Self worth is something that most survivors of abuse have a real battle with. Abuse causes us to believe lies about ourselves and question our validity as members of the human race. Ok, so that might sound dramatic but I think it's an accurate statement. When someone is treated as sub-human over and over, degraded and ignored; used and dehumanised, is it any wonder that survivors question whether they have any worth as a human being?
I know that every human on the planet has equal worth... even the ones that make really terrible choices. I know that our worth is based on who we are, not what we do. Having that head knowledge doesn't always do what it should though. I struggle to believe in my heart what I know in my head is true. It's a battle... and one that I don't always know how to fight. But fight I must, because the alternative is to allow the things that happened to me to define who I believe I am and that is a grave error. I know that. So, here I am.
I grew up believing that I wasn't wanted. I was not a person in my own right. I had no rights. I learnt quickly that the people around me wouldn't entertain the notion that I was a human being with feelings and needs and a mind of my own. I learnt that my value was in what I could do - who I was didn't matter. I grew up believing that a person had to earn their worth. And so I tried to do just that.
It didn't work.
Eventually I learnt to accept that my only purpose in life was to serve the needs of others. I actually think it was a good thing to learn the value of serving others and I'm grateful for that. There is a line though, where serving others crosses into denying yourself an equal status as a fellow human being. For me, it's a very easy line to cross.
When I was around seven, I became a Brownie. I loved it and think it's an excellent thing for girls to get involved in when they're growing up. The ethos is a good one and teaches children to care about more than just themselves. For me, because of the circumstances of my existence, it reaffirmed what I believed in a way that I'm sure Lord Baden-Powell (the founder of the scouting movement) would have never wanted.
When I made my Promise, I promised that I would "do my best to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen and help other people and keep the Brownie Guide Law". I took that seriously. The Brownie Guide Law was this:
"A Brownie thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day."
I think that's a good thing to teach a child. Perhaps though it would have helped me if someone had clarified that "thinking of others before myself" doesn't mean the same as "only think of others and never of yourself because you will never be worth as much as another person".
I think having worth doesn't mean never making mistakes, or never thinking of yourself. It doesn't mean giving up everything that matters to you in order to fulfill the needs of someone else. It doesn't mean constantly trying to repay a debt of kindness that someone dared to offer you. If someone chooses to be kind to you, as one human to another, it is a gift, not a debt.
All people are people. Every person has just as much worth as another person. Everyone needs love and kindness. Abuse took away the belief that I am just as much a person as my neighbour. It made me think so little of myself that I would consider it an honour to clean the toenails of another person because I was not even worth that honour.
Now as an adult who has choices and new experiences of life, I have the chance to re-wire my brain to believe that actually, I'm a person too. I have thoughts and feelings; hopes and dreams... and that's totally ok! It's not a terrible sin to admit to those things... because actually, I'm a human being too! And even though it's hard to do that re-wiring, and those old beliefs are so deeply ingrained, it is something that I must do and something I hope every other survivor out there who battles with this too will also choose to fight with me.
We all are human beings. We all have worth... because we are who we are. There isn't a single person on the planet who is worthless. It doesn't matter how much another person may treat you as though you're worthless, you still have intrinsic worth as a member of the human race. Loving others doesn't mean you have to despise yourself. I'm still learning that one.