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The first layer: illness.
As a child, I knew I was loved. I knew there were people around me who (mostly) loved to fuss over me, brush my hair, make sure my seat belt was on and made sure I had a hot milo for supper before bed (thanks grandma!).
Being born premature, my early childhood consisted of multiple hospital visits. Doctors and nurses would check if I was growing normally, if my lungs were functioning well (being diagnosed with asthma) and if I was learning at a similar rate to other children my age.
I was in and out of hospital a lot due to severe asthma attacks and on two separate occasions, I was treated for pneumonia.
All of that coupled with having a fast metabolism, the food I ate burned quicker than my parents could feed me so I was a skinny kid.
A family friend was over one night, chatting with my parents. He must’ve thought I was too young to understand him so he asked in a casual tone, “Is she sick?”. His head jerked slightly to imply me standing behind him.
Fear set in quickly.
I ran down the hall into my parents’ bedroom.
The feeling of shame welled-up inside.
I cried silently. I was confused. He just asked a simple question. So why did it hurt me so much?
As I said, I knew there were people who loved me, but that night was a turning point in how I saw myself. I began to wonder if I was actually sick.
I wondered if there was something wrong with me.
The second layer: obedience & perfection.
Before I started primary school, I learned about obedience like most children do. If you behaved well, there was a reward. If you misbehaved it meant consequences. For me and my siblings, consequences often meant physical punishment. Being obedient was the name of the game and being fearful was a by-product of ‘playing’.
Throughout primary school and high school, I would fail or end up with sub-par results when my school report came. I excelled in English and Art but everything else was a struggle.
When I’d ask for help at home, it was met with the common response:
“You don’t know anything! How could you not know this yet?!”
That familiar feeling of shame welled-up inside.
I stopped asking for help.
At 15, I got my first job. Little did I know, asking for help would be a hard lesson to learn.
The third layer: religion & fear.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, church was a family ritual most Sundays. We’d sit quietly in the pews, listening to bible readings and the priest summarising a life lesson. As a kid, I spent my time looking at the colourful stained windows. How did they paint so high up?
Sometimes, the children were ushered into the back room that had thick windows. I learned there that children were to be seen but not heard. Church was a sacred place and all sacred places required respect.
As I got older, I learned about how humans were worthless sinners because of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, our value was restored by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Only Christians had this amazing Saviour.
When I came of age, youth group felt like an oasis in a world of darkness.
I understood that I was worth it because God saw something in me. A loving, kind and just God had a perfect plan for me.
I was saved and this meant freedom for my soul. I knew if I turned away from God, I would be apart from Him for eternity which I didn’t want. The more I learned about eternal suffering, the more scared I became of the afterlife.
It was a good thing to be “God-fearing”.
Because of Him, I had a family. Because of Him, I had strengths and these were a Gift. Because of Him, I could heal when I was hurt. Because of Him, I could forgive because He first forgave my sins.
Years later, my perspective would change from “freedom in religion” to “freedom away from religion”.
Breaking Down The Layers.
Growing up with these layers of self-worth from such a young age would be a challenge through childhood, adolescence and in my adult life.
As a kid, I tried to run away with my brother. We travelled 2 minutes from home and had to be picked up. As a teenager, I struggled to abide by the curfew rules and would come home late. I didn’t trust any adults, not even the school counsellor who tried to help me. I tried to run away from home for the second time. I stopped attending youth group. I stopped listening to sermon videos and reading my bible and ultimately, I left the religion I grew up believing in.
My only comfort besides the friendships I forged, was being creative. I could draw and write for hours on end. I vented my frustrations, questions and motivations.
By the age of 17, my rebellious streak calmed.
At 18, I moved out of home. I started meeting new friends who were kind, confident, care-free and out-spoken. They were beautiful people! Some of them did not have rooted beliefs in religion. How could they be so confident without the guarantee of a Saviour? By the age of 19, I realised that was the life I wanted for myself.
I stripped my life of unneeded baggage emotionally and physically.
I started seeing a counsellor. I had to face the past abuse, exercised control throughout my life and the belief of worthlessness. I now saw my passion for perfection as a strength. Even if I make mistakes, I will always strive for excellence. It doesn’t mean I’m “dumb” or that I “don’t know anything” – it means I am persistent and resilient. I learned how to reframe my mindset.
I began a decluttering journey, getting rid of unusable items. I realised I held onto all my belongings out of comfort and as a distraction to facing the pain I felt within. For a period of time in my life, I felt empty. Instead of becoming self-aware, I kept things I didn’t need to fill the ‘void’. Letting go of my hoarding habit was such a cathartic process.
The more I healed my emotional wounds, the more I realised:
My self-worth was up to me to decide.
No matter what others did or said.
As each year passed, I continued to break down these layers of self-worth that I’d taken on. It is still a work in progress, but a path I am so glad I walked down years ago.
Remember, your worth is not reliant on any thing, person or being.