Identity and Insecurity
I don’t internalize lessons very well, and I'm always re-learning lessons about insecurity. Sometimes I'm terrified that everyone will find out what I'm really like, and hate it; sometimes I expect that compliments given to me are fake, or just polite; sometimes I am devastated wondering why I'm not as smart, or pretty, or funny. Somehow at the same time I assume that everyone that I know who I think of as talented, gorgeous, smart, clever, kind, or whatever you can think of - also knows these qualities about themselves. Makes sense right?
Sometimes we make our insecurities up for ourselves, sometimes others help us to them. I remember being told that my appearance was wrong. I have genetic dark-circles under my eyes, no matter how much sleep I get, and often people ask me if I have a black eye. I wouldn’t look in the mirror after I left for school for the day. Most people assumed it’s because I didn’t care about my appearance, but it was because I couldn’t bear the anxiety of looking into the mirror, seeing something I hated, and not being able to do anything about it. My frizzy curly hair wasn’t being tamed, and I was absolutely terrible with makeup. These were problems that couldn't be
Slowly, God, through good teaching and wise, holy, friends, started transforming my way of thinking.
It happened in simple ways. Someone told me that the right way to respond to a compliment is to accept it with a simple "thank you." Responding with gratitude to “I like your hair” instead of “oh no! Its totally frizzy, I hate it, and it doesn’t even curl right” allows me to see a little bit of the way that others see me - which is sometimes closer to the way God sees me. It also expresses gratitude to someone else for seeing the good in me, and encourages me to see the good in others, so I can help show them how God sees them too!
I read a book that talked about humility as thinking of yourself less, not thinking less of yourself (pretty sure that was C.S. Lewis somewhere); and also took to heart the fact that people are thinking about me way way less than I think they are. They aren’t concerned with my inability to measure up. They've got their own things to worry about.
These things, honestly accepting compliments, trying to think more about others, understanding that God made me imperfect but fearfully and wonderfully, meant that I started to be able to look in the mirror after I left the house for the day. I was able to see the dark circles under my eyes, the pimples that seemed to pop up, and any other one of the 10000 things we can find wrong with our appearance in a simple glance in the mirror - and know that while I wasn’t perfect, that’s okay. I am loved by the Living God, who is perfect.
While I thought this was the end of my insecurity - there was a twist. Some of the ease of looking in the mirror came not from shifting the source of my identity to my relationship with God, but from shifting my identity from my appearance to academics. I won a competitive scholarship to Michigan State, and found myself placed among people who were much more academically minded than I was. They didn’t care about sports. (That one was really hard for me to come to terms with...) They knew they were going to end up in academia forever, and I felt way out of my depth.
This fear of not measuring up academically followed me all through university. I felt like I had to hide that I wasn’t as smart as those around me, and I had to work hard to make up the difference. I didn’t realize how bad this basis of identity had gotten until I was in one of the most difficult courses of my degree in my senior year.
There were only 4 women total in the class of 20, and the other 3 clearly had a better grip on the material than I did. I worked day and night, and still felt behind. (Who knows how well they actually got the material...)
I shared this anxiety with a friend - and they chose to comfort me by reassuring me that I had the best looks in the room.
My response reflected the anger that I felt “yeah, well I’ve always wanted to be the dumb, pretty girl.”
Although holding my self-esteem in my academic abilities clearly wasn’t going so well for me, this alternative was insulting. A few weeks later though, I had to laugh.
I realized that my anxiety was from placing my identity in my academic ability - and my friend's suggestion that I shift it to my appearance wasn’t fixing the problem, it was just shifting it to another place it didn't belong! I needed to replace both of these lies, that my worth comes from my academic ability, and that my worth comes from my physical appearance with the truth.
The truth is this:
My worth doesn’t come from being the best looking, best dressed, highest scoring, quickest problem solving person in the room. My worth comes from being the daughter of the king. My worth comes from the fact that I am loved infinitely by an infinite God who created me out of love, for love. The more I recognize these facts, the less frustration I will feel when I’m slower to grasp a concept that I would like; or my hair is frizzing, and my eyes look like I haven’t slept since last year. The more I recognize my worth comes from being God's daughter, and not from creating my own identity, the more love and energy I have to serve those around me.
I’ll know who I am, and I’ll know that The God who made me is everlasting, perfect, and unchanging.
When I internalize this truth, I can walk in the grace and confidence that stems from knowing who I am. It affects the way I treat others so that when someone pushes my buttons when they intended to pay me a compliment, I can smile sweetly and remind us both that neither my appearance nor my abilities have a place in my identity as God’s daughter.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
Kelly is a graduate of Michigan State University with Bachelors of Arts in Economics and Philosophy. She spent the last two years in Glasgow, Scotland with a covenant charismatic community - the Community of the Risen Christ - serving with the Kairos GAP Programme, University Christian Outreach, and Clay Community Church.
Kelly loves all kinds of competition from sports to board and card games, but will take a break to get lost in a book, chat over a good cup of coffee, or have everyone over for dinner.