Tag Archives: worth

Self esteem and pain

Ongoing pain can really undermine a person. It takes a toll in wellbeing, it eats away at your confidence, and it can undermine you feelings of self worth and self esteem. This can be especially bad if you need to hide your pain for the benefit of the comfortable people around you. Having to do everything a well person would do, but while hurting and pretending not to hurt is a course of action that may easily leave you feeling like you’re not a real person.

I’m heartily sick of seeing people who are suffering getting told off on social media for talking about their discomfort. I’m weary of people who are ‘depressed’ by other people’s difficulties and feel the right answer is to make the person who is suffering feel guilty and ashamed for talking about it, so as to shut them up. This adds more layers of suffering for a person who is already in trouble. We need to stop sacrificing people who are in distress just to maintain the ease of people who are already having a better time of it.

I wish we had the support in place that meant people who are ill could reliably afford to rest. I wish illness did not radically increase your risks of living in poverty. I wish we did not measure people so much by their economic activity. I wish there was more scope for people to heal and recover when they need to. I imagine a society in which no one was expected to push relentlessly through pain and suffering, and where we were not so quick to assume that someone struggling is lazy, or not trying hard enough.

Living with pain will eat away at your sense of self if there is no scope for that pain to even matter. If your life does not allow you to take care of yourself, if there is no one to help you, give you breaks or take care of you, suffering is inevitable. When your self esteem is constantly undermined in this way, it is that bit harder to hold boundaries, protect yourself or ask for what you need. And so you trudge on, hurting and exhausted, because trudging on seems to be the only option.

What would it take to change that? The answer isn’t about personal changes, and it should not be the responsibility of people who are suffering to find individual solutions to systemic problems. We need a kinder society where taking care of people matters, where there is economic support for whoever needs it, and medical care free at the point of delivery. We need a work culture that won’t punish you for being ill, and won’t break you with needless stress in the first place. We need the time and energy to take care of ourselves. It would be revolutionary to start treating quality of life like it matters, and not as a perk for those who enjoy the accident of being born into the most privilege.


Worth and love

Talking with a friend last week, it was pointed out to me that many people do not consider themselves worthy of love. It is something I’ve struggled with, and for me it shows up around wanting things I think I can’t have and explaining why people haven’t treated me very well in the past. How this plays out is likely to be highly individual, based on what I’ve seen of other people.

For some people it means mistrust – if you don’t think you’re loveable, it is hard to trust that when people say they love you, they aren’t just after something. Anyone who has been manipulated in this way may doubt their own loveableness, and be wary of other people’s motives.

If you’ve had your worth tied to achievement, then your loveableness depends on what you can do. That’s exhausting, and demoralising. Mistakes and failures are incredibly threatening when your emotional security depends on feeling like you get everything right all the time.

For anyone who has grown up in an emotionally insecure environment, it’s like trying to re-grow a missing limb. We either learn to feel emotionally secure early on, or we don’t. For the person who has that fundamental experience of being loved and wanted, there’s some resilience available in face of other challenges life may create. For the person who was never sure they were wanted, never confident of an unconditional place in the world, all other challenges to worth are harder to meet.

No one can go back and re-do their formative experiences. However, we can take care of each other. We can look out for people who struggle around matters of love, worth and friendship, and look out for them. And of course it’s hard and scary if you’re both people with issues around love and worth because to say ‘I love you’ to a person is to open up all those fears about what your own unloveableness will mean. Of course it is harder for two people with these issues because it is so easy to read the other person’s wounding as a consequence of your not deserving to be loved.

When you don’t feel secure in your own self worth, it is harder to be vulnerable with someone. Harder to trust and to open your heart. But sometimes, if you can say ‘some people don’t feel worthy of love’ then you might get something back – even if that too is a bit indirect. Like a blog post.


Suicide, utility and recovery

I’ve been dealing with suicidal feelings since my teens. After a particularly awful round last week, I was able to sit down and make a list of the persistent thoughts occurring to me around why I should kill myself. This was not an easy process, and when I’m not very close to these things I can’t readily access them and mostly don’t want to go there.

