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Published March 29, 2012, 11:30 PM

Linnares: Have you let your self-worth expire?

Where do you get your sense of self-worth? From success at work? Having a “perfect” body? From others’ recognition? It’s hard for me to admit that many times, I got my self-worth from what I did, and not from who I was.

By: Chris Linnares, INFORUM

Where do you get your sense of self-worth? From success at work? Having a “perfect” body? From others’ recognition?

It’s hard for me to admit that many times, I got my self-worth from what I did, and not from who I was.

Coming from Brazil, a culture in which the word “empowerment” doesn’t even exist in our vocabulary, I became passionate about women’s issues. When I was 24 years old I decided to write and produce a comedy show based on women’s self- esteem titled ”Divas on the Divan.” With the purpose of using art to heal, we started performing in small theatres around Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A few years later, to my surprise – and the surprise of those who didn’t believe in the project – the play became really successful. “Divas on the Divan” turned out to be a best-selling book and a DVD distributed in schools all over the country; I was invited to host on TV and radio, and to write in national magazines.

I felt I was worth it! I felt I’d made it big! But not big enough to last because when our self worth is based on something transitory, it comes with an expiration date.

My expiration date was 2005 – the year I went on a trip to L.A., met my “prince charming,” left a successful career and became my “husband’s wife.”

Instead of my prince whisking me away to a castle on the beach, he revved up his snowmobile, told me to “hold on” and took me from the tropics of Brazil to Fargo.

I’m glad I held on. The most amazing blessings in my life have come from that ride. But soon after the birth of my first child, I suffered post-partum depression and lost my self-identity because, at the time, I couldn’t separate who I was from what I did.

I had learned to receive credit and recognition for what I did, starting from a gold star sticker for my paperwork in kindergarten to receiving a bonus for a job well done within my career. I didn’t learn how to feel ‘worth it’ by just being – being a wife, being a mom, being a woman.

One of my biggest challenges came when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom for the first two years of my daughter’s life. I remember receiving a call from one of my best friends from Brazil, a successful journalist; when she asked me what was I doing, I answered: “I just breast fed my daughter and now I am making dinner,” and I heard across the line her ‘motivating’ words: “Oh Chris, don’t worry, honey, things are going to get better. You will find a way to rock again.”

A few years later, when I went back to work and the story of our “Beautiful Women of North Dakota” book was featured in a national Brazilian magazine, the same friend sent me an email with the subject line: “Chris is back and rocking again!”

Why was taking time to nurture my family not good enough? Why couldn’t I be “rocking” just for being a wife, a mom and a woman? I didn’t say anything to my friend because, unfortunately, a part of me agreed with her.

I remember many times feeling resentful toward my husband because I was stuck in the house watching Dora and struggling to fit in my old jeans, while he had a career and didn’t wear sweatpants. I felt I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t doing anything that afforded me a title to hang my hat on.

When I started sharing my experiences with other women, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. A friend of mine, who, in my opinion, always has been and is an outstanding ‘rock star’ mom, told me that even she feels uncomfortable when she is filling out a form and needs to provide “stay-at-home-mom” as her profession.

What is going on with us? When has being CEO of our own family become not good enough, especially if we don’t also work outside the home?

Now that I am a “working mom,” I look back and wish I could have taken that time at home not just to nurture my family, but to nurture myself more. I wish I would say to myself, like the many times I looked into my daughter’s eyes, and said: I am proud of you! You are worth it not just for what you do, but for who you are!

I can’t go back in time, but I can choose to nurture myself today. I believe that to increase our self worth, and give us an unlimited expiration date, we don’t need to learn any avant-garde psychological theory about self-esteem – we need to unlearn what we’ve been told makes us “worth it.” As one man has said, “I got a pretty good education. It took me years to get over it.”

Chris Linnares is an international author, Brazilian psychotherapist and creator of Diva Dance. She is the founder of Naturally Diva and Diva Connection Foundation for women’s health and empowerment.