Audio Version Available
(Editor’s note: Yesterday (July 24) was International Self-Care Day. This article published on independent non-profit mental health publication The Tapestry Project talks about how to keep our sense of self-worth during a time when everything is telling us that we’re not good enough.)
The dictionary defines self-worth as a sense of one’s own value as a human being.
In other words, it’s what you think you’re worth.
The idea of “worth” is subjective. After all, everyone is born unique and therefore what we deem “worthy” differs from another person’s. For example, a football athlete may tie his overall worth as a footballer to winning the World Cup. In contrast, I would personally be happy just winning a match with my friends!
In today’s society however, the definition of self-worth seems to be tied to external matters. People conflate self-worth with attractiveness, status, intelligence and more.
They say things like:
- “You’re only recognised because you’re pretty/handsome”
- “You’ve only made it in life once you’ve become rich and have a big house, branded car, etc”
- “You don’t have any/good educational qualifications so you’re useless”
A person’s self-worth is now majorly influenced not only by how others view them, but how they perceive being viewed.
So what went wrong?
Social media creates artificial standards of worth
I personally think that the definition of self-worth has been complicated because of the sheer pressure from social media that causes us to unwittingly compare ourselves against others.
Through social media, people are able to view each other’s lives on a scale that was never possible before.
Simply by scrolling through Instagram or Facebook for a few minutes, I can come across fifty individual profiles ranging from friends to strangers I’ve never heard of before.
People often post about what is trendy to generate attention.
When someone sees that something is trending or has the potential to take off, they hop on the bandwagon. Others follow and soon enough, there would be a host of people all posting about the same things. People who have not followed the trend would then think “Is this what’s popular nowadays? Should I be more like them?”
It’s an artificial standard created by the masses. Unfortunately, people start to compare to themselves to this standard:
- “This guy looks so good. I wish I looked like him”
- “Wow, my friend is doing really well. He just bought a new house. Meanwhile, I’m still living with my parents”
When people compare, they may become discouraged, thinking how others seem to be doing so much better.
Discouragement then turns to gloomy thoughts, and before long, we become consumed by negative thoughts and emotions. We start to always think about how others are living lives better than us and therefore have more value than us.
When we start feeling negative, our actions and behaviour are affected. In turn, we may begin to perform worse.
A self-fulfilling prophecy might even be created: We feel bad, therefore we act poorly, which leads to negative consequences, and repeat.
Not knowing our self-worth
This pressure from social media has also perhaps been amplified by the fact that many people don’t really know what their own self-worth is.
No one comes into the world knowing what exactly they want to do in life. Feeling aimless, we turn to others for advice.
The problem is that no one can tell what a person likes or is good at better than the person themselves. We go through life precisely on this journey of self-discovery.
Other stories you might like
But when a person only follows what’s trending on social media and discovers that they’re not good at it, they end up thinking that they don’t have any value.
In reality, what they do well or brings them joy may not be what’s “trendy”.
It boils down to a simple maxim: Self-worth cannot be defined by others; It has to start with yourself.
What can I do to better understand self-worth?
The struggle to maintain self-worth is real. I’m not an expert but I can share my personal experiences of what has helped me get through my dark days.
Hopefully, even if you can’t follow any of the advice below, you can still find comfort in knowing someone has shared an experience similar to yours.
Firstly, moderation is key. Social media is great for a host of things: Keeping in touch with friends, getting up-to-date on news, finding creative inspiration and more. However, as most things do, too much social media may overwhelm a person.
A study in 2017 on 18- to 22-year-olds found that more time spent using social media was associated with greater systems of dispositional anxiety.
You might feel devastated if there’s a spate of bad news or you might start caring too much about getting likes on your posts. Comment sections can get quite toxic at times as well.
Moderation applies to other things too: Hustling, studying, eating, even chilling! Find a balance in everything you do so you don’t get too overwhelmed. When you have balance in your life, you’ll have time to appreciate and understand yourself more.
Moving on, take up a hobby if you don’t have one! You don’t have to be good at it or be interested in it all the time. A hobby is just meant to be something that you like to do in your free time. Do anything you want: Run, play games, read, write, draw and more!
I find that when I’m actively working on something, especially something that has been created with my own efforts, I’m genuinely happy. Because I know I’ve tried and I’ve done something I can be proud of, no matter how insignificant.
Lastly, slow down. I noticed that most people, including myself, tend to always be in a hurry nowadays. We want immediate gratification, immediate results. But sometimes, results take time.
In our haste to achieve things, we may miss out on the process. In the end, the result is incomplete and we are left unsatisfied. Slow down and look around. Learn from others, internalise what you have learned and reflect. You’ll find that you’ll learn much more and feel better in the end.
I’m personally a perfectionist and a workaholic. I know, it’s a bad combination. I work like crazy and most of the time, I forget to do anything else. I used to miss meals and forgo family time.
I didn’t take care of myself and I really hated myself then even though I was achieving what I intended to. I knew this behaviour wasn’t sustainable so I had to find a way to change.
I made sure to slow down and set aside an hour a day (continuous or split) for self-care. I mostly listen to music or read books. Sometimes I spend time doing whatever I want without judging myself. This one hour I have to myself every day is extremely precious. I use this time to finally wind down and get in tune with my thoughts.
I also block out time for my family. I realised that taking care of myself and spending time with my family made me much happier. Even if I didn’t get as much work done, I was happier. I think that’s all I needed, really.
I realise that working hard doesn’t necessarily equate to misery. You can simultaneously work hard and have fun! My view of what value I had expanded as I started learning more about myself.
Most importantly, I believe self-worth first comes from loving yourself. If you learn to appreciate and understand yourself, you will no longer need to depend on others to tell you what your value is.
Only you can tell who you are and what you want to do.
I hope that this article has helped you in some way. Before I end, I would just like to leave you with an excerpt from one of my favourite poems, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:
“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Other stories you might like
Iyan is a communications major at the National University of Singapore. He dreams of travelling around the world – visiting the Colosseum, filming a wildlife documentary and scaling Mount Fuji. He loves writing as it allows him to learn multiple skills while also doubling as a catharsis from the daily stresses of life. He also enjoys reading, listening to music, football and serendipitous conversations!
Read more stories on The Tapestry Project.