The list had themes, and I only saw them because I’d written them down. A few of them were about pain – physical and emotional and not being able to take any more. I’m fine with that. On its own, I can deal with pain and I also feel that wanting to die in face of a pain overload is a perfectly reasonable response. The thing to work on, if I can, is the pain. Most of the reasons were about utility – that I am not good or useful enough to be entitled to live. Some of them were stacked on that as issues of how I fail as a human being.

I note that every time I’ve kept going in the past I have done so on the basis of not hurting or letting down anyone else. It works in the short term but feeds the narrative that the worth in my life is my utility for other people. I need to stop doing that.

Philosophically, this outlook is bullshit. It’s not what I believe, it’s not my value system and I wouldn’t apply it to anyone else. It isn’t me – and I’d never really seen that before. It represents a way of thinking about people, worth, and life that I do not believe. It is not something of my making. It is, I realise, a consequence of what’s been done to me. After more than twenty years of living with these thoughts, this is a significant breakthrough. It changes who I think I am, and it changes what I think is happening when I fall into these patterns of thinking.

To be worthless as a person depends on having a way of measuring a person’s worth that isn’t simply that they exist. It raises questions about who is supposed to benefit from my life and what I am supposed to be for. Narratives that make a person all about their utility are intensely de-personning.  We live in a culture that does a lot of this, especially to the poor and disabled and to anyone disadvantaged.

I’ve also realised that these thoughts come up as panic responses, not as depression issues. Depression is just a miserable grind, but it’s not the thing trying to kill me. The dangerous stuff is what gets set off by high levels of panic.

I think it probably isn’t just me. I wonder how many people who end up wanting to die do so because their sense of self has been cripplingly injured.  How many people feel there is no point in living because they’ve been taught to measure their own worth in terms of utility to others? It’s also really hard to ask for help when you feel that you are suffering because you are worthless and useless. It’s hard to believe you deserve help, or that you are entitled not to feel awful, when the thoughts driving the experience are all about what a waste of space you are.

No one gets here on their own.


Measuring your worth

I write this on A Level results day in the UK, a day on which measuring the worth of young people happens every year, and happens badly. I don’t really think any system of assessment is going to deliver fairness – it could not hope to do so without the context of a fair society. The child who goes to school hungry is not going to get the best results they are capable of at eighteen. The child who has no quiet place to study is set back. Inequality means that testing is in part a test of privilege.

Exams measure your ability to remember and recall. They measure your ability to perform quickly under pressure. Stress and trauma make accurate speed under pressure that bit harder. Not everyone is fast thinking, and speed is not the only measure of capability. I have known a few amazing slow thinkers in my life, and their not being fast has everything to do with the remarkable fine detail they are able to contemplate. Exams are not a great way to measure creativity or original thinking. They probably aren’t the best way to measure problem solving skills. They do not measure social skills, emotional intelligence, compassion, dedication, or what a person might be capable of in the future. Sometimes they do a very good job of measuring sheer luck.

We don’t live in a meritocracy. Your chances of being rich have far more to do with the wealth of your parents than any personal attributes. The cream does not naturally rise to the top. The well connected stay at the top and tell us they are the naturally rising cream in a meritocracy. Exam results can create an illusion of mobility, but you only have to look at who is in power and what kinds of backgrounds they have to know that in the UK, most of us don’t have that many options.

Imagine how the education system would look if our primary concern was to help young people become healthy, happy, well rounded adults. Imagine what would change if we considered education to be a lifelong endeavour, and not something you have to crack in your teens. What would education look like if it was not primarily about readying people for an ever shrinking jobs market? Imagine if it wasn’t about getting a job! What would we want our young people to learn if we accepted that many of them might not find meaningful work? What would we want them to learn if we were focused on the implications of climate crisis?

The school system we have is not inevitable, and not the only way of doing things. The ways in which we measure worth underpins a social structure that doesn’t work for most of us.


Money and philosophy

There would be a simple way to have all non-essential workers stay home without over-burdening the companies they work for. That same method would enable self employed workers to stay home, too. It would make it reasonable to ask for rent holidays. It would put money into the economy where it would do most good. Small business people would have a chance to re-boot in the future. That solution, is universal basic income. Giving everyone a viable amount to live on is also the least bureaucratic way, and thus the quickest, of rolling out an intervention.

