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Defining Self-Esteem

"Know your worth." We've all heard that phrase, but do any of us stop to calculate our real worth? I hadn't, but I've been reflecting on it for the past few months.

In my career, I believe I have indeed known my worth, scratching, clawing, working hard to prove myself and then defend my good work. I busted my ass to put myself through college, working three jobs while doing so, and then building a portfolio of work that's steadily progressed in responsibility with time.

But in my love life, not so much. I have always chosen men who were beneath me, men who used me to build their own lives. First, it was a husband who couldn't hold a job, who lived in a cockroach-infested apartment with a roommate at age 28, drove us into debt and treated me very badly (that's a story for another time). Then it was husband No. 2, who didn't have a job when I met him and lived in a filthy duplex with his two brothers. I distinctly remember my father saying, "What the hell are you thinking?" Following my second divorce, I had two boyfriends who were also losers in life.

Why did I pick these men? Surely I had other choices, had I not? I think it comes down to self-worth, or my lack thereof. I grew up working class in an upper middle-class town. I was often bullied for not having the right clothes, not going to summer camp, being out of place in general. It also didn't help that I had red hair, acne and was overweight. School was not fun socially for me a lot of the time. I carry that with me to this day. I had no boyfriends until I met my starter husband. I married the first man who really paid attention to me, oblivious to the fact I had apparently grown into a decent-looking woman.

Now, out on the dating scene, when a man tells me I'm beautiful, I don't believe him. I think he's just trying to get me into bed so he'll say anything. I don't see myself as pretty. I look in the mirror and see what others saw when I was growing up. That is deeply imbedded in my psyche, but I've been working to remove it. It's not easy. When you're developing into an adult and everyone around you is telling you you're not acceptable, you believe it. Now, as an adult, that is deeply ingrained. Uprooting it feels liberating and scary at the same time. What if those people were right all along and I'm being a fool feeling I'm anything other than what they deemed me to be?

Stupid, I know. So I've been calculating and am pleased to discover I'm worth a whole lot more than what those people in my past figured, and what they said didn't matter then and doesn't matter now. I don't need external validation to tell me I'm smart, pretty or a good person. All I need is the strength and conviction to value myself. What I've found is a depth of worth yet to be fully excavated.

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