On Finding Your Self-Worth in the Right Places
My current freelancing job means I ghost-write a lot of blog posts. I write on everything from the best hairstyles in Game of Thrones to how to recognise and treat anxiety in your child. One of the main things that prompted me into starting this blog was the fact that I often find myself wanting to say certain things but being restricted by what my client wants. This has ranged from having to write a fair and balanced discussion piece on the merits of watching the Star Wars films in release order vs Episode/chronological order when ANY SELF RESPECTING MORON CAN SEE THAT RELEASE ORDER IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO, to not being able to comment on more in-depth and serious issues in the way I would’ve liked.
One instance of the latter category involved a blog post for a clinical psychologist in Sydney, my main employer at the moment. He wanted me to flesh out a piece he’d written on the dangers of always putting everyone else’s needs above your own, and why looking after yourself means you’ll have more to give to those around you. He used the analogy of an orange tree- the better nourished the tree is, the more fruit it can bear for people to enjoy.
It’s a cool analogy, and it ended up quite a nice piece. I can’t link to it since that would kinda defeat the point of ghost writing. Anyway, I ended it talking about reasons why people might feel like they have to always look after everyone and always be doing something useful at the expense of their own happiness. I think it’s got a lot to do with feelings of self-worth and where you get your identity and sense of value from. If you only feel like you are worth something when you’re busy doing stuff, then of course you’ll never stop. But your self-esteem is gonna be pretty fragile and your work is never going to be done. Likewise if your motivation for being such a nice helpful person is fear that people won’t need you or want to be around you then your emotional security is only going to last as long as your to-do list.
I ended the article with these kinds of questions about the source of self-worth and needing to have an identity that isn’t dependant on others. But I couldn’t answer those questions because I was writing for someone else’s website, even though the answer is incredibly obvious to me. It was like having to give a scripted answer in an interview- sticking to the agreed lines when I really thought I could put it better myself.
Man, I thought, if only I had some place where I can write out all my own thoughts for people to read!
…And now here we are. And now you’re gonna sit back and read while I get my preach on big time.
The Answer to All the Biggest Questions in Life
God, obviously. He is where you get your identity, your strength, your purpose, everything. Getting your identity from other people is, at best, temporary- people’s opinions change, people move away, die, or just stop wanting to hang out with you. Even when people love you, they’re gonna let you down sometimes. They’re people.
God? He doesn’t let you down. His opinion of you doesn’t fluctuate depending on his mood or how his day at work went. His love for you isn’t dependant on your ability to keep the house tidy. And his love is way stronger and deeper than any person’s could ever be. He is the one constant thing in life- eternal and unchanging.
So if you root your sense of who you are in the fact that you are a child of God, and you are loved by him no matter what, that’s a much more stable view of yourself. Your situations might change but who you are doesn’t. You’re a beloved child of God, no matter what. Whether you’re living your dream job, unemployed, struggling with depression, feeling on top of the world, facing an unknown future, in prison, or whatever, you’re still a child of God. And so you can still love yourself.
God’s love is eternal, and pretty much everything else in life is temporary, and subject to change, so thinking of yourself in terms of his eternal love is hard.
Do I succeed at it? Not really. If you asked me to describe what the core identity traits of Paul Ewbank are, “child of God” would be one of them, but it wouldn’t be number one, if I’m being honest. There are other things about me that I value more, even though I know I shouldn’t. Identity traits like “husband of Liz”, “writer” and “player of funky-ass bass grooves”.
(Core identity, by the way, is a really interesting concept in psychology. The idea is that everyone holds certain beliefs about themselves, but that some are stronger than others, and some mean more to you than others. So I consider myself a fan of Stoke City Football Club, but this doesn’t mean all that much to me and doesn’t form a core part of who I am. Whereas my bass playing, and my musical ability in general, I do consider to be a core part of me. These core identity traits have a whole list of properties like being harder to form and more resistant to change than normal opinions and self-views. They can bias the way you think and see the world, and even affect who you chose to hang out with and the information you pay attention to.)
Looking back on 2016, I think that’s why losing my writing job threw me so much. “Writer” is a big part of what makes me who I am- it’s one of the things I’m best at and that I enjoy the most. It’s my thing. So to suddenly have that key part of Paul just up and vanish kinda rocked me. Perhaps if my identity had been more based on being chosen and loved by the all-powerful creator of the universe rather than on being able to produce blog posts and album reviews to an above average standard then I wouldn’t have been so shaken by it. But… I’ not there yet. It’s natural to take the things were good at and the things we use everyday and make them key parts of our self-image. It’s just a risky thing to do because all that stuff is subject to the cruel whims of fate.
So I propose a new model of viewing the self. Underneath core identity you have what I shall term corer identity.
It’s like core identity…but even more core. More core than grindcore. And it is, simply and always, God. Your innermost sense of who you are has to be that you are created in God’s image and perfectly known and loved. On the next layer you can have all the other core stuff like being an above average writer and being quite good on bass and having a fit wife and all that. Then you get the less important, more fleeting stuff like supporting football teams and currently being quite into wearing jumpers from Superdry and being a stickler for matching socks.
I think it could be really beneficial for people to consciously try to make God their corer identity. You’ll have a very secure view of who you are that’s totally independent of success and circumstance. You’ll have the confidence in who you are to step out and take risks. And you’ll save yourself from placing your faith and your self-worth in things that will let you down. In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, having a secure sense of identity and a fixed idea of who you are is inherently a good thing, and protects you from all kinds of mental troubles.
God being at the core of who you are is the reality, whether you know it and think of things like that in your everyday life or not. So are there any ways you can move your self-identity to being more focused on Him? Here are a few I can think of:
- Read what He says about you. Grab your Bible and research what God says about his followers, and who they are. We are more than conquerors. He knows the plans He has for us. We are very bold. We have the promise of eternal life. Stuff like that. Not we might have eternal life, or we might one day become very bold, or we could be conquerors depending how we do in our next quarterly review. Fill your mind with the things God says you ARE.
- Recognise where everything else comes from. All those things you think of as being big parts of you? Where d’you think they come from? God gave them to you! He is the root of everything, and keeping this in mind will help you think of yourself in terms of Him and His gifts rather than temporary things.
- Give God the glory. When you do stuff well, it’s because God gave you the gifts and the opportunity. Thank him for it! Kinda sounds a bit arrogant- praising God for making you into such a darned awesome human being, but its true! You are gosh darned awesome, and thinking any less is doing your creator a disservice. So be very deliberate in thanking God for the gifts he has given you, and use them for his glory if you can. Direct all the core parts of yourself towards him, and you’ll naturally focus on him more and more.
What If You Aren’t Christian?
Well then, you’re screwed, and you’re destined to have a self image that’s fleeting and fragile. Kidding. You need to find a way of viewing yourself that isn’t dependant on ability, or performance, or comparison to other people. Therapy talks a lot about “unconditional positive regard”- that ability to see yourself as inherently good, no matter what. Maybe try to focus on something deeper in you than simply your abilities or qualities- some inherent worth that everything else flows from. Some way of always liking yourself irrespective of what other people think.
So yeah, if I’d gone off on a massive exploration of who we are in Christ in that post for my employer I’d probably be looking for a job again. But it got me thinking, and I’m really glad I have this blog to share these thoughts. You’re probably going to see quite a few “stuff I wanted to say on other sites” posts on here.
Or maybe one day I’ll properly go off on one on someone else’s website and get my ass fired. Hopefully by the time that happens I’ll be more in tune with having God as my corer identity so I won’t totally freak out this time.