is one of the first things I worked on changing and I now feel a swell of happiness seeing others feel comfortable and beautiful in their own skin. Genuinely feeling this way feels good and healthy, but it's understandably incredibly difficult to get there if you don't have a certain level of self worth. Once you are able to begin lifting yourself up, this aspect of the problem does get easier. Especially when you talk to women you were jealous of and realise that they have felt exactly the same way - which by the way is sad and not something we should enjoy, but rather just take comfort in that we are all human and all affected by the same feelings.

 Never have I ever wanted to change the way I look merely because of my features themselves. I wanted to change the way I looked in favour of something else that someone else had.
Hated my bumpy nose? It's because I wanted a slim, ski-jump one.
Hated my eyes for their hooded lids? Only because I wanted bright and open eyes.
Hated my love handles? I wanted a slim figure.

Never once did I want to be rid of my bumpy nose, hooded lids or love handles because there was something wrong with them inherently. I just wanted something different. Once I stopped comparing myself and enjoyed myself for what I am, not wanting to change became much easier. I'm not saying I'm converted and never wish I could change something about myself, but it's a process that is helping me not to plunge into a pit of self loathing. I know that I am in a better place now because I genuinely really love my love handles and have embraced my nose and my eyes as part of me. There is nothing cocky or self-absorbed about allowing yourself to be happy with the way you look, by the way.

Conventional beauty standards are not the only way to be beautiful and I beg of you to ignore the vile rating system. You are not a 2/10, 5/10, 7/10 or a 10/10. You are a complex human being and your purpose is not for others to find you attractive.

4.) Your appearance is only as important as you make it. Be what you want to be. 

Okay, so as cliché as this might sound, you can be whoever you want.

Make up and selfies: If you want to dress up every day, do a full face of make up and post 3038947 selfies and it makes you happy, then by all means do it. However, if you're only doing this to "keep up" with others, which is something I have considered doing; don't. There is a lot to be said for the idea that people will judge you regardless of what you do, so just be yourself. At one time, I would not leave the house without makeup because I felt ugly without it. Now I've realised that the only reason I did that was because I thought other people thought that, and now I only wear it when I feel like wearing it. Adversely, don't let other people stop you from wearing it.

Fashion and identity: When I wear clothes that I like, I'm wearing them because I feel good in them. I don't care if other people don't like them, I don't care if it's on trend or if it isn't. Being "cool" is a completely subjective term. Dress to please yourself.

You are not just your skin: Again, this is cliché but you have an inside as well as an outside. The only time we see ourselves is when we look in the mirror, but we live inside our minds 24/7. Being beautiful is not more important than living your life, experiencing things, loving and being loved, getting an education, working, reading, having fun and ultimately your health and wellbeing. One thing commonly said by older people is "I can't believe I ever thought I was ugly when I was young". Being concerned about how you look will get in the way of enjoying life.
I will end this point on one of my favourite quotes of all time;

(c) Roald Dahl
Illustrations (c) Quentin Blake 

5.) Thin" and "beautiful" are not synonyms. "Fat" and "beautiful" are not mutually exclusive concepts.

I could now immediately launch into my thoughts on fat shaming, but that is definitely a topic for another time (or this section would be a huge wall of text). All I will say is that fat is not an insult, thin is not a compliment and they are just two of many body types. If someone uses these terms as such, remember that you don't need to agree, you are allowed to disregard it instead of internalising it. This is difficult when it's often ingrained in us after years of hearing it, but thinking about it in this way and discussing it helps to disentangle it from our self worth.

Tips on achieving some healthy mindsets:

- If someone compliments you, try your best not to reject it. Say thank you, and perhaps try and return a genuine compliment. I've got into the habit of when my boyfriend says "you're beautiful", I'll say "yeah I am, and so are you".

- If someone insults you or says something hurtful, remember that you do not need to gather their words and pin them on your chest. You can leave them behind, they are not you.

- If you berate yourself, stop and say out loud; "no, I am worth something. I am worth more than I think I am and I do not deserve to have horrible things said about me, especially not from myself". This might seem strange and weird but it genuinely helps to say it out loud.

- Stand in the mirror every day and pick out three things you like about your appearance. Then tell yourself you are great. Repeat with things about your character.

- If you can't stop comparing yourself to others, delete apps that may potentially mean that you're being exposed to the people you might possibly be comparing yourself t-- Delete Instagram. That's what I'm basically trying to say. Delete the app that studies have shown to be the worst for mental health until you are healthily able to view Instagram models without holding yourself to that standard. I'm being dead serious. Working on myself in this way means that now I can see Instagram models, think "oh nice" and sit there quite happily without a single wish to change anything about my body. Sometimes, usually once a month, I have blips and see someone pretty and completely degrade myself. The important thing is I can recognise that it was just a lapse and that I look the way I look and that I'm happy with that. Furthermore, I'm happy to see that person feeling confident and beautiful. You just have to keep reinforcing. If you don't want to delete Instagram, unfollow people that trigger your insecurities and avoid the search tab. This is not a long term solution, just temporary whilst you are healing.

- Try to avoid the "fake it until you make it" approach in trying to appear cocky and self assured. You don't need to prove anything to anyone because this is not about what other people think. This is about how you feel for your own happiness and health.

- Kindness costs nothing - liking yourself is a lot easier when you're kinder to others but also to yourself as well.

- Treat yourself and others like Aibileen Clark treats Mae Mobley from The Help (2009, Kathryn Stockett)

(c) DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media, Image Nation, 1492 Pictures, Harbinger Pictures

Everything expressed in this post is my opinion. I do not have any qualifications pertaining to this subject and it is entirely just things that have helped me - the case may be very different for many of you. 
Take care tulips, 
Lauren Newman a.k.a shrInking violet

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