Deep inside I had known for years that I valued myself based on exterior validation, or a lack thereof. My self-worth was determined, at any given moment, by how much worth I figured others were attributing to me.
It was a sad knowledge that I had no desire to explore. Instead I carried it around like a crutch and used it as a self-imposed obstacle to true happiness and authentic self-expression.
Although, looking back, I realize my evaluations were based on projections; I used tangible occurrences to verify my value. For example, as a performer, I judged my experience on stage, and my worth as an artist, by the amount of applause I got from the audience, or how people acted toward me when I got off stage. As a writer, I based my opinion of my writing on the response I got from readers, especially potential agents, publishers or producers. I was constantly seeking praise. All the joy was sucked out of my favorite activities because I was so caught up in my desired outcome and worried about what others thought of me.
I was forever “sizing-up” the effect I had on people. I consciously spent time with people who stroked my ego. I was attempting to fill a bottomless hole.
As social media became more pervasive, my tendency to seek validation from others amplified because I had more access to it. The response my posts got from friends, “fans” and followers could determine the quality of my mood, or even my whole day. It became such an obsession, I actually came to like myself based on how many “likes” I got on social media. I took personally every “like,” comment and verbal response I earned on my posts, which were often in the form of my writing and artistry. Sometimes I would even “like” the posts of my “likers” so that they would keep “liking” me.
Clearly I needed help.
I even discussed it in therapy, with more than one therapist, and more than one therapist revealed that they have numerous clients who discuss tendencies of self-judgment or obsession pertaining to the likes, views and comments they receive on their social media posts and presence. I was beginning to identify this as an aspect of my life and personality I wanted to change, but I did not know how.
Then, last October, my novel was referred to my dream agency, CAA, for representation. During the two months the agency took to consider my submission, I was in a self-guarded prison. My frame of mind was determined by whether or not I thought, in any given hour, that these agents, whom I placed high up on a pedestal, would accept my manuscript. Finally, in December, right before the entertainment industry shut down for the holiday season, I mustered the guts to follow-up with the agency and, within the hour, I received an email informing me that my material was not a fit for CAA.
I can honestly say: I felt worthless. My fragile self-perception was shattered in that moment.
The following days were some of the more challenging of my life. I spent the holiday season mostly alone, too anxious to leave the house. I woke in the middle of the night panicked, with my mind ruminating over the in-depth feedback the agency had given on my novel. (In retrospect, the feedback was quite positive, although I could not see it then.) I felt like an idiot; I had believed in my book with my whole heart. Rejection from this one agency had sent me reeling and now I was questioning my entire existence. I absolutely hated myself; and I knew, under no uncertain terms, that I had to make a change. Life was no longer worth living in such a prison of misery.
Just before Christmas, I made the decision to go within and face this part of my emotional landscape I had been avoiding. I did not want to start the New Year as my old self; I was eager to grow. I deactivated my Facebook account, deleted my social media apps and made a promise to myself: I will not reactivate my accounts until I feel certain that my self-worth is great enough to no longer base my identity, or the degree to which I like myself, on validation from the outside world.
I bought a book entitled The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, and I began to read. I read, I pondered, I meditated; I took long walks, practiced yoga and wrote in my journal, even though I had told myself I would never write again. Day-by-day I absorbed the principles in the book and, in conjunction with the shame I felt over being rejected, I began to experience genuine self-acceptance for the first time in as long as I could remember.
I was receiving zero validation from the outside world, and yet I liked myself more than ever before. I realized that I was the same person whether or not talent agents accepted my writing, and it was this person I needed to learn to love. I began to recognize that my daily decision-making, and how I treat myself, and others, actually feeds my self-esteem, not some unattainable end-result, which is out of my control. I spent New Year’s Eve at home, alone, reading The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem and writing in my journal; it was the best New Year’s Eve of my life to date.
2015 got underway and I slowly injected myself back into society. Eventually, I eased my way back onto social media and I began to put myself out there again. I wanted to share some of the writing I had been doing and felt that I was healthy enough to do it this time around without basing my self-worth on the reaction I might get from others. I even began to submit to publishers again.
Eight months later, I am progressing well. I am still facing my shadows and, when I back-pedal, I try to pause and look inward to determine what is lacking in my life at the moment to prompt my unhealthy projections; then I address that lack, instead of whatever exterior tidbit over which I was obsessing.
The more I like myself, the less it matters whether or not others “like” me on social media. As my self-worth increases, so does my understanding that validation from the outside world does not change who I am as a person. My intentions are pure and that is what matters. The Internet and my social media feeds are becoming tools for research, inspiration and sharing instead of a breeding ground for comparing myself to others and seeking validation.
Although I absolutely love hearing that my writing is inspiring or entertaining to others, I am trying not to base my happiness on it like I used to, because that was a roller-coaster nightmare.
Today I am experiencing a freedom of expression far more fulfilling than ever before. As the days go by I am operating in the world with less and less worry about what others are, or are not, thinking of me. The freer I feel from that judgment, the happier I am as an individual.
Author: Stephanie Carlisi
Editor: Caroline Beaton