Our identities are shaped from our earliest life experiences. Were our needs met adequately? Did we feel safe and did we feel a sense of acceptance and belonging? These factors will determine how capable we feel. They become predictors of the way our self-esteem develops and determines how much confidence and courage is made available for us to access our internal resources, which compel us to take action to become our best selves.
Figure 1 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs
Maslow's work shows us that if the basic tiers of needs are unmet through abuse, neglect, abandonment, and overall emotional, mental and physical malnourishment, then a person's self- esteem is compromised. When self-esteem is poorly shaped, then feelings of unworthiness, shame, lack of confidence, fear of the future, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failing and even fear of success become the culture in which our identity is steeped. Distortions in thinking emerge regarding a person's self-concept, self-worth and self-perception that ultimately results in distorted identity and a sense of purposelessness.
When this happens, individuals are unable to determine their own value from the inside out so they begin to live in a way where they seek value externally, through their performance and what others say. Their lives are lived on a never-ending treadmill as they work to meet a standard they can never measure up to, where they are willing to do 'anything' to gain approval, in order to find value. Believing themselves to be unworthy of love and acceptance, they punish themselves for failing and succumb to a state of hopelessness, as they believe they are incapable of change.
This explains several things:
- Why individuals stay in relationships when they are treated poorly
- How individuals turn to substance use as a way of coping with this corrupt sense of self
- Why people become depressed and anxious about all aspects of their lives
- How capable and smart individuals will keep choosing partners that devalue them as a way of confirming their warped inner view of themselves
- Why individuals choose to stay stuck instead of taking risks for fear of failure
- Why many sabotage their own efforts because they fear success
You can start your journey of facing the distortions in your identity and self-worth by saying: "I am valuable because I exist." Say it as many times as you need to in a day, even if you don't believe it; soon you will feel that value anchoring you from the inside out. This way you can live free from the incessant need of external validation because you see your own value and you become fearless and uncompromising of your true worth by refusing to settle for anything less.
See also: The Power of a Personal Statement