The first fifty years of my life, I drifted along on a sea of emotional ups and downs. Self worth wasn’t something I thought much about.
I don’t think I ever really realized that the way my mind responded to things was entirely in my power to control. If I had a “bad day”, I attributed it to whatever my circumstances were at the moment. If I had a super fantastic day, it was usually the result of something I did, or something I received—say, pulling off an elegant holiday dinner party, or hearing positive feedback on something I’d created, or watching my kids laugh and play nice together while I served them warm cookies and cold milk. In short, my self worth seemed to be tangled up in my circumstances or performance.
When I reached the big 5-0, something began to shift inside me. My usual mood boosters were underwhelming—sometimes frustratingly so. My motivation to do things excellently began to wane.
I felt like I was losing my mo-jo.
Why? I asked myself. Why can’t I muster up those feel good feelings? My life was terrific. I had a wonderful, loving family. A new book coming out, some amazing dear friends, and my health. So what was the problem?
I took a long, hard look at myself.
And to be honest, I didn’t like what I saw.
After months of prayer, pity parties, and serious contemplation, I pinpointed what was going on in my soul.
My joy was frozen.
Not gone, just temporarily unavailable due to sensory overload. Like my computer when I have too many tabs open and too may documents cluttering the desktop, and too much information to juggle. Frozen.
After decades of striving to do well, be well, think well, and live well, my joy well was bone dry.
For too long I’d run a race that God never intended for me to run. Don’t get me wrong, I had faith—no doubt about it. And I had knowledge and strength and perseverance going for me. I had achieved much, and experienced much, and yet, my joy well thirsted for something.
What was it?
Words and verses began to bubble up, edging me closer to the answer.
It is well with my soul.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Godliness with contentment is great gain.
Christ in me, the hope of glory.
I am wholly loved.
I am eternally enough.
Friend, let me tell you, I wanted to buy into these words of truth. I wanted to convince my tired out soul that indeed, I was enough. I was content. I was at rest.
But, it just wasn’t taking hold.
I journeyed backwards through my life story, and identified three patterns in myself that frankly disturbed me.
I knew I was on to something.
And I’ve since come to believe that the following 3 patterns were the root cause of that state of frozen joy. In fact, I would venture to say that these 3 destructive patterns are rampant in today’s culture. I hope by sharing them, you might find the courage to acknowledge them in your own life, and then set a new course—one that leads to freedom and peace and self-love!
3 Ways Women Sabotage Their Self Worth
1. Fear of Failure
I’ve always enjoyed positive attention. There. I said it. Oh, Lord, that is difficult to admit. It sounds so shallow, so selfish, so. . . not how I want to be!!!
But, hey, I’m being real here.
I remember as a young girl how it felt being the top dog in my grade school classrooms. I was that annoying girl who the teacher always asked to be in charge of special projects. The girl who had the words Great Job with a smiley face written at the top of all her papers. The girl everyone wanted to sit next to in the cafeteria. It felt good being that girl.
Then one day in the middle of the fifth grade, my utopia was desecrated by a new girl named Julie Miles. Julie breezed into our class after Christmas break like it wasn’t even scary to be the only new girl. I sized her up immediately. She was smart. Very smart.
Smarter than me.
Her parents were like nuclear scientists or something. Julie didn’t watch television during the week. Not even The Brady Bunch. Who was this freak?
Within days, the teacher had appointed Julie as our newspaper editor. The sixth grade teacher from across the hall even noticed her. And Julie could tell jokes, too. My classmates would form a huddle around her, whispering and giggling. They were enthralled with her.
And I was desperate to regain my position at the top. I didn’t like being number two.
Number two wasn’t good enough for me.
The fear of failure became a relentless pattern for me.
My accomplishments were often accompanied by stress.
I didn’t like to lose. Didn’t like when I screwed up. Failure was unacceptable. An understandable mistake, like screwing up my checkbook or burning dinner would rattle me big time.
And so, I excelled at most everything, because excelling kept the awful feelings associated with failing at bay.
My life was becoming a hamster wheel that I ran on with no end in sight. I knew in my heart that the fear of failure was a big fat lie from the devil. Yet I let the lie tighten itself like a noose around my mind. I let it suck the joy out of just being alive.
Being alive was good.
Being alive while succeeding at everything was better.
Can you believe that? Is that a miserable way to live or what?
2. Unrealistic Expectations
It’s one thing to set goals and hold ourselves accountable to certain standards. It’s another thing to always be raising the bar. This pattern goes hand in hand with the fear of failure.
Perfectionists like me tend to create lofty expectations for ourselves. And even though we will strive and strain and reach our goals, we’ll dampen the celebration by creating an even higher expectation for the next time.
It can become addictive.
Lose those ten pounds, and then decide you won’t be happy until you lose another five. Raise happy, healthy kids, and then stress about them getting into an Ivy League college. Volunteer to help with your school’s fundraiser, and then sign up to chair the committee next year, vowing to blow the lid off this year’s totals.
Are you tired yet?
Yeah, me too! No wonder my brain’s inner computer was going hay wire!
Too much. Too much. Too much.
Girls, we’ve got to give ourselves a break. Unrealistic expectations are killing us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s such a shame because God loves us just the way we are.
When will we give ourselves permission to love ourselves, too?
3. Unhealthy Comparison
You know all about this one. So did I. The Bible warns about the sin of comparing ourselves to someone else. We think we don’t do it. At least not too often.
Give me a break.
I struggled with it. A lot. This is a habit that is tough to break.
And social media ain’t helping the matter.
Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest—are you kidding me?
Reality TV, blogs by perfect, perky Christian women—my goodness, even at church we are tempted to compare our last-season boring dress with the stylish ensemble of that woman two rows up from us.
C’mon, I’m not the only one who has done this, am I?
On and on we go, chasing an elusive and unattainable image, our little legs moving faster and faster on the hamster wheel. Comparison can quickly fill our empty wells with envy, covetousness, and jealousies.
Let’s be honest. We’re not Chip and Joanna. And it’s totally okay.
We’re not spending our summer traveling across Europe or training for a triathlon. Also okay.
But we can have a healthy admiration and genuine happiness for those folks.
All that comparing keeps those little legs racing on the ole wheel—right back to pattern #1— the fear of failure. Which leads to unrealistic expectations, which leads to a chronic case of keeping up with the Jones’. Unhealthy comparison damages our self-worth on so many levels. And it keeps us from enjoying the beautiful, precious life we already have.
Recognizing someone else’s gifts, talents, or dumb luck doesn’t have to affect us negatively. We can appreciate what they have and be genuinely thrilled for them. Huh. What a concept!
I think transparency might be the antidote for comparison. If I’m being true to myself, and celebrating the unique life God has ordained for me, I’m far less likely to compare myself with someone whose “blessings” might appear greater than my own. I’m learning to be comfortable in my own skin.
I think I’ve even learned to love being myself.
The Bible instructs us to renew our minds daily. That’s the beauty. Our minds are not set in stone. They are pliable and shape-able and re-make-able.
We don’t have to stay on the hamster wheel! We can hit the re-boot button. As many times as we need to.
This is a battle of the mind. It’s not a one-day-fix-it-and-it’s-all-better effort. It’s a continual process that requires raw honesty, self-awareness, and humility to conquer. But the result is a rested, peaceful soul. Joy. Freedom. Contentment.
I’m not there yet. But I’m determined to let go and enjoy the rest of the journey.
Be brave. Take a look at yourself. Come clean, if you must. And then commit your ways to the Lord. Surrender your self to Him. Lay down your fears, your expectations and your comparisons, and trust that you are enough.
Right now. Today. Just the way you are.