Every time I go shopping I play a judgment game. When I see an item I judge it first on its appearance – is it desirable or not? If it is desirable, I look at the price tag next and make another judgment. Is it worth the cost? If it is, I consider buying it; if it isn’t, I pass on to the next item. When I’m at the store, I’m constantly doing this because I’m constantly looking at everything.
I just didn’t realize that I also do this to myself.
When I get up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror and I judge myself by my appearance – am I desirable or not? (I’ll cut to the punch line and tell you the answer is usually “no.”) If, on the off chance, I decide that I look reasonably okay (i.e., “desirable,”), then I look at my “price tag.” What do I mean by “price tag?” The short answer is – how I treat myself.
The long answer is that the way I treat myself is a reflection of what I think I’m worth – the cost of being me, if you will. If I think of myself as being worth a lot, I might go for a walk; I might take time to prepare a healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner; I might reach out to a friend that I admire; I might choose to turn off the TV and go to bed early; etc. If not, the opposite is true and I don't treat myself very well.
Clearly, this isn’t a revolutionary idea; hell, it’s not even very original. But for someone who was a victim and for someone who has lived like a victim for so long – this is a concept that is harder to practice than you might think.
I really think that there are some people who are born with an innate sense of self worth. I know people who just seem to have confidence in themselves and it’s effortless – they know what they’re worth and they treat themselves accordingly and they don’t appear to have any inner turmoil in doing so.
I also think that there are people like me – people who may or may not have had a strong sense of self-worth, but even if they did, the traumas of life quickly beat it out of them. I don’t think I need to go into any great detail here, but I think it’s hard for anyone who’s been molested to feel like they’re worth much, if anything at all. Add to that family dynamics that made me feel small, weak, inferior, not good enough, a disappointment, etc. and that’s a perfect recipe for someone who doesn’t think he’s worth much.
And, historically speaking, that’s how I’ve treated myself – as someone who wasn’t worth much; someone who didn’t really deserve to be happy, or to be healthy, or to be successful in life. I looked at my “price tags” and decided I wasn’t worth the cost. So I ate junk food and/or binged on junk/processed food; I slept in, instead of going for a walk; I watched TV constantly so that I didn’t have to think about how lonely and unhappy I was; I stayed up way too late and didn’t sleep well; etc.
And I did the worst thing any person could possibly do to themselves – I told myself I was worthless. I chose to believe I was worthless. I thought to myself, “Micah, you are a pathetic and worthless human being. You’re ugly and disgusting and how could anyone ever love you?” (Does that sound harsh? It’s not the worst of what I’ve said to myself and I’ll spare you from hearing more of the poison I fed myself my whole life!) I held myself back from trying new things, from meeting new people, from taking care of myself, and so on… because I truly believed I was worthless. I looked at my price tag and thought, “you aren’t worth the cost…”
Being worthless became my home. Being worthless became what I could count on. Being worthless was a constant that no one could change and that felt like stability; and stability felt like safety. And a victim will do anything to feel safe! Even better, being worthless (at least in my experience) was easy! It was so easy to discount myself; it was so easy to keep my gifts and talents to myself; to NOT put myself out there and risk humiliation or disappointing people (especially me!). And – bonus! – it also feels similar to humility, which is a noble characteristic. So if I’m worthless, I know I’m protected against being prideful, which is like, the worst sin imaginable, right?
But there is a harsh downside to all this “easy safety.”
Read each of those words again, slowly. We all experience these unpleasant feelings at times in our lives, but believing that you’re worthless invites these unpleasant feelings to move in, like unwanted house guests.
So I know this all sounds thoroughly depressing and you’re probably asking, “is this going anywhere?” Yes, it is, just hang in there with me!
Why am I even writing about this at all? Especially when I’ve kind of hashed all this out before (i.e., any of my recent blog posts!)? Because I had an email exchange with my personal trainer, whom I’ve been working with once a week for about a month now. He was checking in with me and I was telling him that I’ve been really struggling; struggling with slow fat-loss, struggling with injuries, struggling with mindset/staying positive, etc. He said and asked me the following: “I firmly believe that you deserve better...healthier, happier, stronger, without pain. Do you believe that? Can you believe that?”
Essentially, I felt like he was asking me, “do you think you’re worth this?” and my answer was, “no.”
Honestly, it broke my heart to admit it, because I think it was the first time I really felt the depth of how worthless I have felt. And it hurt. It hurt to reflect on all the bad things that have happened to me that made me feel worthless. It hurt to reflect on all of the ways I’ve inflicted pain and punishment on myself, because I believed I was worthless. It hurt to hear that voice within my own head – my own voice, in fact – spitting out such vehement hatred. No one hurt me as much as I’ve hurt myself. I did this to myself. And that right there is where the cycle starts to turn. That is the exact point that I slide back into self-punishment, beating myself up for feeling worthless, then beating myself up for beating myself up, etc.!
But I see it now. I see the cycle; I see the pattern. I see that moment, where I need to offer myself compassion, but don’t know how. I know how to beat myself up – it’s easy, in fact. I don’t know how to forgive myself; I don’t know how to offer myself compassion. I don’t know how to rip off that f*cking price tag and say, “you can’t place a number on your worth!”
I say I don’t know, but what I really mean, is that I’m just inexperienced with self-compassion. Clearly, choosing to stay local rather than take on other travel assignments, which has meant a great deal of financial strain, so that I can work with a personal trainer on a long-term basis, is a sign that I’m endeavoring to take care of myself. Even just hiring a personal trainer is a sign that I’m committed to taking care of myself; to challenge my poor mindset; to improve my relationship with myself; to accept that I have infinite worth.
But I feel like an infant again. I feel like I’m just beginning to learn how to walk for myself. Changing the way I see myself – changing the way I talk to myself, is hard; so much harder than I would have expected, but I know that it’s possible. It’s jarring, in my head, to hear two voices fighting each other and at times it’s uncomfortable, painful, scary even, and, quite frankly, exhausting; but this is the process of change, of re-wiring my brain. It’s like learning a new instrument – it just takes practice.
A lot of people have advised me to “fake it, ‘til [I] make it,” which I’ve always hated. (To my way of thinking if you have to “fake” something then it’s a lie because it isn’t really you.) But I think I see, conceptually anyway, the principle behind this saying – I’m not trying to “fake” something, I’m trying to create something – someone – new. Just like it takes countless brush strokes to create a painting; countless repetitions to create a jump-shot; countless breaths to create a singer; it takes countless new thoughts to create a new man. Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.
I’m grateful to my trainer for asking me the questions that opened my eyes to my own thought processes. I’m even more grateful for his professed belief in me, because if he can believe in me, then maybe I can too. Then, maybe, when I look at myself in the mirror, I won’t see a price tag… just a guy who’s worth caring for himself.