In the days of social media, filled with images that create an unhealthy and unrealistic expectation of people's bodies, abilities, and lives, focusing on your own self-worth can be quite challenging. As a law of philosophy graduate and philosophy student, I especially find it interesting to talk about this topic using philosophical theories. That is why in this third episode of Phililyphy (Philosophy with Lily), I am sharing what self-worth means to me, my process of learning and understanding what my self-worth is, and my tips and tricks to start living a life that values me as a person and how I stopped surrounding myself with toxic friends and relationships.
In this video, I explain everything relating to self-worth and philosophy as accessible as possible. However, I also wanted to write about this topic as well, just because so many of you asked for it specifically and because I find it a very important and interesting topic.
WHAT IS SELF-WORTH?
An important thing that I want to emphasize is that I don't see self-worth and self-esteem as synonyms. I am not claiming that self-esteem or confidence is not important. On the contrary, confidence is key in order to live a fulfilling and happy live in my opinion. Nevertheless, self-worth is even more essential for happiness. The difference between self-worth and self-esteem to me is that self-esteem is more focused on external aspects, while self-worth is something more internal. Confidence is focused on how other people see us. That is why the saying "fake it till you make it" is so relevant to confidence: by acting like you are confident, you create the external illusion of being confident, which will make others think and treat you that way, which in the end will make you feel more confident as well. However, self-worth is focused on our own perception of our self, and is impossible to "fake". You can be the successful, achieving all your personal goals, while still feel like you are unworthy of your life or let others treat you like you are unworthy. That is why self-worth and self-esteem are not one and the same.
LEARNING TO VALUE YOURSELF
Now that we've established what self-worth means, I want to discuss why it is so difficult to learn how to value yourself. Even though I have been on this planet for a little while, I feel like I have only recently learned to value my self-worth. There are a couple reasons why it is hard to value your own worth. First, valuing yourself and thinking that you are worthy, can be perceived as being "full of yourself" or cocky. Even though I did not agree with this at all, I would still surround myself with people that made me feel worthless, or do things that made me feel bad about myself. To explain this contradicting behaviour further, I want mention the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2015).1 Ricoeur was a philosopher focused on phenomenology & hermeneutics. Phenomenology is "the study of structures of conciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view"2, while hermeneutics is "the methodology of interpretation concerned with problems that arise when dealing with meaningful human actions and the products of such actions, most importantly texts."3 So how is this relevant when it comes to your self-worth? Let me explain based on this quote from Ricoeur:
"Man is this plural and collective unity in which the unity of destination and the differences of destinies are to be understood through each other."4
Every person has their own identity. We are all completely different people. However, we are still obliged to live, work & communicate with others, because we are all part of a society, and we surround ourselves with other people. Communication with other members of society is thus inevitable for any human being. This communicative aspect is not only necessary, it is also very important to us. We use other people's identities, or their vision on our personal identity to identify our own self. In other words, Ricoeur believed that we use other peoples opinion to identify ourselves. Even though we have unique identities, we are bound to the identity of others, because other people's identity are essential in the identification of our own self. We form our identity based on what society and others think of us. From this perspective, it is very understandable how others can have such a big impact on our own self-worth. It's hard to acknowledge the fact that others have some sort of power over our own selves - especially since we want to feel in control of our own identity. How we identify ourselves, defines not only how we see ourselves, but also determines our self-worth.
MY PERSONAL TIPS & TRICKS
So what can we do about it? How can we really start valuing ourselves? It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's true: our self-worth is partly determined by other people's opinions. That is why it is so important to choose the people we surround ourselves with wisely. They are in a way a reflection of who you are. If you feel like the people around you make you feel insecure or not good about yourself, it's time to say goodbye to their toxicity. It is not easy, but I highly recommend cutting out any toxic person from your life. Friends, family - it doesn't matter. Toxic people have such a power over you, and they shouldn't. Not only will this free you from the negativity they bring into your life, it will also create space for more positive people to come into your life. The most difficult aspect for me was definitely my self-worth and my love life. I had such a strong colleration between how I felt about myself and how my love life was going. Guys could really kill my own self-worth. Whenever I would start dating a person, and there would be a connection, I would attach my self-worth to that person. Whenever he wouldn't text me back, ignored me, or acted shady, I would start feeling horrible about myself, instantly. "What's wrong with me?", "why doesn't he like me?", and other doubts would pop up into my head. I would value that other person's identity, and his reflection on mine so much, that I would internalize his behaviour. I would feel worthless because that guy treated me like sh*t. Even if you feel like you value yourself, but you end up with these people that treat you horribly - there is something wrong with your own self-worth. If you value yourself, you would not put yourself in that situation. If you value yourself, you will attract people that are worth your while. When I realized this, I made a decision for myself: I am going to stop giving toxic people so much power over my life. Surround yourself with people you love, and you will feel valuable too. I am now in a loving relationship, I have made a lot of new friends this year, and the bad people that hurt me in the past are far out of my life. And guess what? I am feeling great about myself. You deserve to start this new year with love and value for your own self. You deserve it.
WHAT ARE 5 THINGS YOU VALUE ABOUT YOURSELF?
- Jean Paul Gustave Ricœur was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics." Pellauer, David and Dauenhauer, Bernard, "Paul Ricoeur", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/ricoeur/>.
- Smith, David Woodruff, "Phenomenology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/phenomenology/>.
- Mantzavinos, C., "Hermeneutics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/hermeneutics/>.
- Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man, 138.