This is a hard topic to try and talk about, because sometimes it’s really difficult for me to see my worth, and I know I’m not alone. Even my most confident, beautiful and wonderful friends struggle at times. You can’t blame us, not in a world constantly saying you aren’t good enough.
While I could spend hours writing about the negative effects of advertising and the media on how we perceive ourselves, that isn’t the focus of this post. It’s more in how let others treat us and how that affects our value.
I think too often and without realizing, we let the opinions of others change the opinion we hold of ourselves. For some, it happens when you’re too young to realize you deserve better and for others it happens so slowly over time until you don’t believe there’s anything different.
To really summarize this idea, I’m going to borrow a quote from the brilliant Stephen Chbosky:
We accept the love we think we deserve.
Now, before I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I saw this quote circulated around social media so frequently I wrote it off in my brain as a silly way “edgy” girls romanticized their poor dating choices. Please know I’m not proud of this judgment I so easily passed.
I didn’t read the book until they started filming for the movie in Pittsburgh, but I’m so glad I waited. The first time I read it when I was very early into my 20s, it hit me like a welcome train of awareness. Yes, the characters were teenagers and going through things I couldn’t even imagine, but the truths were there waiting for me. It made me think about how I let people treat me and my motivations and through it, I began to confront some demons.
Another book, The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler, taught me the important lesson surrounding this idea of ‘deserving.’ We go through life telling our friends they deserve better, but at the root, they (and we) don’t. Yes, this sounds crazy and no, it doesn’t mean you should let everyone treat you like garbage.
Love is a gift we give and receive, and we learn to love because our Father loved us first. At no point have we ever deserved that love. I mean really, read pretty much every Bible story ever and you will see a people continually falling short. None of that matters, though, because of His great love. He created us, knowing we would never be enough. He continues to pursue us, knowing our hearts are wicked and prone to other gods. Nothing we do can change His love either way. We can’t deserve more by good behavior and we can’t deserve worse by bad behavior. This is such a powerful truth.
It’s not about deserving better treatment, but realizing we’re worth more because we’re children of God. We aren’t designed to let people treat us poorly because that’s not what Love is about. This is so much harder to actually follow, I realize.
Getting back to accepting the love we think we deserve, I think in some concepts deserve is used very well. When we accept the love we think we deserve, we are accepting imperfect love. Love that is flawed and conditional. Love that only works on the terms established by someone else. We are failing to see the beauty of love because we’re so blinded by the things within ourselves that make us feel less.
In my life, this lack of self-worth is related to my father, which is tragically far too common. Despite being a Christian all my life with a good stepfather, I was still trying to earn the love I never received from my father.
Because I never loved him as well as he thought he deserved, my father made me feel less and like I had to continually work to gain anything from him. I would go out of my way to see him and talk to him until it was me initiating every conversation. This pattern is one I can spot in almost every romantic relationship I’ve had.
Until I paid attention, I didn’t realize this was a problem. I assumed it was just guys and I really didn’t know what it was like to feel wanted. I questioned everything about myself and changed trying to find someone who would actually love me.
Because I didn’t see my value, no one else did who I was pursuing. It didn’t help I pursued men I could see weren’t good for me in any capacity, but their slight interest was all I needed to give up my ideals and compromise to make them happy. I was trained to work in exchange for fake love that never lasted.
When I couldn’t see my value, I accepted less than the love God intended for me to have.
Our need for companionship can be so strong it leads us down paths we know we shouldn’t travel. We pick people we know aren’t good for us but we tell ourselves lies like it’s nothing serious anyway or it’s just fun or this is just how guys treat us (and reverse for men, obviously). Or we even think that somehow we can change them and then they will love us in the way we want.
Think about some of the incredible married, engaged or in a serious relationship people in your life. Do you think they got where they are by making their significant other feel less or like they don’t really matter? Do you think the strong couple foundation is built on belittling or neglect?
The answer should be no. If we see healthy relationships, why do we assume we can’t have it, too?
On the other side of this, I can tell you the behavior justifications won’t hold up once you begin to really look at your life. I can’t excuse those pieces of my past, like staying with a guy for too long because it was fun and a distraction, because now I know better. All of these experiences shape who we will be, both alone and in relationships.
Now I have a hard time believing men are actually attracted to and interested in me. I doubt their motivations when they’re nice to me and convince myself they’re like this with everyone. If they stop talking to me, I assume it’s because they are like all the rest.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking yeah, but it is nothing and just fun, and I really hope that’s true for you. What I know is it isn’t true for me, and every bad experience lowered how I valued myself a little bit more.
When we say yes to people we don’t really like or go back when we say we’re done, we’re showing them how we value ourselves. I know these are generalizations, but that’s where I’m focusing and I want to acknowledge I know there are exceptions. But on the whole, when we give in, we basically tell that person I don’t really value myself at all.
The other side to worth is thinking you aren’t good enough because of something in your past or where you are. We diminish ourselves because we aren’t exactly where we should be or we’ve made mistakes in the past and can’t believe someone could see past them. We carry that weight like a sign around our neck that says ‘I’m a crummy person and not good enough for you.’
Please know that’s nonsense.
Worth is tricky, isn’t it? The power we have to affect how someone views themselves and the impact we can have to make them see they are worth more. It’s hard to convince people of their value, but all we can do is try. And try and try and try because this is a fight you shouldn’t give up on, no matter what.
Even though I’m better than I was, my best friend still needs to remind me of my value when I start to doubt. I can still lose my mind over texts without replies and delays in conversation. The difference is now I’m more selective. I don’t just let anyone in. Conversely, I’m learning to tear down the walls I built to protect my heart and realizing not every man will hurt me. The way I guard my heart now is by reminding myself of how I am so loved by God, and that is the person I want to keep safe so no human can make me feel less.
So what can you take from all this? Remember that while we don’t necessarily deserve anything, we are worth way more than the way we let people treat us. I don’t know what happened in your past or what you did or how they hurt you, but I know restoration is possible. It will never be about finding the right person who will love us the right way, but by learning to love ourselves first and recognizing there is a Greater Love at work within. Completion comes from God alone and successful relationships happen when you can look at every piece of you, whole and broken, and realize how valuable you are.
Maybe you will get to a point where you know and feel this and don’t need reminders or maybe you will still need a daily check in with yourself to see how amazing you are. Either way, you are amazing and valuable and loved just as you are right now.
I will end with a poem by Bo Burnham, called Perfect:
I love you just the way you are
but you don’t see you like I do.
You shouldn’t try so hard to be perfect.
Trust me, perfect should try to be you.