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Devaluing the Self
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2016 (2018)
Worth Beyond Measure
We condemn our worth through faulty comparisons with others.
We condemn ourselves; we condemn others. We demand the ideal while living in a world of flaws. The only people that measure up to the strict set of rules are those we merely brush past, limiting enough contact to realize they have blemishes too. But failing to demand any ethical standards from ourselves or others also has flaws. A world without expectations would implode in chaos. While public opinion, laws and courts determine the measure for larger society, we are left to contend with an imprecise devise to evaluate ourselves.
Blurred by ego, and intrusions of integrated parental tutelage, our visions of self are tainted from childhood. We need defined benchmarks to assess value. When shopping for a car, comparison provides valuable information. Contrasting the benefits and tradeoffs of different models, features, and costs refines our search, ultimately leading to the best vehicle for our wants and needs. Determining personal value is a much more complex task, faulty comparing triggers shame, coveting, and derogatory judging—many of the nasties that destroy the soul and disrupting peace.
Personal value is complex. We aren’t simply good or bad; but a being with a variety of talents, flaws and characteristics. Our achievements and failures can’t be evaluated without the contrasting background of childhood poverty and riches; there is no objective comparison. We can’t place a price tag on human value. We are competitive, prone to compare salaries, possessions, friends, happiness, and positions. It’s what we do. We want to know where we fit and how we compete. We bolster our security by being better than others; but shamefully bow when comparisons are unfavorable.
When we compare, we paint incomplete pictures. We view our selves (and others) with a distorted image focusing on limited aspects. The blurred colors of perspective present faded portraits, distorted from ego protections, and unhealthy biases. We judge unfairly. Other people may excel in some talents and possessions; but without knowing the original investment, the final product is incomplete. We can’t measure worth. We all have strengths; we all have weaknesses. If I compare myself to Donald Trump in finances and to the Dalai Lama in compassion, I feel grossly inadequate. I fare much better when I reverse the comparisons (Donald Trump’s compassion and the Dalai Lama’s possessions). I remain constant but by changing the measure the value makes a critical shift. My value remains the same—just the perspective changes with the moving criteria.
"Our achievements and failures can’t be evaluated without the contrasting background of childhood poverty and riches; there is no objective comparison."
Depending on the measuring stick, we unworthily self-aggrandize or dwell on depressing insufficiencies. Interestingly, some studies have discovered a connection between depression and realistic self-appraisals. Does tranquility depend on deception? Should we sacrifice accuracy for happiness? Correlations don’t necessarily indicate cause. Perhaps accurate self-appraisals only cause depression when coupled with an unrealistic expectation of perfection.
If human imperfection is unacceptable, and we only settle for more, accurately perceiving our feeble mind and failing self-discipline will certainly depress. Achieving ideals of perfection is impossible. We either must rely on deceptive assessments or crippling discouragement, leaving us feeling helpless, and depressed.
A fragile self is crippled by harsh self-criticism; the damning shame pushes social withdrawal, and paralyzing fear. Self-criticism, social withdrawal and missed opportunities further incapacitates efforts to improve, inviting the dark shadows of discouragement, depression and helplessness. This trifecta of gloomy demons strangles development and diminishes the resources essential for growth.
Faulty and puffed views of self, seeking self-confidence from belittling others, obscures personal weaknesses that hamper growth. We feel better momentarily from these faulty assessments but continually stumble over the personal shortcomings that interfere with successful living. The narcissist destroys relationships, squanders employment opportunities and poisons futures. The occasional flashes of reality are blinding and quickly denied.
Both positive and negative comparative judgments limit growth.
Becoming mindful of the weakness of comparative judgments, opens our minds to a better path, where we free ourselves from the paradoxical choice between self-deception and depression. A can choose a more compassionate approach, allowing for imperfections without harsh condemnation—for being human. Self-compassion expresses self-acceptance during the occasional missteps and lapses. The periodic errors don’t have a devastating blow on self-worth; we acknowledge the weakness and work towards correction—we error not because we are bad but because we are human.
From this position of compassionate strength, founded in reality—growth begins. We can shed the judgmental "should s" and embrace more frightening opportunities. Our increased tolerance of shortcomings, tame the critical judgments encouraging curious explorations deeper into the self and world. We now are poised to engage in an upward cycle of growth, each step giving more of what we need.