Why is it that we will accept so much less than we deserve, time and time again? Why do we put others on a pedestal, yet fail to acknowledge even the slightest bit of our own greatness? Why do we insist on looking to others to tell us who to be, often at the expense of our own happiness?
I’m not exactly sure, but I think I’m finally starting to figure it out.
I know I’m not alone in admitting that my self-worth has never been the best. Regardless of a person’s specific circumstances, it’s an understatement to say that adolescence is hard, and so is the culture we’re exposed to. Everywhere we look, it seems like someone is telling us who to be, what to look like, and how to act if we want to be successful or beautiful or worthy.
Pair that with low self-esteem, perfectionism, and people-pleasing tendencies, and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster. The past six years or so, especially during the worst of my struggle with an eating disorder, I was so insecure that I constantly looked to other people (ahem, guys) for validation. I needed all the proof I could get that I was wanted, which, for me, was synonymous with feeling loved.
I’d basically drop everything to gain their approval or meet their needs, and in doing so, completely ignore my own. I’d base my happiness at any given moment on whether or not they were paying attention to me or interested in me, and would stay up all night obsessing over it.
I’d sleep with them, knowing deep down that they didn’t care about me or really even respect me, yet convince myself that I was okay with it; that it was what I wanted…all for the sake of feeling desired in some way. And to top it off, the “rewards” I convinced myself I was getting out of this pattern distracted me just enough to keep me from breaking it.
The highs captivated me just enough to mask the lows, and to keep me from realizing the real issue: All the love I was so busy chasing was really just love I wasn’t giving to myself.
Honestly, even though I’m a lot less insecure now, I still find myself doing this. I am still guilty of looking outward for confidence, reassurance, and acceptance every so often. I begin to feel empty if I’m not “talking to” someone, or dating someone, or sleeping with someone.
When I give in to those feelings, most of the time that “someone” still ends up being a person who I know can’t give me what I truly need. But even as I’m aware that I’m doing it, I don’t quite know how to stop.
It’s almost like I’m trying to prove something to myself; if I continue to chase people who don’t want to be caught, I will obviously never “succeed,” and if I never succeed, I will have been right about my unworthiness. It’s as if I am bringing to life this story I’ve created—that I’m not worthy of unconditional love—by choosing to pursue only the people that prove this ending to be true.
And maybe, on some level, it’s about fear. Maybe all this time, not letting myself be loved in the first place has felt easier than opening myself up to the risk of rejection by someone who actually could. Self-sabotaging in the name of self-protection.
Whatever the reason, deep down, I know I deserve more than this pattern of highs and lows…I mean, I read and write about self-worth, acceptance, and self-love all the time. But it’s hard work, and I’m not perfect. We preach best what we need to learn most, right?
Recovering from my eating disorder, which involved learning to accept myself for who I am instead of what I look like, was a huge step for me…but I still struggle. The difference is that I’m aware of the intentions behind what I’m doing more than I ever have been before. I’m aware of what I need, what’s going to help me get there, and what’s only getting in the way.
One of the most important things I’ve realized throughout this process is that the harder you seek love, the less likely you are to notice it…even when it’s right in front of your face. Often, the things we’re so desperately searching for are right in our grasp; we just have to pause long enough to let ourselves see them.
It doesn’t happen overnight. We all have our battles, and years of worthiness wounds that need healing.
We are all just always works in progress, but that’s what makes us so beautiful. We don’t have to have it all figured out to be worthy…not even close. Even just finding the bravery to be honest about our wounds is a feat in itself, and in my opinion, there’s no better place to start.
Also published on Medium.