However, giving people money in this way challenges the capitalist philosophy of what money means. We are used to measuring human worth by income. Those who earn most are considered to be worth most. We are encouraged to look up to them respect them, see them as valuable. At the same time we’ve called low paid people unskilled and considered them as having little value. If you pay everyone the same, it’s like we’re all worth the same as human beings. It’s a radical shift in thinking.

As the virus impacts on us, we’ve gone from seeing many low paid jobs as low worth, to recognising that these people are the heart of our infrastructure and the backbone of our societies. Money, it turns out, was not a good measure of the value of people working in supply chains and retail, bin collectors, cleaners, carers… their worth to the rest of us is far higher than their paychecks suggest.

As isolation kicks in, we may be more in need of our entertainers and creators. Especially the ones willing to interact with us, teach us and support people in being creative to stay sane. In their absence, we might notice the things that were valuable to us – venues, gigs, events, festivals… Most of the people working in these industries are not wealthy.

What do we deserve? What resources should we have access to? When the not-so-free market dominates, our scope to access everything is based mostly on our buying power. Our buying power is based on what our work is worth to the market, not what it is worth to other humans. Unpaid domestic work is totally undervalued, but right now, people cleaning things are keeping their families safe and well. Such work has always been valuable, but the value has been invisible.

What if we deserve to have our basic needs met because we exist, not because a specific level of profit can be extracted from our labours? What if the people who make money out of money while doing no one any good are not entitled to more benefits than most other people? What if we deemed making profit by exploiting others to be a disgusting activity, not one that should bring benefits? What if worth was measured in terms of actual worth, not earning potential? Meanwhile, the massively affluent ditch their workers with no pay and demand government bailouts.

Universal basic income gives everyone the same fundamental worth and the same basic entitlement to have needs met. Practically speaking it could be a magic bullet for solving a great many of our problems right now. Philosophically speaking, it would radically change our cultures for the better.


How we think about work

How we think about work may be more informed by what we get paid for it than by how useful it is. Unpaid carers are routinely undervalued. Unpaid domestic work is unvalued. We tend to take going out to work more seriously than staying at home to work. Friends and family don’t assume they can just pop into your busy office for a cup of tea and a chat when they feel like it. If you are a self employed person and a carer, it can be hard persuading the people around you that you are working.

The way we prioritise paid employment has a great deal to do with the stories we’ve assembled about paid work. It is the basis of how we organise our lives and our countries. It is entirely normal to work for someone else who profits more from your work than you do.

For most of human history, it clearly wasn’t like this. We haven’t always had money. The closer to subsistence you live, the more preposterous the idea of profit seems. We didn’t used to work, we used to exist, survive, struggle, hunt, farm and make the things we needed for daily life. Without the notion of work it is hard to have a notion that some people are so important that they shouldn’t have to work and should be served. When everyone is involved in the effort required to stay alive, the value of what you do is not going to be measured in coins.

Our ideas about work are deeply intertwined with our ideas about human worth. Our money stories distort our sense of what is valuable. It’s worth taking the time to think about what we value and what we pay for and who we think is important. If our views weren’t distorted in this way we might better value the people who raise children and care for the sick and elderly. If we did not put money first, we might have a very different perspective of people who do very little, and get paid a great deal for it.


Worth and convenience

Modern western lifestyles are underpinned by a notion of convenience. We’re told how much we want things to be quick and easy, but how often do we stop to do any real cost-benefit analysis? The cost of our convenience increasingly includes environmental disaster, which will be highly inconvenient for all of us. So, I thought I’d explore some of those convenience stories and see what else might be said about them. If you have specific needs that put you in a different relationship with these issues, that’s a different matter.

It is convenient to do big shopping trips and stock up on food and it is not convenient to buy food every day, or every few days as used to be the way of it. Of course, to do this you need a car to bring the stockpile home and you need a fridge and freezer for storage. You’ll probably buy things you don’t use and that will go off because the longer term your shopping is, the harder it is to get this exactly right. All of this will cost you money, requires energy (fuel, and electricity) and the maintenance of costly items (fridge, freezer, car).

