Identity & Self-Esteem
Sooner or later in life, we all begin to sense the importance of having a strong identity and self-esteem. More so, we understand the consequences of having a weakness in this area. The impact can be felt in our relationships, our work, and our general satisfaction in life. All of us learn ways to create strength and stability in this area, some healthy and some not so healthy. In this article we'll take a closer look at common ways people anchor their identity and how to strengthen those anchors.
What gives you value? Is it the kind of house you live in or the way you look? Maybe it's the kind of work you do or how you impact others and your community? The truth is that there are a number of things that we can base our worth and value you and the goal isn't to remove or avoid the superficial things in life, but to make sure you strongest anchor is tied to the truest and most authentic parts of who you are.
How do people treat you? With respect? With disrespect? If others treat you poorly, does it affect you enough to behave in ways that aren't proud of? If so, you might be anchoring yourself a lot more than you should in this area. While it's natural to feel offended when others treat you with disrespect, it isn't healthy to let the actions of others take emotional energy and self-worth from you. Setting boundaries is essential, but if you go too far with those boundaries you're probably giving a lot more power away to others than you realize.
What people see about you matters. If it didn't, no one would worry about personal hygiene or presentation. But while what you show to others matters to some degree, it can't be what matters most. People who tie their worth to how people view them are anchored in the weakest possible way. Their value is literally determined by what other people think and feel.
The important things we do in life gives us a sense of purpose and value. Performance is a fundamental part of how we function in this world. Whether it's your career, education, or children, we are all wired to strive for success in what we value to the most. And this is the reason why most people lose their way in establishing their value and self-worth. What you do can certainly give you a sense of meaning and purpose in life, but it can't be the only thing that gives you value. Failure is an unavoidable part of performance. Without it, there can be no growth and learning. So if your value is tied to what you do, then your self-worth is on borrowed time.
It's perhaps the most important existential question we must all ask ourselves at some point in life. What makes you valuable? If it's not what people think of you or what you do that makes you valuable, then what does give you value? The answer lies in how you define your identity. Your identity is something that is fundamental to who you are, something that can't be taken away or changed by you or anyone else. If this sounds vague and way too philosophical, it's because it's such a difficult thing to define. It's way easier to define and manage how people think of you and even what you do to derive meaning and purpose. Discovering inherent value in who you are is a life long process and battle. But when you invest well here, you'll find that life becomes more meaningful and relationships more manageable.
This diagram illustrates how our value anchors work. It's four different arenas of value, but also layers that people operate within. Investing heavily in the most outer circle of how people treat you while neglecting the most inner circle of who you are will leave you feeling unstable and hollow. But investing heavily in the inner circle will allow you to perform better in the "DO" arena, allow you to handle the perceptions of other people in the "SHOW" arena, and be more resilient when people's treatment of you in the "TREAT" arena isn't fair.
Power vs. Control
The more value you place in the outer circles, the more you have to control things that are outside of yourself. On the other hand, the more value you place in the inner circles, the more power you possess over your life. The reasoning is simple. The outer circle is based on other people. People you have no real power over so in order to gain value you in their eyes, you have to control their perception of you and how they treat you. Ironically, this means you have to give away more power and internal worth in order to gain more control over what people think, feel and do. The "DO" circle is based on what you can do and how well you can perform. You have a little more power in this arena which creates the illusion of control, but ultimately failure is inevitable and so you still have no true power in this realm. High performers live in this arena and have a hard time being convinced they can't continue to derive worth in what they can do and accomplish.
The more strength and assurance you can build in the inner most circle, the more power you actually gain in your life. Having a wealth of power here means needing to control all the outer circles less. Such people have the freedom to lead healthy and balanced lives where as those who invest primarily in the outer circles eventually find themselves burnt out and feeling a sense of emptiness. This is one of the reasons why depression and anxiety are so prevalent in our society today.
Imagine a young child. In the early stages of their development, much of how they learn to value themselves is through the eyes of others around them. How their parent, their siblings, and their friends see them. All their value anchors are rooted in the outer circle, which is fine and healthy at the stage of life they are in. But as they grow older, into their teen years, they may begin to realize the anchors of their childhood aren't good enough anymore. As they face disappointment and discover people's perception of them is a lousy way to determine their self-worth, these anchors break and now they're forced to find newer and stronger value anchors.
Eventually as this child enters into adulthood, what they do begins to take on more value and meaning. They explore their interested and gifts, trying to find their way in the world as someone that can do something meaningful and significant. They have found a new anchor that gives them purpose and self-esteem. But eventually, they too may begin to find that this has limited value. Failure and disappointments come along and these anchors begin to break. And so they must continue on to find a new anchor to define their identity and self-worth. This is what most people understand to be the mid-life crisis. It happens when a person realizes that much of what they based their life and value on is no longer meaningful or significant. This person is now searching for their "ARE" circle.
The point in this story is to illustrate how common a journey this is for most everyone and to demonstrate how anchors are sufficient and healthy for a season, but break as we grow and progress in life. There's nothing wrong with rooting anchors in the outer circles. There is something wrong with never developing stronger and deeper ones as we progress and journey into the inner circles of our self-worth and identity.