The Struggle for Significance

The struggle for significance has been something I’ve been thinking about this month. If feeling good about ourselves is ‘other’ dependent – we’re in trouble. Handing over the evaluation of our self worth to others leaves us powerless and vulnerable.

Despite the significance or this site it is still totally dependent on the goodwill of its visitors
Despite the significance or this site, it is totally dependent on the goodwill of its visitors

I think there might be a trick at play, sold by the marketing machine, that the key to great self-esteem is via the number of ‘friends or likes’ on social media. Actually the opposite is true, in order to develop and maintain a solid sense of who we are requires an ability to focus on, and listen to, our internal yearnings. This clarifies what we want to take into our relationships – this is what feeds our wellbeing.

The impact of social media on families is impossible to ignore, especially when there is an adolescent in the house. More and more it feels like social media is the medium through which self worth is gauged.

How many friends or contacts, and then the time needed to attend to all these ‘relationships’ becomes the measure of significance. Somewhere in our journey to guarantee high self-esteem in our offspring, we have lost our way.

This of course, is not a new dilemma – most parents have always wanted their children to feel confident in the world. What’s new, I think, is the very low threshold for insignificance.

It looks insignificant but can cause havoc in the vegie patch
It looks insignificant but can cause havoc in the vegie patch
A very ordinary rock and yet it support lichen, and provides protection for any number of insignificant creatures
A very ordinary rock and yet it support lichen, and provides protection for any number of insignificant creatures

It would seem we are raising a generation who have very low thresholds for not getting their own way. The results are  over entitled youths who expect to have power without responsibility. Whislt obviously there are plenty of exceptions it seems to be enough of a phenomenon to be of concern.

When the drive for significance is fed by denied powerlessness it can become dangerous, it can lead to over entitled aggressive teenagers, and for that matter, adults. Their low, reactive thresholds ignite when their insignificance and powerlessness are exposed – so they flash into irrational power asserting anger.

I’m often having conversations, usually with parents, about the importance of their children experiencing times of being insignificant. Learning that you can survive being unimportant and powerless is an essential developmental milestone.  For most people this feels counter intuitive, and yet I believe it is part of the antidote to the high levels of anxiety and depression our youth are experiencing. Knowing you can survive insignificance and feel okay feeds our sense of resilience. It also increases our ability to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of when to fight for something, and when to let something go.

Experiencing times of being centre stage and significant, as well as times of being back stage and relatively insignificant, is a balancing act that we all seem to struggle with. Knowing that you can survive both is what builds self- competence and confidence.

An insignifcant sunset and yet it enhances wellbeing
An insignifcant sunset and yet it enhances wellbeing

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