Ignoring the Labels: Looking Within to Discover our Self-Worth
So much of today’s world runs on validation, with people seeking it in the number of likes, thumbs-up, friends, followers, subscribers, applause, swipes, matches and media engagements. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our individual worth can be measured by any of these, that such external validation ultimately justifies our very existence. These measures matter to us because they appear to send the message, to us and to others, that we matter. This seemingly desperate need for validation is not new, however. It’s just been highly exacerbated in today’s world by the internet and social media.
It’s our very own insecurities that fuel the need to be noticed and appear elevated in the eyes of others. The core issue that underscores this crisis of self-worth is the same as it’s always been. It’s the flawed belief that “I Am Not Lovable if. . . .” (fill in the blank).
For example, “I Am Not Lovable if I don’t have material things that make me feel equal in the eyes of others.” Or “I Am Not Lovable if I don’t sacrifice myself to show how much I care.”
I suffered from this. The daughter of an Asian Tiger Mom, I strove for academic achievement and other personal accomplishments in order to feel loved in my mother’s eyes. The need to win my mother’s love and approval, to be seen by her as “good” and as someone she could be “proud of” by going to the “right” schools and accomplishing something propelled me forward.
Of course, I couldn’t appreciate any of this when I was younger. I was too wrapped up in my ego, which was entirely designed to protect me from the fundamental fear that I wasn’t lovable. It tripped me up in many ways. There were times I couldn’t finish what I started.
The irony is that because I was motivated by the need for this external validation, I couldn’t operate outside of my mother’s sphere of influence. I was handicapped by her best intentions, and in turn, I handicapped myself.
I lived half a life by living a lie. The lie being that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t capable enough. That I wasn’t enough. My entire identity was constructed around being such a carefully scripted person based on external standards that I didn’t have an opportunity to fully be myself. I hid my flaws. I hid my desires. I hid that part of me that I believed made me “bad” because it ran counter to the image of goodness and decency that I’d been raised to believe. And the more of myself I hid, the more those parts of me that remained in the dark became worse, compelling me to act out.
I essentially split myself into two people: the acceptable girl and the contemptible one. I liked them both, but I was happiest as the latter because I felt free. She wasn’t who I was really, but rather an expression of my need to breathe, my need for freedom. But in the end, it was her acts that nearly derailed me from my purpose and hurt my family and ultimately made me stop and recognize that in denying all those parts of myself that gave rise to her, I was denying myself.
That’s when I realized that no matter how I lived my life, I needed to be the one who accepted me first; otherwise, I would never find a way to heal those shattered pieces of myself.
Part of my healing came from forgiving my mother. Part of it came from a spiritual mentor who taught me to seek the deeper, universal lessons from it. The other part came from unraveling those threads of self-worth that were tied to my need for validation, which took up a good portion of my early adult years in the form of failed relationships. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to do this if social media were around at the time. I would’ve been too busy comparing myself to others. It’s difficult to shut out the noise. As much as we tell ourselves to disconnect from it, it’s all around us, mirrors to our fractured lives no matter where we turn.
We will always be confronting the question of our self-worth if we don’t begin to understand that the inherent value of our truest selves does not come in the form of material wealth or achievement—and especially not from likes, thumbs-up, friends, followers, subscribers and applause on social media. Or worse, if we keep believing that being loved or accepted by someone else is the gateway to our self-acceptance and love.
If we continue to consider material things or others’ view of us as that by which we measure our value, we will always feel empty. No amount of love or acceptance will ever bring us to this point if it doesn’t begin and end with ourselves.
It took me a long time to learn this to the point that I could embody it. Because in this world it means swimming against the tide. It means looking within instead of without. And to look within is to see the flaws, the imperfections, the things that separate us from the innate knowing we had as children that we were good and perfect and whole. It hurts to see the ways I hurt others because I was too busy pursuing external validation. Because that validation was how I felt worthy of love.
It’s easy to know something, to have a cognitive understanding of an emotion. But the reality is that unless we know it in our hearts, it doesn’t register, especially when it comes to our personal experience of this human existence.
Self-worth is one of the deepest issues we can possibly wrestle with at this time, and the most necessary. We will not be able to step forward in our greatest light, fully empowered and entirely vulnerable, if we cannot own those pieces of ourselves that we hide away. Those pieces that keep us from experiencing true and unconditional love, without which, we remain perpetually locked in our fears and unfulfilled lives.
It takes a while to reach the core issue of “I Am not Lovable if. . . .”, but we can all get there by being honest with ourselves and listening to our feelings of smallness, those voices that nag at us, that make our hearts hurt or our chests fill with disappointment, and take us back to that moment as children when we internalized the message by someone or some experience that we weren’t perfect. Those are the whispers, the first indicators that something is amiss. Then go inside. Is it about being “pretty”, “smart”, “popular”, “athletic”, “strong”, “hard-working”, “funny”, “nice”?
Labels keep us apart from one another and ourselves. It doesn’t matter how positive they sound. “Kind”, “generous”, “polite”, “sweet”, “handsome”, “beautiful”, “intelligent”. Words and labels have us trained to believe there’s a “correct” or “right” way to be, which serves to move us out of ourselves and into a role to be played.
We do not have to be anything to be worthy of Love, because we are Love. And when we are in a position to release our fears, to see them as merely vehicles to teach us about Love, then we will no longer need validation or praise or anything to tell us we’re worthy.
We will cease to act and come to be.