“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what they value.”
― Marcus Aurelius
The other day I was talking with someone close to me who said that they often felt extremely anxious in social settings, at work, or even video chatting with people online. I asked them why, and they said, “Because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and they’ll get mad at me.” I mentioned the usual things like, “It’s not your place to try and control what other people think and feel. To try to do so is just manipulation”, and “How they feel is not your problem to deal with, it is theirs”. And while these things are true, I didn’t feel like I got to the root of the issue.
In thinking about it over the last few days, I think it comes down to one thing – they do not value themselves. They do not feel “good enough”, that they are not worthy. I know that a lot of us struggle with this, but I want to tell you this – you are of value. You are worthy. Why do I know that? Because you are a human being, and every human being is worthy because they exist. You were not put here to live for someone else. You are here to realize your full potential, and if you are living for others, you are not following your path.
“I have often wondered how it is that every person loves themself more than all others, but yet sets less value on their own opinion of themself than on the opinion of others.”
― Marcus Aurelius
This person, like me, is a recovering people pleaser. They struggle with it because they are also a nurturing person and sometimes the line between nurturing and people pleasing is not very clear. I understand this. My people pleasing came from my own insecurities of feeling like I’m not good enough, so I would try to get my validation from other people.
This is is not an unusual thing. I think many of us are brought up in ways which teach us that our opinions, our thoughts, our desires, are not worth anything. We’re taught that our value comes from following what others expect us to do. This includes all kinds of things like where to go to college, what our profession should be, even who we should marry.
The truth of it is Our thoughts, your desires, are all valid. All of them. Sure they might be considered silly, weird, or even disgusting by others. That is their opinion. The thing is, we are allowed to live our lives any way that we want. We get to live in the way that we think is best for us. We get to chose who we want to be. We are not here to live for someone else. With this also comes the realization that everyone else gets to do the same. They get to live life how they want to as well. They are not put here to live the way that we think they should.
Now, with that said, this does not mean that we are free from the consequences of how we want to live our lives. If we choose to abuse drugs, we can’t make the physical and mental consequences that happen magically go away. If we choose to live a life of violence, there are consequences that come with it, such as becoming the victim of violence, ending up in prison, or possibly death.
We also need to consider that we’re often fine with not keeping our commitments to ourselves, yet we’re afraid to disappoint others. Why is this be the case? Why should your commitments to yourself be less important than what other think?
This is what the Stoic’s mean by valuing your opinion over that of others. In fact, the better you become at defining your core values and living them regardless of what others think, the more control you will have over your life. Since Stoicism teaches us that we need to control the things we can, by defining our values, and living them, we are controlling the one thing we can control, namely ourselves. The more you worry about what others think, and try to live the way that they expect you to, the more control you are giving to them over your life.
“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.”
But this does bring up a question – isn’t this a selfish way of living? Isn’t paying attention to our needs over those of others selfish? I think it’s just the opposite. I think of it like the instructions they give you on an airplane. You need to secure your mask before you help others. If you’re constantly pushing off what you need for others, you are not living to your fullest potential. You’re not running at your best. When you’re taking care of yourself, you are able to be more helpful to others. There will be people who think this is selfish, but that is just their opinion. We don’t have any control over what they think. But if you are acting in a way that is inline with your core beliefs, then by your own definition, you are not being selfish.
This also means that we do not have to justify ourselves and our choices to other people. We do not need their approval to live the way that we want to. We do not need their approval to be who we want to be. Their approval is something that is outside of our control. Seeking approval from others is just another way of people pleasing and worrying about the opinions of others.
When we choose to live according to our values, we have control over ourselves, and we are better able to be actors in our lives. We are more responsible for ourselves because we are choosing the kind of life, and the kind of person that we want to be, not what other people think we should do or be.