Latter-day Saint Life

Why you doubt yourself—and the spiritual key to steady confidence

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How do I care what others think of me without giving them the power to define me? The answer is simple.
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“Your tree looks stupid.”

These four words marked the beginning of an unraveling of worth that took years to realize and then repair.

My first-grade teacher had asked the class to draw a nature scene. I loved drawing, and so I confidently grabbed my crayons and went to work. I drew the trunk first, pressing my brown crayon hard to create the outline, then softly coloring the inside. Then, I slid my dark green crayon along the page in smooth, beautiful, loops and circles, creating a billowing, masterful treetop.

That’s when Stephen, the boy next to me, squinted at my paper and said, “Your tree looks stupid.”

My first response was to feel sad for this boy who was not only mean but totally unaware of true art.

Then he continued, “Trees have leaves, like mine. Not circles.” He pointed to his tree which, indeed, had little leaves, not circles. “You’re not a good drawer,” he said definitively.

I compared my billowy treetop to his, and my heart fell. He was right. My tree did look stupid. And then I felt stupid. I put the crayons down and pulled the paper towards myself. It was the first time I remember caring what someone else thought of me. It was also the first time I remember feeling self-doubt.

When Caring What Others Think Can Be Good

As I discovered that day in elementary school, the pull to care about what others think about us is strong. It’s natural and in some cases can actually be good. For instance:

  • Caring about the opinions of others can help us feel connected to them.
  • It can influence how clearly we see ourselves. For example, my husband sees things I can’t see in myself, both positive and negative. With love, he helps me see myself in a clearer light.
  • It can provide valuable feedback on how well we are accomplishing our righteous goals. In my efforts to help others, I care about what my acquaintances and even strangers think about me. Not because I need validation, but because I care if I am making a positive impact in the world.
  • And it helps us understand others better. When someone was unkind to me, my mom would always say, “That says more about them than you.” It’s true.

Caring about what others think definitely has benefits. But it also has the potential to easily metastasize into something dangerous.
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When Caring What Others Think of You Goes Too Far

When does caring about what others think about you go too far? The answer is simple: when it creeps into and even hijacks the territory of defining your worth.

Stephen’s comment about my tree was the first time I remember caring so much about someone else’s opinion of me that it changed my own. I went from confident artist to a fraud in seconds. It was the first time that I can remember giving the power to define myself to someone else. But it wasn’t the last.

I struggled with my self-esteem throughout my teenage years. I had a base layer of confidence, but there were times and even seasons when I struggled to hold onto it. There were times when I would doubt my ability to see myself clearly and therefore relied on others to help me. As I mentioned above, this can be a healthy thing when we use their opinions as information and a way to connect. But I occasionally took it too far.

I often took what others said as truth. Because of this, I frequently rode the opinions and approval of others like a roller-coaster I had no control over. If a teacher gave me the look, I felt stupid. If a boy told me I was ugly, I was. If a peer told me I was a bad person, it must have been because I was.

Without realizing it, I had unknowingly sold my identity for the compliments and criticisms of others.

There were a few very big problems with this: I had allowed other imperfect people to define me—people who had their own insecurities and issues. It became easier and easier to believe the negative opinions than the positive ones.

But perhaps the most damaging effect of caring too much about what others thought of me was that I allowed my worth to become fluid, not fixed. I would feel amazing one day and a dumpster fire the next depending on what external (and sometimes internal) opinions I chose to believe that day.

It was a hard way to live.

The Lord Defines Who We Are

Thankfully, a prophet of God affirmed that “The worth of a human soul is its capacity to become as God.”1 This capacity, or potential, is fixed. It’s intrinsic. We have divine value simply because of our DNA. This does not change.

Our worth is fixed and eternal. This is truth.

I finally began to understand this while I prepared for my full-time mission. Through deeper focus and effort, I began strengthening my relationship with my Father in Heaven. I grew closer to Him. I started to see Him more clearly and, in turn, started to see more clearly how He saw me. I began to see myself through His eyes.

