How do you feel about yourself?
Do you see yourself as a basically good, valuable person with plenty to offer the world?
Or do you struggle to see your worth? Perhaps at times you feel like a worthwhile person (when life is going well) and, at others, you don’t (when life isn’t going well).
The value we place on ourselves has far-reaching effects on many domains of life. It’s invisible reach isn’t always obvious, yet shows up most noticeably in times of adversity or crisis. When a relationship ends, for example, we might think, ‘If only we hadn’t chosen that partner!’ If we were treated disrespectfully we might berate ourselves for failing to speak up and call out the offending behaviour rather than let it make our self-esteem sink even lower.
Indeed, we see clues as to our self-worth reflected in our choice of career or whether we apply for the promotion, the partner we choose, our communication style, the goals we choose to pursue, the judgements and standards we hold of ourselves and others, our relationship with self-care and the myriad of day-to-day choices that make up life as we know it.
Low self-worth refers to having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself. We might judge or evaluate ourselves critically. We might brush off compliments or minimise successes, focus on our failures, faults and shortcomings while comparing ourselves to others who always seem to fare better in our eyes. If you can relate to any of these, you’ll likely feel less than other people. Furthermore, it is linked with shame, anxiety, depression, poor coping strategies, eating disorders and difficulties in relationships.
Here are the secrets of self-worth everyone needs to know:
It’s Not the Same as Self-Esteem
Self-worth and self-esteem are two concepts that are often conflated but they are not the same thing. While self-worth is non-negotiable and intrinsic (‘I am worthy because I am a human being’), self-esteem is an internal evaluation made by a person as to their level of value. This internal evaluation usually reflects our strengths, aptitudes, talents and skills. As such, it is less about being and more about what we perceive we are valuable for being capable of doing.
A further helpful distinction comes from Dr. Christina Hibbert:
“Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing ‘I am greater than all of those things.’ It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth.”
Ona good day our self-esteem might be high, on a bad day it might be low. In other words, it’s not stable; it fluctuates.
Therein lies the problem with solely focusing on building self-esteem on items that we identify with that can be taken from us. If we invest our esteem in our job, for example, what happens to our sense of self if we were to lose that job?
That’s why building a solid, unshakable core of worth (‘I’m worthy because I’m alive’) that stands apart from what we do or achieve is so important.
You Had It Once
Sometimes we think we need to ‘hustle for our worthiness’ as Brene Brown famously said. However, the empowering truth is that you came into this world completely worthy. You will leave this world worthy. What happens in between is up to you.
As a baby, you had overflowing self-worth and self-love. You played, cooed, toddled, fell over and got up time and again without ever questioning or doubting yourself. These are the ideal circumstances for learning: trying and failing without overthinking or personalising failures.
Over time, we became self-conscious and were conditioned with fear. We learn to censor ourselves and predict what ways to behave will garner us approval and fitting in. Note that I say ‘fitting in’ rather than ‘true belonging’ as the latter requires us to be brave enough to be our authentic selves which may or may not lead to being accepted by others.
When viewed in this way, we realise that working on our self-worth isn’t so much a learning process as much as a ‘remembering’. You had it once and, yes, you can have it again. This helps us to feel optimistic about building a strong foundation of worth.
Perception is All
Acting as if you are unworthy or as though you must prove your worth in some way is a reflection of unloving and unhelpful beliefs. Buying into the idea that ‘I am flawed/unlovable or unworthy’ is (and always will be) a mistaken belief that arises most commonly from conditional love experiences in childhood. Parents or caregivers who withheld love, approval, acknowledgement and affection when we were ‘bad’ often unknowingly and unintentionally set up a faulty belief system within us. The child is implicitly taught ‘I am worthy when I do, achieve or behave in ways that are deemed acceptable by the external world.
When we perceive ourselves inaccurately in this way through the grubby lens of fear, the effects can last a lifetime. The good news is perceptions of self can change with effort. This is known as doing ‘the work.’ When we operate from our unconscious beliefs, we are doomed to act out our patterns and create a future which is like our past. Upgrading our beliefs about ourselves then is imperative to create the lives we want in a future full of new possibilities not yet written.
It Ain’t Out there
Have you ever thought to yourself, if I can just get that guy to like me or achieve that goal or get the approval from that person, then I’ll feel worthy? In fact, if you’ve ever attached your worth to anything, then you have fallen into what I call the ‘self-worth trap’.
The self-worth trap is when we make what is unconditional, conditional. We make our worth contingent upon the common yardsticks of appearance, net worth, your social circle, our career or achievements.
Falling into this trap is one of the greatest causes of unnecessary suffering because if we mistakenly believe self-worth is to be found in the external world, we will never feel enough. This keeps us on the eternal ‘worthiness treadmill’ where we are always moving but never quite ‘there’. Achieving a goal might give a temporary hit to our self-worth but inevitably the craving for more returns.
Realising that we had it all along inside of us is the beginning of change. Once we learn to separate what we do from who we are, we begin to take our power back.
You may not be responsible for how you came to view yourself, but once we become aware of low self-worth, it is our responsibility to improve it. Once, we do so, our lives inevitably improve.
Change is possible and you deserve it.
You are immeasurably worthy and valuable, just as you are.