There are those moments in life that stop you in your tracks and make you reflect. These moments often revolve around, although are not limited to, tragedy. I found myself in such an experience recently that made me reflect back to a time in my life when someone showed me kindness. Back then, I had a difficult time being able to show this to myself, let alone accept it from anyone else. When you struggle with low self-worth, it’s hard to understand or comprehend why on earth someone would go out of their way or do the unexpected for you. In this particular situation, the act of kindness came in the form of a black zip-up hoodie that was bought for me by a colleague, who left it for me for the next time I came to work. There were no-strings attached to this purchase. This person wasn’t “into” me. They were literally just being kind and thoughtful.
I can’t recall, at the time, how I responded. Did I say, “you didn’t need to do this” or “you shouldn’t have”? I can imagine I felt somewhat guilty. I bet I thought how I now owed them to somehow balance or justify the act of kindness versus simply allowing it. I likely didn’t tell them (although, I finally told them this past week, 11 years later), how much it meant to me. How, during this time, my life felt very lonely and isolating. My mental health issues weren’t at their best.
Now, I find myself in quite a different place. My self-worth is intact and present. How did I get here? Being into self-reflection, by trade and by personal curiosity, I have often thought about this over the years. As future volumes of wiTHIN come out, I do get into more detail regarding this process. In the meantime, here’s a few things that have shaped my journey to self-worth.
My School and Job: I didn’t always know I wanted to be a therapist. Although, when I figured it out, I knew helping others help themselves also meant I needed to do the same. I’m lucky that while studying, and now working, I get to talk about skills that foster health and wellbeing every single day… the same things I too need to practice.
Growing up, I had this one coach who told me they would never ask me to do something they hadn’t had to do themselves or at least weren’t willing to do. I carry this practice with me. It would seem strange if I said to my clients, “believe in yourself, have self-worth’ and yet didn’t share in this same belief.
Therapy: I wouldn’t be where I am without numerous mental health care providers who walked alongside me as I looked, avoided, took a break from, re-looked and worked on my stuff. I needed help to sort through all the distorted thoughts, beliefs and behaviours I had carried with me over the years. I needed to learn and implement (key word) what I was being taught in therapy. I didn’t get to where I am today overnight. It was a process and I stumbled a lot. I’m still human with insecurities. The difference is, I have a healthier way of dealing with them now, (and in the future) than I did years ago.
I also needed to learn what my values were. Not what I thought they ‘should’. I needed to figure out what I thought and held dear to me. Then, every day, attempt to live accordingly.
Modelling: Certain professors, therapists, colleagues, friends and mentors all had an influence on helping me realize my self-worth… because they themselves modelled it. I’d catch glimpses of it through their behaviour: how they carried themselves by holding their heads high and looked you in the eye, how they talked assertively, the way they took risks, the way they stood up for themselves and others, they way they implemented boundaries. All these interactions showed me there was another way other than how I was living my life. I then tried to mimic their behaviours. I did what they did in the beginning.
In time, I had to learn that my self-worth existed outside of these people. That was a hard lesson to learn. It scared me to say good-bye and to not have them in my life the various ways they had been. It took time to realize my self-worth was not dependent on them. I had to learn I could stand tall even if I didn’t hear it from them anymore. I needed to internalize it. I did internalize it.
Saying Good-bye, Welcoming Change: In learning what healthy relationships and behaviours looked like, both towards myself and others, I had to make changes in my life. There were some relationships I choose to say good-bye to, even if that meant feeling lonely at times. I needed to trust that as I got healthier, I would find healthy people. Sometimes they would fall into my lap, other times I had to take more action to find them. I also had to say good-bye to behaviours and lifestyle choices that did not foster self-worth. Whether that was the eating-disorder or other destructive coping mechanisms.
Learning to Say “Thank You”: In learning to accept my self-worth, I had to stop justifying why it was okay for me to have self-worth. I had to trust that as a human being, I had it. It didn’t matter what sport I did, what my weight was, who my friends were etc. Self-worth existed for the sole fact my heart was beating. No ifs, ands or buts. It just was what it was. And, because it was what it was, I had to stop trying to find a loop hole. I started by just saying “thank you” when other’s showed kindness or gratitude.
Realizing and Trusting Self-Worth Feels Better Than the Alternative: There comes a point when you have to do something different, because what you have been doing just doesn’t work any more. Building healthy relationships, getting enough sleep, eating properly, taking the time to self-care, using skills etc. feels so much better than when I don’t. It doesn’t mean there isn’t pain, hurt and tragedy in life, but I now don’t need to add to it by believing I suck, or that I can never change. It feels good to know people love me and to be able to accept it (boundaries still apply). I had to trust this feeling. And, in the beginning, it felt weird, strange and unfamiliar. Like most things, the more you expose yourself to it, the more you become accustomed to it… the more you can own it.