I read something that got me thinking about feeling worthy and where I feel my worth comes from. Is my worth what I produce/complete/have to show (external)? Or is it entirely separate from what I project into the world (internal)?
It sounds a bit obvious to say that self worth is an internal entity, more consistent and valuable than simply the output I can produce as some kind of evidence. But I read the words and thought, How have I been viewing my own worth?
“If your worth equals your job…how will you feel if you realise you have already gotten your last promotion..? Your feelings would probably go beyond the normal and appropriate sadness and disappointment. When worth is in doubt, depression usually follows”
*I must find the exact details to reference this text correctly. I only have one copied page at the moment
The above statement could be true of many significant life roles and events. What resonated for me was the experience of Workcover, or being made somehow unable to be the person you were before in the workplace.
I am someone who has probably often measured my worth externally if I’m honest.
What do my parents say? How would I feel if someone knew that I thought this way/did this thing? What do people see in me? Do they see how hard I try? That I always try my best? That I want so much for them to be happy, and I’ll behave accordingly?
I measured my self worth based on external feedback. To be fair, I think that is an understandable error. You only know what you know, and what I learnt growing up was that I could fall out of favour in an instant. I could be dropped, ignored, made to feel redundant depending on the whims of others. That probably reads quite morbidly (see, trying to judge what you might think when you read what is essentially a tool for healing and learning which I made for my own SELF) but I’m just trying to look at the landscape, not roll around in self pity. The main messages I got over a long period of time were ‘our happiness depends on your actions’. And the consequences were so dramatic.
A parent says, “I’m done. We’re not family any more”. The other parent hasn’t spoken to me in four years as I type this. He can do that with people. It’s his thing.
“Your sibling behaves like that (harmful behaviours, anger) because they can’t live up to your benchmark” So I’m wrong to have enjoyed study? Uh oh, I’m confused.
Call it First Child Syndrome if you like. I always wanted to try hard, do my best and improve as I went. I thought everyone wanted to be better as they got older (and wiser?). Didn’t everyone seek self improvement and mutual understanding? That’s a positive trait? Isn’t it?
“My God, you’re so into yourself. Read another psychology book, did you? Gonna fix everyone like Oprah?”
Hang on, I’m lost now. Doing well is wrong. Trying to encourage others to feel worthy and proud is wrong. How do I become worthy here? I need to see a Cheat Sheet…
The rules changed so often. I couldn’t work out what I was supposed to be striving for. Do you praise me when I work really hard or is that when you tell me I’m a Smart Ass, Know It All who Thinks I’m Better Than You? Do I encourage younger siblings to stay in school because I am a good example or am I shaming them with my ‘lofty’ ambition, so that they are destined to fail and so choose to embrace a life of bitter regret and improper blame for their lot? Are you proud of me or intimidated by me? Isn’t this what people should do? Try?
There were messages of a worth I possessed, but said worth was so often taken back, recanted or mocked. And I just kept right on trying to please people.
Self Worth Score: Pretty unstable, dependant on others
I worked hard in a professional capacity and supported myself through university twice. That’s good, right? Lecturer comments and exam marks gave me what I needed. Validation. Positive reinforcement. Ergo, worth.
Meeting new people, or catching up with old ones, I was proud to say, ‘I’m at university, studying Social Science. I want to work in the public policy sector”. And later, “I’m back at uni. I’m going to teach, which is what I think wanted all along..”
My proudest moments? When I got to say, “Me? I’m a teacher!” My feelings of self worth were inextricably linked to my career. I was proud to have studied. Proud to be an educator. Proud to be a success.
Self Worth Score: Peaking, Feel strong and worthy
So what happens when your job is in question? Your career torn from you? Your dreams of contributing to society and making a positive impact on kids’ lives becomes an administrative issue of psychological injury and monthly assessments?
Well, your self worth is somewhere in the ashes after the fire that tore through everything you’d built up. In short: you’re fucked.
Self Worth Score: *game explodes*
Over the course of this debacle, I have spent so much time fundamentally depressed and disillusioned. I am not studying. I am not working. I am not aiming to achieve a goal. I. Am. Nothing.
‘Hi! So what do you do?’ > Panic attack > Tears > Run > Never leave house again
That’s not a life. And I do believe I deserve to live the best life I can, even while I go around again on this treadmill of bureaucratic and legal bullshit. And wait. Mostly I wait.
So I’ve had time to re examine myself. My role in the world. My worth. Just where I am, as I am, right now.
It has literally taken years to accept, even partially (because I am still pretty pissed off), that I cannot make those famous Wheels of Justice turn any faster. Indeed, I have had to face the fact that those wheels are deliberately set to an excruciatingly slow and painful pace – to squeeze you and increase the chance of you just walking away. Abandoning the fight. It was the first warning from my GP and I laughed bitterly and retorted, “How is that going to be any worse than the situation I’m in now?”
What I still had then, angry and justifiably indignant at the way I’d been a victim of crime and then of bastardry, was a firm belief in my worth. I knew I was a good teacher. I knew students and parents believed in me. I literally blossomed in the role which I barely considered a ‘job’. It combined most of my natural nerdy inclinations and I got to tell jokes which always got a laugh. That’s a win, people!
I was sexually assaulted, harassed, followed, bullied and subjected to what I can only refer to as psychological torture. And it was excruciating. But I knew they were in the wrong. I believed that someone would have to address the issues once I got the courage to raise them. Because ethics and standards would compel them to. Because the law would compel them to. Because at least fear of me taking it higher would compel…nope, I was so wrong.
Eventually my doctor said, ‘No more. You have to leave that place’, and I was at the point where I could only be relieved to hear that. I was determined and convinced that I would be ok, it would be somehow sorted out. But I was also tired, about to break and almost suicidal because though I believed in myself at last – the people who had done the wrong thing were trying every tactic in the book to cover up, deceive and denigrate me. As She (the Evil One who was my ‘mentor’ teacher) once said, I needed to Shut Up. Me speaking up was a Big Risk for them. So they tried all of the ways to shut me up. I tried to work somewhere else – still inherently believing in myself and my worth. But they made sure I knew that I could “never work again”. When they used that phrase I thought they meant at that school. I had no idea they meant any school, ever. I’m apparently not the only individual with determination and drive.
I’ve probably said it before, and if you’ve been assaulted, harassed or bullied in the workplace (or at home) then you know what I’m about to say. You are forced to become another kind of victim. You must bare your soul to strangers, go where you’re told to go, take what you’re prescribed, be assessed, written about, become a reference number and be passed around from case worker to case worker as if the trauma you have been through means nothing. It’s ‘protocols’ and ‘expectations’. It’s ‘meeting thresholds’ and ‘producing evidence’ of personal anguish.
It’s really shitty. Degrading. Draining. Damaging.
Self Worth Score: No, stupid. You need an Injury Scale Score now! How fucked are you? You can’t even think about what your ‘worth’ is! And if you start to hope…don’t mention it to anyone. It might be used against you by the insurance company.
If that sounds depressing, it is. And you get scared thinking, What if this doesn’t end? Or it does, but I’m so far gone, I can’t do anything any more? Could this damage become permanent?
Now, I’m not talking to Them, I’m just talking. I have worth. I am worthy. As a human, a woman, mother, sister, daughter (grumble), friend, aunty…and plenty else.
And also, just because. But I have to build on that concept again, in spite of the struggle to regain a feeling of professional and intellectual worth. I grieve and rage every day in some way over the fact I have to fight that fight. (Mindfulness is a challenge) But I’ve started again through becoming a parent to an adorable boy (see here for my best thoughts on that) and accepting the limitations of what my role as a daughter can be. I’m never going to get the validation I wanted there, so I need to come to accept that. And know that that does not detract from my worth as a person. (Hey, counsellors, check ME out there!) It’s a shame but it doesn’t have to become an impairment. I have sought ways to feel worthy and empowered, such as through child sponsorship and community advocacy (Amnesty International, Reconciliation and Healing). They were great ways to stake a claim, help others while I help remind myself of the power I have in me at any time.
Honestly, thank all the gods and goddesses that there is THE INTERNET. I have made immeasurable gains through sharing, learning and connecting with people via this medium. I quite literally would be lost without access to this space and I have made some brilliant connections with people. I have been inspired. I have laughed (laughing…yay!) and I have built on my own self concept as I have interacted. People talk to me. People are positive and loving. I can quite often contribute to debate and feel intelligent again! People are lovely. I don’t use my name, and I’m not always this Little Lion either. Because I deserve an identity that is not framed around being a victim. The Internet allows that to happen in a safe way for me. I love you, Internet xx
It’s a funny thing. Being stripped right back to raw nerves and rebuilding yourself. However that happens to you. I’m getting to appreciate every little part of the whole as I put it back into place and practice making it stick. I’m working on emerging a stronger, wiser, more mindful version of myself. Worthy now, worthy in the end.
The pattern was kind of the same to begin with. It’s what they like about new teachers; enthusiastic, flexible, idealistic. Fresh confidence and the promise of invigoration. Over time, if you’re unlucky, what they praised you for in emails and at assemblies becomes a danger. ‘You are a breath of fresh air!’ becomes ‘Look, some others find your go-getter thing a bit intimidating..’ and then that becomes ‘I don’t know who you think you are coming in here claiming you’re entitled to help, demanding your ‘rights’ because you are in the Union!’
Again, I am left confused. Wasn’t I supposed to be excited about my job? Bring new ideas? Students and parents giving you positive feedback about what I was doing was The Aim, no? You said ‘be confident’, ‘contribute’. Then you said, ‘Not too much. It intimidates the others who are more comfortable in their routines’. You ended it all by yelling in my face that I was ‘of the generation that was brought up to flaunt the Union entitlements’ and that I should shut up or I wasn’t welcome any more.
Self Worth Score: Deficient enough to warrant medical intervention. Great.