This was when I started to more fully realize just how much power I’d given to others to define who I was. As I continued to grow closer to God, I reclaimed my divine identity. Or, better stated, I began to accept the power to define myself according to God’s view.

I still cared about and valued the opinions of people I trusted, but I looked to my Father in Heaven for my identity. When I saw my weaknesses, I took them to Him (see Ether 12:27) so He could help me make them strengths. When He called me “daughter” I believed Him. I recognized God had the power to define me, and I cared what He thought.

There is tremendous peace, joy, and strength in truly seeing yourself as God does. Perhaps this is why one of the first things the Lord did when He met with Moses face to face was tell Him what He thought about Moses: “Thou art my son” (Moses 1:4). That declaration had a big impact on Moses, for not too long after this divine encounter, Satan appeared to Moses and tempted him. Moses’ defense? “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God” (Moses 1:13). Moses cared what God thought of Him and believed Him.

We too are children of God and can believe Him when He tells us how He sees us.

Still, we are surrounded by people we care about, whose opinions matter to us. So, how do we care what they think while retaining the power to define ourselves through God’s eyes?

How do we care what others think without giving them the power to define us?

The key might lie in the simple, yet not always easy, practice of naming and claiming:

1. Name what opinions are: information from and about others. It is feedback and communication, external tools that can help us choices, gain understanding about ourselves and others, strengthen connections, and make possible needed changes.

2. Claim the power to decide, with the help of the Spirit, if those opinions are correct. Do they line up with who God knows you are? Are they true? And if so, what will you do with them?

What might this look like?

When we are faced with someone else’s opinions of us, we can ask ourselves if it’s true. If we aren’t sure, we can ask God, ask a trusted friend, and ask God again. If it is true and was offered from a place of love, we can allow their opinion to help create connection, change, and growth.

If it’s not true, reject it. This one sounds obvious, but it is easy to take offense and hold onto negative emotions when faced with a negative comment or opinion.

I was chatting with a sweet blonde third-grade girl a few weeks ago when she told me another classmate insulted her. “Was what she said true?” I ask. She shook her head but told me she still felt bad.

I looked at her and said, “I don’t like your green hair.” She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Um, I don’t have green hair.”

“Did that hurt your feelings when I said you did?” I asked.

She shook her head and looked at me like I was the idiot. “No, ’cause it’s not true. I’m blonde.”

Then her smile widened with her understanding. “So, it’s not my problem, it’s yours.”

Looking to the Savior

The Savior was the greatest example of caring what others thought while retaining the power to define Himself.

When the people of His hometown claimed Jesus was just “Joseph’s son”, Jesus knew He was more (see Luke 4:22, 24). When the woman at the well told Jesus He was a Jew, then a prophet, He told her He was the Messiah (see John 4:9,19,25–26). Rather than adjusting His self-perception, in patience, He taught His disciples line upon line who He really was. He helped them see Him through God’s eyes. Even when he was mocked, stalked, tortured, questioned, suffering, and assaulted, He never lost sight of who He knew He was.

This is the power of claiming divine identity, the identity that came from His Father.

Ultimately, it is what Heavenly Father and our Savior think of us that matters most. We know that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). This is why modern-day prophets plead with us to “look into the water and see your true reflection! It is my prayer and blessing that when you look at your reflection, you will be able to see beyond imperfections and self-doubts and recognize who you truly are: glorious sons and daughters of Almighty God.”2 And it’s our privilege—our right—to believe them.

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Find more inspiration in ‘You Are Loved’

We all have struggles. From feeling friendless and alone to grieving the death of a loved one, none of us have lives that look exactly how we might want them to. Even so, in our trials and difficulties, we can know that we are loved. Not only by the people closest to us—though their love is essential too—but most of all, by the Creator of the Universe, our Father in Heaven. This collection of addresses by women for women explores how we can recognize our divine worth and potential and come to see ourselves and others the way God does—with grace, optimism, and love. Available at Deseret Book and


1. Quoted in Thomas S. Monson, “My Brother’s Keeper,” Oct. 1994 general conference.

2. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Reflection in the Water,” BYU Speeches, November 1, 2009

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