Self Worth & Trauma

 *Trigger warning*: This article contains language around depression, abuse and disordered eating.

Self-worth and love can be incredibly difficult to achieve. Many of us struggle, daily—and for many years—with disliking our personalities, our bodies and who we are. It is natural for many of us to look at ourselves and only see the faults and the weaknesses. Furthermore, we blame those perceived faults and weaknesses on our own innate lack of likability, self-control, beauty and so on. However, what many of us fail to recognize is that in order to expand our sense of self-worth, it is important to look into the past. When we begin to reflect on the lives that we’ve lived and the pain that we’ve endured, it can become easier to recognize where our insecurities stem from, which better equips us to hinder their influence on our actions and beliefs.

self-love and swingA good friend of mine and I were discussing this seemingly never-ending battle with insecurities that so many people, especially young women, face. More specifically, the turbulent relationship that we have with our bodies, and how it can sometimes feel as though they are simply never good enough. Upon further discussion, we delved into the prominent impact that media has on body image, but the puzzle (the question of why self-worth feels so out of reach at times) still was not coming together. It wasn’t until a point in the conversation where we began to discuss our past relationships with our peers, romantic partners, and families, that we began to make sense of why we feel the way we do. My good friend, "Cassidy," began to open up to me about her tumultuous relationship she had with her mother growing up. She showed me a letter that she had addressed to her mother that she had written a few years prior in the midst of a time she was battling a severe eating disorder—a letter that was never sent. Several lines stuck out to me in the most impactful way. It read, “I see you every time I look in the mirror ... I see you first, always. I hear you in my voice too. You are like the self-hatred stuck in a layer behind my head, underneath my skin, at the back of my throat.” With tears in my eyes, as I continued reading the emotional and raw letter, I began to ask myself: where is it that the hardships of our past harbor themselves within our minds and bodies? Is the answer to the question of “why can’t I love myself” written in our past? Yet more importantly, how can we move forward from it and learn to love ourselves again?

As we grow, when those whom we love or care for do not provide us with the love and validation we need, that unfulfilled need can take on the form of emotions of unworthiness in the future. So how do we move forward and begin to heal? First things first, it is important to recognize when and if you are struggling with feelings of self-hatred, persistent sadness or disordered eating. It is VITAL that we look out for ourselves and our mental well-being. If you ever begin to notice that something is wrong or as though all hope is lost, seek help. Foremost, there is a large array of therapists, psychologists, counselors and psychiatric professionals that dedicate their lives to helping those who are struggling. However, upon some extensive reading, there are steps we can take within ourselves to aid the process of healing and growth in regards to our past hardships, challenges and trauma. One way we can care for ourselves and our mental health is to reflect on these challenges, hardships, and trauma with a different lens. It is important to acknowledge the difficulty that you have endured within your life and relationships, but it is equally important to acknowledge that you made it through. Take time to seriously become conscious of your strength and resilience for purely making it to where you are now, and who you are now, and with that have grown. By recognizing that you have come to know more, experience more and become more with time can help you view the past as a small part of your story, rather than a permanent weight that will follow you around. Additionally, paying mind to anyone, no matter how brief, who has supported and encouraged you, allows you to see that you have worth.

two different people's arms reach out in front of the St. Louis arch, their pointer finger and middle fingers coming together to make a heartLife can be complex, painful and confusing. But with time, we all harbor the ability to grow from pain and take concrete actions to find a heightened sense of peace and self-worth. It is vital to seek help when the past feels unbearable to carry around. Doing so is an act of self-love: in which you are completely, undoubtedly and unconditionally worthy. It is beyond important to analyze our own traumatic experiences, as well as respect those of others. In order to love ourselves, we must reflect on when we were not given the love we deserved. We must interpret our past pain in order to accept future love. We must grow: always, and despite.

*I received permission from my friend to use her written word in this article.

*If you or a loved one is struggling, there are resources available: https://aggiecompass.ucdavis.edu/mental-wellness.