In an age dominated by ever-increasing productivity standards, curated social media personas, and financial rewards tied to relentless ambition, many of us have fallen into the trap of viewing ourselves primarily in terms of our usefulness or desirability to others. This worldview not only diminishes our individuality but also dangerously tethers our self-worth to external validation.
Such an outlook often stems from a long-standing social conditioning that, at its heart, is deeply rooted in systems of oppression. By unpacking and addressing these roots, we can begin to break free and value ourselves for who we are, rather than merely what we offer.
If your sense of pride or accomplishment is primarily based on ways you serve others (hello healers, coaches, therapists and teachers!) then it’s essential to pause and reflect. While there’s a genuine and beautiful value in helping others, defining one’s entire self-worth by this metric can be harmful. After all, aren’t there countless aspects of your character, like your intelligence, grit, or even the charming freckles on your face, that make you uniquely you? Why is it that we so often don’t know how to be proud of these inherent qualities?
Many current societal frameworks—like late-stage capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy—are essentially narcissistic systems. In these systems, individuals are frequently viewed and treated as mere objects, whether for corporate gain, male desire, or establishing superiority. We become commodities, tools for productivity, or benchmarks for comparison. In essence, these systems dehumanize us, seeking to strip us of our intrinsic value.
In the face of late-stage capitalism, we become mere gears in a vast machine, valued primarily for our output and economic contribution. Under patriarchy, women may often find themselves reduced to objects of male desire or gauged by their relational roles as daughters, mothers, or spouses. White supremacy, rooted in racial hierarchy, views non-white individuals through a lens of bias, prejudice, and often, devaluation.
So, how do we counteract such deep-seated conditioning? First, you must recognize and challenge these narcissistic systems. Understand that you are more than a mere instrument for someone else’s benefit.
Start by reflecting on your personal achievements and characteristics, whether or not they benefit others. Perhaps you’ve started a new hobby, made a new friend, or cultivated a rich inner world of thoughts and ideas.
Affirmations, repeated daily, can rewire negative self-perceptions; try statements like “I am valuable for who I am, not just what I do.” Surround yourself with supportive individuals who recognize and celebrate your intrinsic qualities, and remind yourself regularly why these people like you – it’s not because you’re useful to them, it’s because they feel connection with you.
Lastly, invest time in activities you love, not for any external reward, but simply because they resonate with your soul.
Reclaiming our individuality and inherent worth is an act of resistance against oppressive systems. Learning to value ourselves for who we are, rather than merely our utility, is how we challenge and subvert these systems, paving the way for a world where every individual is recognized, celebrated, and valued for who they are, not what they’ve done. We are human beings after all, not human doings, and it’s time for us to place value where it really belongs.