Dear Ginger: Self-Perception
I was at the conference this weekend and your story really touched me. I have trouble with self-confidence. I always have trouble trying to find who I am. Or I’m never good enough. I play sports, but I’m never the best. There is a girl who called me a “fat seal” this year and that really hurt me. She’s bullied me since the 5th grade and this year I started cutting. I told my parents but I really need someone’s advice who has also struggled with not likening yourself. The very first night when you talked about how I’m God’s masterpiece. But I still haven’t figured out to deal with her because she constantly likes to bully me. I feel like I’m always worried about something or stressed. I tried making myself throw up, but it didn’t work so I didn’t try it again. I don’t like how I feel or look and I was wondering if you could help me. –M
There is so much packed into your letter. It sounds as if you are really overwhelmed by your world right now, and I don’t blame you. Any ONE of the things in your note would be enough to leave me anxious and worried. But you mentioned self-confidence, finding yourself, being good enough, bullying, cutting, identity, anxiety, self-destructive behaviors, and not liking how you feel or look.
I’m planning on responding to the issues you’ve raised, but I wanted to let you know that I’m going to break up my thoughts into at least two parts. The first will cover your own self-perception and the second response (next week) will concern the bullying aspect of your situation. I am so sorry that you’ve experienced such unkind words.
Right off the bat I’m hoping you had the chance to watch the video I shared in yesterday’s post. It’s a clip from a recent Dove Beauty Campaign. Here’s the link just in case.
I think this clip is picking up so much steam around social media because it speaks to a feeling we all have. We focus on our imperfections, weaknesses, and flaws. A six-minute video demonstrated so clearly how we can miss the big picture of who we are and how we are really perceived. Did you notice how age wasn’t a factor? These woman, whether 19 or 45, all struggled with this issue.
So first things first: you are not alone. It may seem as though the rest of us have this aspect of life together, but the truth is that all of us have our hard days where we doubt our beauty and worth. We let magazines, movies, and celebrities tell us what is beautiful and valuable. If we take marketing, media, and culture at face value we are left believing that this list is what makes you important:
Need I go on? It takes five minutes of channel surfing to discover what we are told to value. And that’s why what I’m about to tell you is going to seem so trite and simple, while at the same time controversial.
Trade the list.
I do not live up to the standards set by this world or Hollywood. My teeth will never be white enough, nor my thighs skinny enough to even come close. There was a time in my life when I was willing to trade anything to hit that standard of beauty. I was tanning, dyeing, whitening, dieting, and doing everything in between. But then my life became so inward focused that I was missing out on what would have brought true joy and value to my life. Yes, I could spend four hours in a gym every day and keep up a perfect weight and figure, but then I wouldn’t have time to do so many of the things that I actually love.
M, what do you love to do? Do you have gifts or passions? Do you love singing, reading, playing sports? I know you mentioned not feeling the best at anything, but I think a majority of us feel that way. I am not the best at anything. I have lots of 3rd place ribbons and honorable mentions to my name. I was not the valedictorian or the prom queen. I was never destined for American Idol, Olympic Trials, or the National Spelling Bee. In the grand scheme of blogs, mine has fairly low readership. But I had to decide along the way whether or not being the best at something was really my ultimate goal. It’s just not. I’ve had to let that one go. So instead, I just started doing what I love to do. I took my passion plus a desire to impact the lives of other people and that’s how I live my life. Can I tell you how freeing it is to stop trying to live up to someone else’s list?
Your value, purpose, and significance are deeply important in this life. The question is: where are you looking for those things?
“…Millions of people spend a lifetime searching for love, acceptance, and success without understanding the need that compels them. We must understand that this hunger for self-worth is God-given and can only be satisfied by Him. Our value is not dependent on our ability to earn the fickle acceptance of people, but rather, it’s true source is the love and acceptance of God. He created us. He alone knows how to fulfill all of our needs.” (Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance)
At the conference I talked about our desire to be known and to know who we are. I truly believe that the source of that answer is found in our Heavenly Father. As the One who created you, He knows you very best. You have worth because He says so. There is nothing you could do to gain or lose His love. That is a promise we can take to the bank every day. I do not have to be successful or pleasing to others to have a healthy sense of worth. My worth comes to me from God. I read in His word over and over how He feels about each of us as His workmanship, His poeima, His masterpiece.
In his book, The Search for Significance, (which I highly recommend) Robert McGee walks the reader through these same questions and issues. He makes a strong point in this diagram.
There are two possible options we can choose to determine our self-worth:
-The world’s system: Self-Worth = Performance (what you do) + Others’ Opinions (what others think or say about you)
-God’s system: Self-Worth = God’s Truth about you
M, I can’t make you know this just by saying so. This has been a long journey for me too, but so worth it in the end. I’m going to share some tips and resources through the rest of this week, but I want you to know that I am praying that you would turn to the One who knows you when everything on the outside says you don’t measure up. Please, please tell someone if you ever consider cutting or hurting yourself again. I am praying that your desire to hurt your body would disappear as you grasp the depths of His love for you.
“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” (Ephesians 1:3-6, MSG)
For more on this topic check out these posts: