The unfortunates — people who did not receive the blessing of the fortune goddess. In the middle ages, the poor/sad/sick would be called “unlucky ones” and nobody blamed them for being in that position. Similar nobody blamed the nobility for being born rich, as they had no word in this matter. In those times, people had very few discussions about regrets regarding their social status, almost nobody (until recently) would even discuss that they are unhappy with their status and feel anxious about their position in life.
Everyone understood that we had little to no choice in that matter and no one felt anxious about being a peasant or proud to be a prince. It felt normal!
However today people with high salaries feel bad for not being richer and people with little wealth feel bad for not being born wealthy.
But what is the reason for these feelings of anxiety?
If we would live in a fair society, as we claim to do, then the meritocratic system would raise the hard-working to the top and the lazy would crawl to the bottom. In such a world assume that whoever becomes successful -> deserves it. Equally who is poor or unsuccessful must also deserve it. The pandemic turned a light on social inequality and showed in full colors that our society sees the minimum wage workers as most important for our life — yet the most unworthy of the rewards, higher salaries, or social status.
Our society is not fair, as is life. However, these 3 general conditions will dictate the way you feel about yourself and the social position you think you deserve. Like through nourishment from your mother, we all share these 3 conditions to different degrees. Whatever social class you were born into or whatever level of wealth you accumulate, there are 3 conditions that have modified your brain and will forever linger in the back of your head.
Why do we feel a certain way about ourselves? Why is Mary doubting herself when she succeeded in all projects she started? Why does Mike enjoy himself as the king of the world when in the eyes of society he has very little success?
How we compare to our peers, who we grew up with, and who we grew up around!
No matter what country you were born in or the family title you got at birth, we can not stop making comparisons between ourselves and the people around us. Thoughts like “Am I good enough for this group? Am I worthy to be here? Is he good enough for me ?” dwell between our eyes and crawl upon us in our most vulnerable moments.
If you were unlucky enough to go to a fancy school and one of your classmates becomes famous — I wouldn’t wish this upon my enemy — then you will forever consider yourself unworthy and useless.
“John was eating his boogers in middle school, but now he has a successful startup, a beautiful wife, and a happy life” You always compared yourself with him and you never saw him as much more than a simple person, just like yourself. But now he (His image in your head, at least) is the anchor that drags you to the bottom of self-worth and you feel worse with every reminder that your peer, someone you know, is so successful and you are not:
- Where is Your model wife? Where is Your unicorn startup? A thought crawls from the shadow: maybe you don’t deserve it and you are worth exactly what you have — nothing.
On the other side of this coin, is my cousin Robert. He went to an unremarkable school where no one was trying to reveal their genius, nobody was richer than anyone else and no one thought themselves special. Today Robert is as happy as a clam, for he is the most successful of his peers, he left the farm and works in “the big city” as a taxi driver. He may not have a glamorous life, working 60 hour weeks and barely seeing his parents, but he is independent and owns his own home (a one-room apartment in the old part of the town), every morning he wakes up to his little french bulldog Rosa. He is excited to come back to her, after work, at night. He’s in debt for the apartment and rents the car, his health is shaky and his wallet empty after the month ends. No savings and no financial security, yet he is jolly and happy, there is no one more successful among his peers.
If you know people from the same/similar background and they are obviously more successful than you >> you will inevitably doubt your worth and be anxious about it.
How we compare ourselves with the parent of a similar gender.
The parent of similar gender can determine how anxious you are about your self-worth long before you are born, if you are less <something> than your parent was at a similar age, then you will feel bad about your self-worth. The other side holds if you are in a better life situation than your parent >> you are more eager to enjoy life and are happier generally.
Meet David, my best friend since we were playing in mud puddles naked while our mothers gossiped about the newest church nothing-scandal. He is almost 30 and incredible in all aspects of personal life: A strong and healthy relationship with his girlfriend, an excellent academic career with a master’s degree in finance management, and outstanding job prospects at the bank he is employed with now. So he is happy, right? Not really, for his father was a millionaire at the age of 20 (The Eastern European markets of the 90s were known as “The Gold Rush”, many perished while some gained wealth beyond belief). His father was a successful young man, while David is not (in his own eyes). The day David graduated with his Masters in Finance Management, he received a unique diploma from his dean, he got the best results anyone has ever at that institution. David decided to share this with his father, so he called:
-Hey dad, I finished my master’s.
-Ok, anything else?
-No..just that really…
-Ok good *Bip* *Bip* *Bip*
David hates himself and seeks his father’s approval, he is less successful in comparison (his own view) and so each day he wakes up knowing he does not deserve anything in this life, not good enough.
!! My cousin Robert is lucky here once more, he is the son of a farmer like his father was. He loves life in the country but he wants a better life for himself and his future family.
Every year his father enters a gamble with nature — where he has little to say: If it rains then he will have good crops next season. If the weather is not as friendly, he will have great losses and suffer for years to come. Robert is much more fortunate, his taxi car works every season and he has a good income all year round. As long as his insurance is paid and oil is changed, he cruises the big city and gathers money to buy the newest organic treats for Rosa. Each morning Robert wakes up knowing he has a great life and a happy Rosa waiting to go for a walk in the morning. Robert loves his life.
What kind of love did we receive as children.
The most difficult to understand yet easy to put into words is the kind of affection we received as children, the kind of warmth and kindness our parents showered upon us at the earliest stages of life: Conditional or Unconditional love.
If you had to juggle 10 flaming balls and sing a full opera to get the attention of your parents, probably today you feel the need to constantly impress everyone around and to keep everyone impressed, just to feel that you deserve their friendship — For today. Tomorrow the timer starts again and you will have to earn their friendship once more.
Such is the case of David, he is always insecure about his relations with others and feels the necessity to please everyone and perform in order to maintain friendships. His parents would never discuss feelings or share affections with him, he was left to the cold embrace of his expensive toys and, wide and lonely room.
Robert feels like the mattress king in his mattress world. He has nothing to prove and no one to impress (Except Rosa). His mother loved him for being her son and his dad loved him for being around. They both told him this and talked about their emotions, why they felt a certain way, Robert came to understand that love is something you can decide to share, and sharing it will only increase its value.
If I would ask you now, who is happier? Few would doubt how Robert or David feel about themselves, their self-esteem. The way they perceive their worth was established before they were aware of anything happening and now they deal with it however they can. Neither blame their parents and neither thinks they really deserve it.
It is not our choice what social class we are born in or what color our spoons have (gold, iron, plastic). What we do have a say in is the way we act upon our feelings, our anxiety, and our desire to act in a certain way. It is up to us to look for reasons and remedies to the angsts that rain down on our minds.
*Inspired by the works of Alain de Botton