“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two little sparrows sold for a copper coin? And yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered [for the Father is sovereign and has complete knowledge]. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31)
As a recovering codependent the biggest discovery I have made about myself is that I never learned how to enjoy my own company.
I used to believe that I was not worthy enough or just flat out enough to determine my own worth.
And because of that, I was addicted to ignoring myself (emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally), and I was addicted to finding my value based on how other people felt about me – good or bad.
I had always tried telling myself, “Just stop caring so much about what other people think!” But I could never actually figure out how to stop doing it and truly be confident with who I was.
Melodie Beattie describes my inner world really well in her book, Codependent No More: “We want some of the good stuff, and the good stuff is not in us. Pain is in us. We feel so helpless and uncertain. Others look so powerful and assured. We conclude the magic must be in them. So we become dependent on them… We become dependent on their approval.”
It wasn’t just negative statements that were hard for me to let go of, it was the positive ones as well. No one likes being criticize, but when you’re a whole person you can at least respond to negative feedback from a place of security in your identity. When you’re not a whole person you avoid criticism like the plague but lap up any meager scraps of positive affirmations like a dog under the table.
And that’s a dark sort of prison to live in. It’s living in a state of bondage to a very ungracious and unyielding master.
God loves me… but I don’t?
I side-stepped accepting my own worth with God too. Before realizing how little I truly valued myself, I used to think: “God may love me but I don’t understand why. I’ll just accept that God approves of me, even if I don’t. I don’t need to love myself or even like myself. God does so that’s all that matters.”
Basically I just disagreed with him that there was anything lovable or likable about me. He could love me because he’s God and he can do whatever he wants to do. Just as long as I wasn’t required to like or love myself.
But God has never wanted that. He has always wanted me to value myself as much as He does. He never asked me to just settle for tolerating myselft. He has always wanted me to freely embrace and accept the Ashley he has loved all along.
In fact, he has tried telling me that multiple times, I have just been too blind to see it.
During one of the Awakening services several years ago at the International House of Prayer here in Kansas City a woman came by and prophesied over me. I can’t remember everything she said, but there was something about her having an image of me on a swing and God was waiting for me to jump out of the swing so that he could catch me in the air. Every time I swung back and said to God, “You’re worthy”, he replied right back to me, “You’re worthy.” But I wouldn’t make the leap to embrace him or what he was saying.
God never intended for me to just settle for how he felt about me. He has always wanted me to love myself as much as he does. He has eagerly desired for me to come to my own realization of my worth, not just take his word for it.
It’s incredible to me that I can so easily stand in awe of God’s majesty when I’m watching a sunset or looking up at the mountains, and yet I cannot do the same when I approach myself. Why is that? What makes it okay to praise him for every other beautiful thing in the earth he has created except for the person created in his very image?
I finally took the time to ask myself, “Wait, hang on. Why do I focus on things outside of myself so much? Why do I trivialize my own experiences, feelings, and thoughts? Why do I focus so much on what other people think? There has to be a reason for this. I’ll never stop doing it if I don’t find out what the reason is.”
And I didn’t ask in the usual dismissive way I always had, like, “Come on Ashley, why do you still keep doing this? Just stop caring so much!”. I actually allowed myself to feel my need to care about what other people think. And once I gave myself permission to feel that way, I saw myself as a small child whose behavior I was trying to understand.
Once I questioned the lie, I was free to discover the truth.
I am enough
The reason for my obsession with other people’s opinions of me was that I thought I needed their opinions of me to know how much I was worth or to know if I was making the right decision. I didn’t believe my opinion of myself or about a situation mattered. I didn’t take myself seriously or believe I was smart enough, experienced enough, pretty enough, [fill in the blank with whatever] enough.
I thought everyone else must know more than me or there must be some reason to trust them more than I ought to trust my self… “Others look so powerful and assured. We conclude the magic must be in them.”
I have read two books in the last couple years that dealt specifically with accurately appraising your self-worth. One of those books was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, the other was Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant.
Both books explore the way we talk to ourselves and how we let shame or other people’s judgements of us influence our opinions about ourselves. While Kamal’s suggestion was to habitually tell yourself, “I love myself” over and over and over again, I found that it fell short for me.
Instead what clicked was a phrase Brené Brown uses in The Gifts of Imperfection: “I am enough.”
In context, this is what she said in the very beginning of her book: “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”
She continues later on in a chapter titled “Exploring the Power of Love, Belonging, and Being Enough”:
“As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging…
When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.
The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. So many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites:
- I’ll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.
- I’ll be worthy if I can get pregnant.
- I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober.
- I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent.
- I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art.
- I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together.
- I’ll be worthy when I make partner.
- I’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve.
- I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out.
- I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying.
Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
At the time when I read her book I was not quite in a place where I understood how I was still sabotaging my own worth.
But I do now.
So, as corny as it sounds, I marched myself directly into the bathroom, looked myself in the mirror and said: I like Ashley. I think Ashley is smart, special, funny, and kind. I want to get to know Ashley better. She is worth getting to know. She is enough right now, as is. She is worthy enough. She is worth just as much as anyone else. She is not less than anyone else. She is worth just as much as the Queen of England or the President of the United States. She is good enough!
Every time a statement is made about me (negative OR positive), I have learned to immediately stop and say, “Nope. They’re not worth more than me. I can decide for myself how I want to feel about myself.”
I also came across this quote by Vernon Howard recently that has reframed my rules for self-acceptance and how I handle external judgement: “A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.”(And apparently something similar was said in an episode of Game of Thrones?)
It doesn’t sound nice to call everyone in your life a “sheep” but I’ve had to take that stance. I’ve had to constantly say, “I’m worth just as much as everyone else around me right now. I don’t have to think less of myself or discount my own feelings, thoughts or needs just because someone else is having a different experience. I am allowed to disagree with another person’s assessment of me or any given situation. In fact, I don’t need anyone else to tell me how to feel about myself. I am more than capable of deciding what is best for me because I am enough!”
And it feels amazing. I don’t feel nearly as scared or ashamed as I used to. I feel more confident and free than I have in my entire life.
Someone thinks the clothes I wear look dumb? First of all, I am still enough. Second of all, I happen to disagree. And third of all — wait — Ashley doesn’t need to concern herself with the opinions of sheep!
The more I talk to myself in ways that are self-affirming, the more I lose my need to seek everyone else’s approval for my actions and choices.
Dove’s ‘One Beautiful Thought’ commercial shows the ugly strength of our negative internal self-talk.
They took some things that women had said about themselves in private and then used actors to repeat those things in a conversation to another woman in front of those same women, which you can watch below:
I have internalized so many things other people have said about me for so long I believed the statements to be true. And I repeated them to myself all day long, over and over and over again.
But lies only have power over us in the dark. They loose all their power as soon as they are exposed to the light.
It’s a lie that I’m annoying or an inconvenience to others. It’s a lie that I’m worth less than other human beings. It’s a lie that I can’t do certain things because I’m not strong enough, fast enough, pretty enough, rich enough, skinny enough, or whatever enough.
I can stink like a pig, have feet that look like they belong in a scene from the Shire in Lord of the Rings, sport ears as big as an elephant — and still, I am enough.
Conversely, I can have perfectly styled hair, the most incredible career, and the most prized medals for all my accomplishments — and still, none of those define my worth, because I am enough as is and without any of those things.
And not just because I say that I am (although God does want me to truly accept myself), but because God says that I am enough.
I am enough.
I am enough.
I am enough.
And I love the woman I am seeing come to life.