It is more convenient to buy ready-made food than make it yourself. This of course increases the amount of packaging you’ll have to recycle or throw away. Ready-made food is often bland and predictable, and not always that great nutritionally. It reinforces the idea that we have to be on the go all the time and shouldn’t expect to have time or energy for basic self-care. Making and sharing food can be a pleasure and does not have to be a chore, but if you’re run off your feet, it may be too much. Maybe not being run off our feet would be more convenient.

It is more convenient to buy ready-made clothes. Of course it takes time and skill to make your own clothes, and it costs a lot to have someone with time and skill make clothes for you. The convenience means we mostly wear clothes that don’t quite fit, that are bland and make us look like everyone else. Alongside this we’ve lost a lot of repairing skills so for many people, small damage can make a garment unwearable, which also has a cost.

Cheap disposable things are convenient. Except that they aren’t, because you keep having to deploy time, effort and money replacing them. They cost more in the long term than things that last longer. They break down and leave you missing kit you wanted or needed. They let you down.

It is more convenient to drive everywhere. Except the freedom of the open road is often the freedom to sit in queues, suffering immense frustration and breathing in pollution. Sometimes it is faster to walk or cycle, and it’s often a good deal more pleasant. The convenience of personal transport needs weighing against the cost of noise and air pollution, jammed roads, the cost of the car, and the environmental damage. Dying prematurely from car-related air pollution is not something any of us find convenient.

Flopping out in front of the television is convenient for relaxing at the end of your working day. And here they get you with adverts and images of how your home should look and yet more pressure to buy stuff. Convenient, low effort entertainment robs us of real human interactions, and all that we might find emotionally sustaining. We end up bored, lonely and unfulfilled.


Questions of worth

2016 is, without a doubt, the year I started questioning my worth in earnest. For most of my life I’ve been willing to accept the value given to me by whoever I happened to be dealing with. As a consequence I have a history of only removing myself from situations when they became so damaging that I had no other choice. Crawling away exhausted, burned out, emotionally flayed, unable to function, crying all the time, unable to sleep… it’s happened repeatedly.

This year it finally dawned on me that one way to avoid this would be to get out sooner. Saying ‘no’ more often, and spotting situations that aren’t clever will help me. The jobs no one else is prepared to do? Maybe I shouldn’t be striding in heroically. Maybe there are very good reasons no one else is willing to do those things. I’ve started thinking that it would be a good idea to hold a sense of worth, and standards for treatment, that aren’t shaped by how other people want me to be.

These are the things I have learned to be wary of.

  • People who repeatedly push for more than I am happy to give, people who can’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
  • People who are all about their own importance and ego trip and treat me as a means to promoting themselves.
  • People who don’t give clear instructions and then get cross because I didn’t do what they wanted, and people who expect me to magically know what they want.
  • People who think that ‘service’ means they are entitled to whatever pieces of me they want, with no obligation or duty of care on their part.

These are the qualities I look for.

  • Willingness to listen and negotiate.
  • Willingness to accept that not everything is going to be done exactly as was wanted at just the right moment, especially when you’re dealing with volunteers.
  • A default position of kindness, respect, and fairness.
  • More interest in the project than personal advancement, but no willingness to sacrifice anyone for the sake of the project.

There are times, causes and situations that call for heroic gestures and personal sacrifices. However, there are also a lot of people whose method for getting things done is to push others into heroic efforts and self-sacrifice. It seems to be widespread in conventional workplaces. I don’t want to participate in anything that cultures people to ruin themselves for some small cause that did not need their blood and misery in the slightest. I have to start with me, and with holding better boundaries. I’ve been complicit in unhealthy cultures too many times, convincing myself that letting someone run me into the ground was acceptable, and worth it. I’m no longer prepared to uphold that view. I won’t name names, but it is fair to say there are some things I won’t be involved with again.


The price over everything and the value of nothing

Christopher Blackwell comments regularly on this blog, and I greatly value his sharing of insights and experiences. He recently responded to a post –What is your worth? with such a long and thoughtful comment that I felt it ought to be given a bigger platform. So, I’m re-blogging the comment, with Chris’s permission. Over to Chris…

Here in America it is often said that we Americans know the price over everything and the value of nothing. To some extent this is true as this is very much a consumer society. I watched a two year old in a grocery store rush to get a cola from a cooler, already trained as to which brand he wanted. I mentioned to his mother so young and already knows the brands to want.

