Finding Self Worth

I remember taking a self esteem quiz in eighth grade. It was one of the surveys where you answer the questions on a scale--1-4, or something like that. The only question I remember was, "Do you like getting up in the morning?" Y'all may have gathered that I'm not exactly the early bird type (my roommates in college use to joke that only a breakfast date with a cute boy could get me out of bed before 9), and I was even less so at age 13. I remember emphatically circling the 1, meaning 'definitely NOT.' At the end of this quiz, I was surprised to learn that I had low self-esteem. Then, of course, I started comparing answers with the other pre-pubescent girls in the room, and I remember that almost all of them also had low self-esteem, save one very popular girl. You all know her--the one you would love to hate but actually can't because she is genuinely a nice person, dang it. Then the teachers started dividing us into groups based on our scores, and I discerned very quickly which group I did NOT want to be associated with. I hastily erased my answer to the morning question, changing my 1 to a 4. Those three little points vaulted my score into the "has high self esteem" category, and saved me from the embarrassment of having low self-esteem. I remember using my very advanced teenage vocabulary to describe the whole experience, quiz and subsequent psuedo-group therapy by the gym teachers, as "lame". These type of experiences persisted throughout my teenage years, with Young Women lessons focusing on talents, and making lists of things that we like about ourselves,etc. I understand why--after all, teenagers suffer from major self-image issues, and I was no different. And as adolescence is an extraordinarily self-absorbed time of life, it makes sense to tell teenagers that if they are going to spend so much time thinking about themselves, it might as well be good thoughts, right? Ok, fast forward some years to last week's Enrichment night at our ward. Upon arrival, I was given a sheet that said (I kid you not), "List 3 things that you like about your physical appearance." "List 3 things that you feel you are good at." "List 3 positive messages to tell yourself every day." Then we had to share our lists with our neighbor. I hate to say it, but again, my sophisticated adult vocabulary came up with one word to describe the whole experience: lame. Fast forward again to last Sunday, our ward conference. The Stake Relief Society President came to our ward to discuss, you guessed it, Self Worth. Her remarks were slightly better than our Enrichment, but not much. And she said that she had fasted and prayed about what this ward needed to hear, and this was the answer she got--the sisters needed to be reminded of their worth. Ok, I can buy that. There's plenty of women who don't think very much of themselves. But really, is telling your neighbor that you think you have nice hair, or that you have clear skin going to change your attitude about your life? I hope not, because if that is what our self-worth is based on, it gets shattered in an instant with a zit and a bad hair day. This is what I would like to hear about women's self worth. I would like to hear that women are a powerful force for good who can do great things, even when we think we can't. I would like to hear that we find our self worth from serving God, from knowing that our daily lives reflect what He wants us to be. I would like women to find self-worth in engaging themselves in worthwhile productive projects that when finished, they can point to and say, "I was a part of that." And please don't think this is limited to the typical Mormon mother activities like scrap-booking and sewing. Those are all good things, but if you don't like them, you can (gasp!) DO SOMETHING ELSE! And here is where I'm going to get a litte controversial. I honestly don't think that focusing on the self will bring us happiness. Now, moms, don't freak out. I think we all need some time-outs and refresher breaks from our kids, and that we as mothers give a tremendous amount already, so much that we feel we are at the breaking point sometimes. But a life completely devoted to the project of self will not bring us that ever elusive "self-esteem". I think the key in finding our self worth is to look to God for the affirmation of who we are, and what we are meant to be. And what are we meant to be? Goddesses, ladies. We are meant to be powerful, beautiful, celestial goddesses, cellulite and zit free. (Well, I don't actually have any doctrinal references on that last part, but it would be only fair, right?) So I hope that we find our self worth in other places than just the quizzes that tell us if we rise up early,we must have good self-esteem. But if that's really the case, you high-self esteem gals can just have a lovely morning while I glory in my own self-worth, snuggled down in my nice comfy flannel sheets until 9.


Blogger annegb said...

Someone recommended Ester Rasband's The Myth of Self Esteem, on a blog, forgot which one. I bought two copies, she wrote a kick butt book on men and women, so I knew I wanted this book.

I haven't finished it, I'm studying it, but it's a keeper. She sort of says what you say in your last paragraph, or next to last, about how important is the self.

I'm an older woman, but I have tons of friends, really, I do a lot, because it feeds my soul to serve others and make so many friends that way. I consider that a gift, my ability to make friends and care about people.

My daughter, a youngest child, has never really learned to sacrifice herself to others and really has had only shallow friendships. She is often confused and lonely, not understanding why others don't turn to her. I wish I could teach her about service, without giving what you don't have to give. Because if you're only in it for yourself, or those who are so worried about how they look or whatever, they can't see others, and serving is where your self esteem soars. Well, that's what I'm getting from this book. Working on my duty to teach my child this wisdom.

