How many times does the approval of others make you feel good about yourself?
I wouldn’t have to think twice before responding with a defiant “No way!”, but, deep down I know well and truly that a well-placed compliment puts a spring in my step. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the appreciation, admiration and confirmation from those around me are often what drives me. When I’m without this, I feel my self-worth slowly slipping away from between my fingers, leaving me abandoned in my own cave of self-loathing.
Too many times I’ve felt let down by those around me – under appreciated and undervalued, resulting in a deep-rooted bitterness. But are the people around me really to blame? Sure, our Deen encourages us to value other people’s feeling so much so that showing gratitude to those around us is an extension of showing gratitude to Allah SWT.
“He has not thanked Allah who has not thanked people.” (Hadith, Abu Dawud 4811)
We all crave some sort of acceptance – and it’s comforting knowing that we fit in somewhere – be it with a group of friends, work colleagues or even in-laws after marriage. Being brought up in a home surrounded by love and acceptance, I had become accustomed to an environment where thanks and appreciation were engraved into the walls and floors.
However, moving into an extended household after marriage really tested my own perception of self-worth, which led to feelings of being undervalued due to the lack of appreciation and acceptance from those around me. I had entered into a delusion that somehow, I thought I would be treated as every other family member where my day-to-day life, household contributions and personal achievements would be acknowledged and celebrated. When I realised this wasn’t the case, my own sense of self-acceptance began to fray. This was despite the fact that I had a husband who loved, appreciated and cherished me for who I was, yet my immediate surroundings still made me feel undervalued.
This lack of self-acceptance was not only absent in my personal life, but also within a professional capacity. At work, I often struggled to remain motivated when my superiors failed to recognise additional hours I had put in, working evenings and weekends without a simple acknowledgement. This really brought me down at times. Looking back retrospectively, I know for a fact that I had lost touch with the sole purpose of why I had joined the organisation in the first place, and as my focus shifted, so did my motivation, leaving my mind warped by a desire to be constantly recognised and valued. I had taken my eyes off the bullseye, and as a result, I became entangled in a selfish mindset, resulting in a lack of Barakah, and making my life a misery.
Maybe as a society, we have done the biggest disservice to our youth, by conditioning them to think that they are never good enough, and so we engage in this life-long battle trying to please people in an effort to feel better about ourselves. It’s not only our younger generation that succumbs to this culture of doing things for the sake of others. My own grandma, a full-time carer for two, who juggles her duties of maintaining a household, as well as cooking and cleaning while struggling with her own health is victim to this mindset. She refuses to accept any form of additional help – be it a cleaner or care assistant – to make her life just that little bit easier. What reasoning does she give? It all comes down to what other people think, and she worries it may reveal a sign of weakness.
If pressure from family and society wasn’t enough, the rise of social media has sadly meant that young people are also battling for validation from the wider public. Too many times I’ve seen young girls, barely in their teens, haunted by their appearances, applying masques of makeup in efforts to conform to the latest social media craze. When positive reinforcement is hard to come by, you make it your life’s work to gain acceptance from others in order to reaffirm your self-esteem, but the feeling is only ever short-lived, forcing one into a never-ending rabbit hole where life revolves around futile attempts to constantly please others.
Empowering our self worth through Islam
We want our women to be educated, courageous and independent, but yet the very thing that can push them forward is the one thing that is holding them back – self-worth. The power of self-worth can never be underestimated – feeling positive and confident about yourself can propel you to places you could only dare dream of.
Yes, we should empower our next generation to value themselves. Yes, we should shower them with encouragement, appreciation and acceptance. Yes, we should teach our girls to love themselves, flaws and all. Yes, we should push them to chase their dreams. But what about when it comes to reevaluating our source of self-worth? Your worth is not based on what other people perceive of you, yet somehow, I had led my life the total opposite. I fed off the praise and approval of others and as a result, I felt my most confident and able when the world told me so!
“O Abu Musa, know that pleasing all people is an unattainable goal and there is no way to be completely safe from them. Therefore, see where your righteous benefit lies, and adhere by it; and leave people and all they indulge in.” (Imam Shaafi)
Time and time again, scholars, narrations from our beloved Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him) and ayahs from The Quran reveal how working towards the next life can shift our whole focus. By looking at what counts, the hereafter, we become determined to do the best we can to earn the pleasure of Allah SWT and to build our ultimate Jannah.
“Verily in the remembrance of Allah (swt) do hearts find peace” (Qur’an, 13:28)
It comes down to renewing the intention. When doing good deeds, it’s worth stopping for a moment to reflect on why exactly we’re doing what we’re doing. A useful mechanism to assess whether I was doing things for Dunya or for Akhirah was to monitor my own emotions when there was a lack of appreciation and acceptance around. If I was doing things with the right intention, then negative response really didn’t bother me.
The exercise was a real eye-opener, as I had previously never openly admitted that my intentions were insincere, and so I came to the realisation that all too often I just wasn’t doing things for the right reason – be it giving a gift to someone, keeping in contact with relatives, visiting loved ones or even doing the mundane cleaning chores around the house. My pure intentions were being suffocated by a constant need to be valued, cherished and recognised.
We have the power within our own selves to increase our self-worth and remove self-doubt without relying on those around us. By transforming a negative into a positive and placing our reliance and trust in Allah swt, we have the very means to push ourselves forward and make our dreams into a reality.
It comes down to renewing the intention. When doing good deeds, it’s worth stopping for a moment to reflect on why exactly we’re doing what we’re doing.
I’d be lying if I said the process of seeking self-worth from within myself and through the Almighty is as easy as it sounds. The path to Jannah is a challenging one and one that requires infinite amounts of selflessness, compassion, commitment and forgiveness. It would be unrealistic to say that in order to have pure intentions we have to be insusceptible to those around us – that goes against what it means to be human!
Of course, we’ll have moments where the actions of others will leave us heartbroken, disappointed, frustrated, confident or loved, but we’ll know that these moments are not the sole focus of our existence and that our worth is not dependent on what others think about us!
A Jamil is an English Language graduate and a communications and marketing enthusiast who has worked within the charity and non-profit sector. Her passion of tackling social inequalities and common problems within the Muslim community have seen her writing appear in Sisters Magazine and The Muslim Vibe. When she’s not eating or baking cakes, she enjoys getting involved in various youth-focused community projects. She blogs at A Travellers Treasure Box.