But even if trained and taught to behave this way from a young age, one should start to question as one sees that money and having things owned does not guarantee happiness. One begins to note that being happy with ones life in general is rare in our world and start to ask the question of what would make me happy in various parts of my life. Once you start asking the question then you can step out of the slavish consumer framework that you have been trained to follow.

The first thing that you learn is there is never a one size fits all, contrary to the advertisements on the Telly. Each of us is different with quite different needs. It is in discovering what our true needs are and fulfilling those needs that we stand a chance of becoming happy. That means first that we have to discover just who we are, not the imaginary person that we have been told that we are suppose to be.

There is some risk to doing this in that many of the people around you may think you are strange because you do not slavishly follow the herd from advertised need of ownership and changing fads like everyone else. But there is no real happiness if you become a fake to fit in. Letting others determine what you should be gives them too much power over your life and no matter what you do, or how much you give up to fit in, you will find that you never will be good enough for some people. It is control of you and your life, not your happiness that they want for you.

Discover what is different about yourself, what makes you unique and then develop that difference and enjoy it. Sure some things will be similar to the people around you and that is fine, part of being human. However there are differences that you need to develop and cater to if you are going to be generally pleased with living your life. Becoming a happy person is the real success. It is not only important for you, but for the people around you as you give out what you have. If you are miserable, then you tend to spread misery around draining the happiness out of anyplace and person. If you are happy, then you start to light up the people around us. Become the person that you would like to be around, and others will likely want to be around you as well. Those that don’t can always move to be around the people that they are comfortable with. You are not required to please everyone.


What is your worth?

How do you rate your own value? What do you think other people are using as their basis for valuing you? Too often, the answer is money – the paycheck and the bank balance. It’s not helped, in the UK, when our government keeps coming up with policies to reinforce this idea. The latest is that only non-UK citizens earning over £35k are to be allowed to stay. What this tells us is that they do not value lower income people, assume that the skills of the lower income person are nothing special. It doesn’t matter what you might do, or what you’ve done, it’s just your paycheck at the time of assessment.

People who start businesses, and creative people often start small and work up. What we’re worth financially today is no indicator of our potential financial worth in the future. No one would have picked JK Rowling out of a cafe when she was too cold to write at home, and seen the benefit she would single handedly bring to the UK economy.

There are so many reasons to resist making a person’s value dependent on their wealth. In practical terms, low paid workers are essential to both the production and consumption sides of the economy, and always have been. In a world of fat cats sat in plush offices, nothing gets done. So much work – especially the child raising, care giving work of women – is unpaid and unrecognised. A great deal of essential stuff in this country is undertaken by volunteers, with the charity sector dealing with the gaps in care, research and support for the vulnerable because neither government nor the private sector are bothering.

We’re taught to seek out signs to demonstrate our wealth and success – usually signs appropriate to our class and background. Every time we switch on a TV we’re exposed to a lot of images of how we, and our homes, cars, children should look. What we should be buying to keep up. Every day, through visual media and advertising we’re bombarded by images of what success looks like plus information about where to buy the appearance of success. There are plenty of people going into debt to do just that.

When it comes to messages from the government and the media, poor but happy is never on the agenda. Choosing to live lightly and happy isn’t offered. A worth in terms of kindness, generosity, gentleness, service to others, contribution to human knowledge and spiritual richness – these never come up. In terms of career worth, we always prioritise the ones involved with the big bucks for media attention. It’s rare to hear anything about people who’ve spent many years doing something small but essential really well.

Being rich can make you famous. We take on trust that the reason a person is rich is that they contributed something worthwhile. We don’t look at what they inherited or who bailed them out (and I gather Donald Trump’s claims to be a fantastic businessman could use some scrutiny on that score). We don’t ask who they exploited, whether they’ve destroyed any ecosystems, displaced indigenous people, cheated, lied, back stabbed to get where they are. We put the financial worth ahead of their behaviour.

How do we challenge this? The answer is in many ways to start small, by noticing other kinds of worth in the people around us and championing it. By questioning assumptions that tie worth to money. By not buying the things we are told we need to look the part. By daring not to manifest the agreed signs of affluence and success. By not measuring our own worth in terms of cash held and cash anticipated.