4/25/2005 09:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather- I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you share on this site. If you're ever thinking "boy, it takes a lot of effort to keep up this blog, is it worth it?"-- don't stop! You have fans! It seems like every blog you write, I find myself in such agreement with the way you sort things out. (and the other contributors, too.) I appreciate so much being able to visit this site and hear your honest take on motherhood and the LDS church.

And your last post about the paint and the flood and the chaos is like a chapter out of my mothering history! Thanks for sharing-- I could so relate to the scene you described.

I don't comment much, but I am a frequent reader. I find that if I take the time to read and then comment on all the things I would like to, I end up with the kind of paint disaster you described--kids overtaking the house. There's only so much time in a mother's day for blog reading : )


p.s. I am a high school friend of your husband's sister whose name starts with an E (I don't know if she wants her identity revealed--although you shared an easter egg hunting story in D.C. on this blog about her :). Ask her. I was raving about you and this blog to her just the other day.

4/26/2005 12:29:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Oh, I'm so glad someone saw my post when I recommended "The Myth of Self Esteem." Isn't it great? I could read and reread that it is so powerful. She has a LOT of interesting points.
One chapter I really like is that we only find peace with ourselves if we give all of our self to the Lord. Not a list of stuff like (I said morning prayer, I read scriptures, I did my VT, I cleaned my house, I didn't lose my temper, I made dinner, I exercised, I helped my kid with homework, I went to church, I did my calling, etc.) We have to get away from the list of stuff to enter the celestial kingdom.
It's about our hearts and about doing God's will. I know I'd cross the plains in a handcart if he asked, but he hasn't asked that of me. But if I keep that in mind, I can go ahead and do what I can each day to submit my will to his.
Think of prayer. Which way do you feel more peace.
"Father, I feel horrible. Help me feel your love and feel comfort. Give me blessings because I really need some right now because life sucks"
"Father, I am having problems. Help me to do thy will, whatever you would have me do. I put my faith and trust in you."

From experience, I know which kind of prayer gave me an answer, and gave me any peace.

4/26/2005 01:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Andrea Wright said...

Anne and JKS, sounds like a great book -- I'll have to check it out.

Heather, I love your take on this. I've been thinking a lot about this topic as I've watched someone I know struggle with her self worth. This particular friend of mine has struggled with major insecurities and fortunately she's sought and gotten help from a wonderful counselor. They've discovered that because her parents praised and raved she became completely dependent on that to feel okay. As a Mom I'm always trying to figure out the balance of praise/constructive criticism. My friend's counselor told her the key is to teach children to be self-evaluative rather than always offering our own evaluations.

Anyway, I think so often we think we can fix our insides externally. If we compliment more, expensive clothes, haircuts, etc. Like you, I think there is great value in postive thinking and some much needed respite, but our sense of worth comes from our Savior when we realize our nothingness. Ironic.

4/26/2005 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Yes, my SIL told me about my fan-I feel so loved! Thanks for reading, and don't be afraid to comment--we love it!

4/26/2005 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger TftCarrie said...

Being in the YW organization in my ward, I think about how to encourage self worth (individual worth) in the YW that I work with. And as much as I tend to complain about many parts of the YW manuals/programs, the individual worth section of the Personal Progress booklet helped me to come up with this:

I think self worth comes from:

1. self-improvement
2. achieving worthwhile goals
as we strive to better
3. serve others

It can't come from only concentrating on one of the parts. I also appreciate the statement that comes at the beginning of the Individual worth section of the Personal Progress book:

"I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill."

For me, this statement is full of the "powerful, beautiful, celestial goddesses" idea that Heather talked about. Although I don't always think that it is taught to the girls in that way.

4/26/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...


If you're the Chelle who sent me an e-mail a long time ago, to which I still haven't composed a satisfactory answer, can you write me again? I crashed my e-mail program and lost your address, and have been thinking of you guiltily for, what, a year?! ksharris23 at comcast dot net. Thanks!!

Heather, I think this is spot on--I can remember as ward camp director ranting and raving that if we'd just let the girls actually hike and camp and learn some new skills, we wouldn't have to come up with so many cutesy pootsy object lessons on self-esteem. I also think that you've (wisely, perhaps) skirted some difficult issues about women in an organization where they don't really have a lot of decision-making power; there are some seriously contradictory messages given to LDS women about what they can and can't do. Especially women who don't find satisfaction in the "typical" Mormon woman pursuits are likely to find themselves being told in subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) ways that they are, in fact, less valuable than women who do enjoy those things and find adequate self-expression in acceptably Mormon activities. I think the Church does provide many, many women with great opportunities for developing talents, serving others, and learning--all things that enhance self-esteem, but we probably ought to also acknowledge the ways in which the patriarchal structure of the church and the conservative, highly gender-prescriptive Mormon culture can undermine women's self-esteem as well.

