Is self worth really dependent on others' approval?

So yesterday was my first exam, and I was in my typical, nervous, fretty mood. What if I have forgotten some important formulas? Worse, I haven’t been able to perform well under duress lately and is really out of shape when it comes to examinations – it is my first major examinations for three years. Can I cope with the pressure? Manage the time properly?

Among all the fretting, worrying and pondering, suddenly one small, still voice came through. “Why are examinations important?” Sounds like a dumb question, isn’t it? Examinations are important because…they are! (Yeah, guess I am kind-of dumb). That, and besides it decide my final grade, whether I’ll pass or fail and what class of honours I would get.

But is that really important? All of a sudden I feel very weary of all this academic paper chase. I used to be a straight As student before entering university, and getting fails and Ds for my subjects was something that is threatening to me. Oh dear, last time I was the cream of the crop, now I am the rejects among with the leftovers and remainders. I need my As and disctinctions, dammnit!

But on that day, as I fret and worried and pondered, I wondered why do I need those sparkling As for. Oh my gosh. I am twenty-three. Is my self worth really that dependent on what grades I get? Is being happy and getting good grades dependent? Why am I beating myself up for careless mistakes and failing to meet other’s expectations?

I can’t be getting As forever - I know that. I wish I am one of those brainy kids who knows everything. But I’m not – I am totally not in my elements this time round - mathematics. Why shall I beat myself up over it?

And if it’s something in my elements, why shall I be so concerned? I know I am good at programming - I done projects and I have programs that work. Why shall I be so upset at a poor grade I gotten for a written or practical test? Does that grade, which I earn in a small slice of my lifetime as a programmer, an overall, accurate indicator of my worth as a prorgammer?

And why is that my mood is always dependent on what others think of me? Maybe it is because it has to do with my Christian upbringing. Christians are both good and bad, but I just can’t help but feel that many of them are extremely good at manipulating. “Oh, how could you step into the video game acrade? What would God think?” and “How could you set conditions with God, who saved you? How can you just say you going to spend just one day out of seven in ministry.”

Gah, I am so tired of it. I am tired of me being down because of grades, because of the other’s unapproval and because, I am just average. To self: Yes, I’m average, just like everyone else! Get over it!

So I’m careless, make mistakes under pressure, still mix up intergration and differenation – I’m just normal. I don’t want my worth, or my self esteem, or mood or whatever that is wiring me to be affected by those external factors anymore.

I’m really am so damn tired of it all.

Consider this. Do you really think that you’re unique? Let me assure you that 99.9%
of those other people are having the same self doubt, the same anxiety that you are
feeling, yes even those that you perceive as those “brainy” kids. It’s health as long as
you maintain that feeling of competition and don’t throw up your hands in surrender.
In the long run you’re competing w/ yourself. Sounds to me like you right on track.

Career criminals usually have high self esteem even though most people disapprove of them. I guess it depends on where you get your self worth from since self worth to a large degree is just your ability to fulfill the requirements you’ve set up for yourself. If the requirements you want to follow/obey are a list of contradictory, fickle social standards (like I see many people my age follow) you will probably hate yourself and have self worth issues. If you get it from academics then yeah this will bother you unless your academic skills are better than most but if you get it from how much time/effort you devote to philantrophy or how good of a person you are or something like that then these things will not bother you as much and you’ll be a happier person. You actually sound really really average because basing self worth on being better than everyone else is something that almost all of us do (including me, although not as much anymore). However due to the biology of social interaction it’ll probably be near impossible to ever totally ‘quit’ trying to one-up the joneses. In college you’ll try to be smarter than them and get better grades but after college you’ll try to make more money and the beat goes on. Competition is ingrained into our psyche.

“Self” worth is absolutely social. What’s more, in cases like academics (and the technical disciplines especially), the proficiency of students is measured by their ability to repeat sequences of symbol manipulations. Symbol manipulations which are a function of the mathematics/physics/engineering/whatever subculture. So what’s being rewarded is the degree to which you have been encultured in whatever field. In the case of criminals, the large amount of fear that society has of criminals, who are seen as “dangerous” and “out of control” serves to acknowledge the power they have, and thus adds to their self worth.

Therefore, what you have to do is measure your self worth by the standards of a culture into which you are fully integrated – in other words, if math isn’t your thing, do what you’re good at.

One’s self-worth being dependent on external validation is like a lot of things in this imperfect world: it shouldn’t be like that, but it usually is. We can dream of a better world where you don’t need anyone else to feed your self-worth. In the real world, we are social animals. We want to fit into society (assuming we’re not hermits or sannyasis), so we seek approval of others to be reassured we really fit into society and we’re not in danger of being banished to the outer darkness. I really think feeling this way usually can’t be helped. My goal is just to keep it within reason and not let it get pathological.

It’s a process I have to work through, once I’ve found a problem, I need to address that problem and work at understanding it to be able to improve it. If I air out the issues I go through during this process, sometimes I’m misunderstood. Recently, I started a Great Debates thread about the inner struggles I went through to be able to accept myself as lesbian. Part of it was the fear and joy involved in going to join a lesbian group and being accepted by them. I got yelled at a lot in that thread because I openly admitted my emotional needs for other people. I believe in taking help from others until I’m strong enough to stand on my own… as I now am :slight_smile: I give so much emotional support to others, I don’t feel shy to accept it, especially when so many people are offering it to me.

I like the feeling of belonging, the best cure for alienation. In this country we were brought up on the American mythology of rugged individualism, it colors our national attitudes, so it’s shameful to admit my need for others. I don’t care, I’m beyond shame. I know what I want and how to go and get it. I know there are caring, loving people in the world, and like to I join with them to make the world a more caring, loving place. It feels good.

This thread is better suited for IMHO.

I’ll move it for you.

Cajun Man
for the SDMB

True. I think we need external validation, but I think we can control to a degree where that external validation comes from. Would you feel bad if a Nazi, muslim fascist or Klansman hated you? Probably not, but if a person in ‘our’ society hated you you would feel inferior and terrible.

I have met truly religious people who get their validation from God. They are perfectly willing to put up with hatred and shame that most of us would crumble under. To them, being hated by ‘our’ society bothers them about as much as us being hated by Nazi society. So yeah we need external validation but we can pick which external source we want to be validated by. We can pick our society, our subculture or we can pick a spiritual belief that overruns all of them.