4/26/2005 05:36:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Can't fool you, can I. You're right--I did skirt those issues, purposely, even, because I'm not sure how what the answers are, or where to go to get them. I know that many women feel marginalized and powerless in the church, and clearly those feelings do little to further one's sense of self worth. It also doesn't help when one's soul is not fulfilled doing typical Mormon mother activities, and yet other activities do not receive similar accolades. But like I said, I have no good answers to how the male hierarchy of the church can undermine a woman's self esteem, only that surely Christ himself could not possibly hold women inferior to the men who are the head of His church.

4/26/2005 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Yes, Ester Rasband is very wise. She also wrote a book called Man and Women, Joy in Oneness, which I have had for over twenty years.

Your comparisons of prayers was right on. I usually use the former, but turning ourselves over to God's will, what a concept, huh?

I love when people read books I've loved.

4/26/2005 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Count me as a fan, too . . . though I became a fan ten years ago (gasp -- that long?) when inducted me into life as a BU Mormon Gal. Reading your blog feels like a cup of hot chocolate in the GSU after institute. You are fantastic -- and I'm not saying tht to boost your Self-Esteem :)


4/26/2005 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

. . . and the multiple typos in that last post are not a statement on the quality of the BU education! Sigh . . . -- time for bed!


4/26/2005 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...


You'll notice, of course, that I didn't have any answers either; my comment was just the easy "hey, look at that industrial-sized can of worms over there--should we open it?" kind of thing.

4/26/2005 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


Yes, it has been that long. Crazy, huh?
I was hoping you'd find us. Julie S. is my cousin, formerly the Julie F. we both knew and loved at B.C., BTW.


Since we have opened the Costco sized can of worms, let me just ask how you have dealt with this particular issue. You seem to have remained actived in the church, despite the obvious disappointment you have about the way the hierarchy runs the church. Has it truly effected your own feelings of self-worth, or has it just made you more angry and disappointed than anything else? I hear the anger more than the lack of self-esteem, but maybe it's because anger makes people speak out more than pain about self-esteem issues.

4/27/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

It is difficult to know where to place the "blame" of low self esteem. Who has low self esteem? Is it social acceptance? Popular and unpopular people have low self esteem. Is it having good parents who give you unconditional love? Kids from the same family can different levels of self esteem. Education or lack of? Bad or good marriages? Accomplishments or no accomplishments?
Back to "The Myth." Nowhere in the scriptures are we encouraged to improve our self esteem. We are told to be humble. Told we are nothing compared to God.
In the book, she points out that whenever God called a servant and the servant whined, "I'm not worthy. I'm slow of speech, etc." Did God stop and give a pep talk? Did he say you need to feel better about yourself before I can use you to do my work?
No, he said, "Go and do what I have asked you to do!"
She also related the mission story of Pres. Hinkley. He was discouraged. He wrote his father telling him he was a failure and wasting his time and his father's money because the work was not going anywhere. He was discouraged. His father wrote back something like this. "I've received your letter. Forget yourself and go to work."
Is self esteem a requirement to do anything worthwhile? No.
Self esteem, as an end in itself, is misplaced. It focuses on yourself. How do I feel. What do I look like. How good am I.
And does it require comparison with others? I'm good at playing the piano (meaning better than other people), I'm pretty (meaning prettier than others), I am smart (meaning smarter than others), I am a good friend (as compared to others).
My friend who had a difficult childhood tries to compliment her children to help their self esteem (since she was raised with few compliments). Does this help our kids. You are pretty. You are smart. You good at that. Or does it make them more self conscious about their performance and a need to live up to the standard.
There are people with very HIGH self esteem who feel so great about themselves that they are self centered, selfish, arrogant, etc.
As for raising my kids, I am not sure. I've picked up ideas from various places. I've read to praise the effort, not the result. I'm proud of your for doing that. I saw how hard you were working, etc. I see how much you love to build spaceships.
Is this better?
Ester Rasband said there is a difference between saying "you are special" and "you are special to me." The former may be refuted in the objective world out their. But the latter they can always hold on to. Can I raise my kids to know that its ok if they aren't popular, because their mother enjoys their company. It's ok if they don't get an A on their history because their mother is interested in what thoughts they share about what they think. Unconditional love. How to you portray that. How do you compliment your kids without comparing them to others and without pressuring them to perform to your standard.

4/27/2005 08:06:00 PM  

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