Babies are born knowing their self-worth; as life moves on, the comments, expectations, and attitudes of other people can wear down this natural sense of self-worth. Self-worth is what enables us to believe that we are capable of doing our best with our talents, of contributing well in society, and that we deserve to lead a fulfilling life. Building it up again is therefore natural, essential, and healthy.
StepsTips and Warnings
Getting Your Head Right
Understand the power of your attitude toward yourself. How you perceive yourself, how you talk about yourself, and how you represent yourself eventually become the reality for you. And if it happens that you’re putting yourself down, belittling your worth, and making light of your talents in the face of others, then you will come across as self-effacing, low in self-esteem, and almost a part of the wallpaper. This isn’t humility — it’s self-denial and an attempt to lessen your presence.
On the other hand, if you exaggerate your qualities, talents, and skills, you’ll come across as egotistical and arrogant. Oddly enough, this is not about over-estimating your self-worth but about deceiving yourself through insecurity. There is a middle pathway and it is the one in which you recognize and celebrate the fact that you are a valuable person, equal to everyone else, and that your talents and thoughts are unique and worthy. Getting to this belief can be difficult if you have spent years underestimating your worth but it is always possible to change your thoughts and to learn to value yourself.
Learn to overcome a fear of self-love. Self-love is often equated with narcissism, egotism, and some kind of one-way trip to a negative form of introversion. This is probably partly because the English language has a hard time dealing with the word “love” – it has to cover a lot of territory for the many different types of love out there. It is also mired in the confusion people feel about the message to do good unto others, to always be charitable, and to give, give, give, of oneself. While these are noble intentions, they can often be taken out of proportion and used to downplay putting one’s own needs and wants beneath those of others out of a fear of being perceived as selfish or inward-looking. Again, this is about getting the balance right.
Healthy self love is about being your own best friend. Self love is expressed not through preening oneself all day and constantly announcing how great you are (those are signs of intense insecurity); rather, self love is about treating yourself with the same care, tolerance, generosity, and compassion as you would treat a special friend.
Avoid overlaying how you think other people see you; how does it help you to cater your personality to their idea of you? Only you can give yourself the esteem boost you need.
Self love falters when we fall into the realm of addiction. Alcoholism, drug addiction, Internet addiction, and all similar addictions are a sign that you’re hurting deeply but also that you don’t want to face up to the opportunities presented by working through your pain.
Trust your own feelings. Self-worth requires that you learn to listen to and rely upon your own feelings and not automatically respond to the feelings of other people. Once those around you establish that you’ll respond to what they want, they’ll lack any incentive to not make use of your responsiveness, and that sets a bind for you that can be hard to break (but break it you must). When you trust your own feelings, you will realize that when demands are placed upon you, you don’t feel great and you will want to respond with what works better for you, or for both of you, rather than what works better for everyone else except you.
Self-worth plummets when we let others make decisions for us. Initially this may seem like the easy route and one that allows you to avoid hard choices. Ultimately though, it turns into the hard route because you will always find yourself boxed in by what other people decide for you. And then suddenly, if the people who make decisions for you disappear from your life, you are left alone and indecisive. That is a very earth-shattering place to end up in and it’s more likely than not to happen if you’re not prepared to make decisions for yourself.
Analyze yourself. Many of us live in a culture that is very fond of going to see someone else to analyze us. Unless you’ve got a serious disorder, garden-variety uncertainty and lack of purpose does not need analysis by someone else. It needs self-analysis so that you can clearly recognize where you’re underestimating yourself and short-changing yourself. Here are some questions for your self-analysis:
What experience have I had? How has this experience informed my growth?
What are my talents? List at least five.
What are my skills? Remember that talents are innate, skills need to be worked on to perfect them.
What are my strengths? Stop focusing on your weaknesses; you’ve probably done that long enough. Start looking at what your strengths are and start thinking about how you can make the most of them in the things you choose to do.
What do I want to be doing with my life? Am I doing it? If not, why not?
Am I happy with my health? If not, why not? And what can I do to move into wellness instead of living in sickness?
What makes me feel fulfilled? Am I working on that or am I busy working on other people’s fulfillment?
Stop making your self-worth conditional on other people. Once you try to live up to an image of what you think others want to you to be, you lose your self-worth. Instead, you are following a compass set by other people’s expectations, whether or not those expectations are clearly defined or implied. Unfortunately, many people live this way, making such choices as what to study, what career to choose, where to live, and how many children to have — all based on expectations from parents, spouses, friends, and the media. This comes from being afraid of standing up for their own preferences and respecting their self-worth. It’s a real shame to live your life for someone else.
Be very wary of listening too much to people who regret the choices that they made in life and who actively inflict their distress or anger at this regret upon others (especially upon the next generation). Such people won’t enlighten you as to the path of acting on your self-worth at all. Instead, they’ll try to either live out what they didn’t get through you or, what’s worse, expect you to have the same rotten experiences they had. To be sure of this, they’ll give you poor information, incorrect details, or simply omit to inform you at all.
People with healthy self-worth will share their insights and learning with you, and will be willing to guide you around life’s many traps. Look for those people to mentor you rather than being misguided by the unhappy people who are too miserable to help.
Mastering a Positive Self-Image
Tell yourself that you matter. Realistic self pep-talks are great and affirming your self-worth openly to yourself can be a very good way to start changing the internal negative speak that you might have developed over time. Make set times during the day to remind yourself that you’re a great person. Tell yourself you’re special, wonderful, lovable, and loved.
Affirmative talk is not the sole solution but it is part of a range of methods for boosting yourself and for taking out time to acknowledge that you do matter — just as much as every person around you.
Prove to yourself that you matter. One of the problems with much advice on self-affirmations is that there is a sense that affirmations are in and of themselves magical, that they are all that’s needed to improve your sense of self. If only that were so, it’d be very easy to build self-worth! The reality is somewhat different and while it’s important to use positive self-speak, it is also important to act on your sense of self-worth. This is achieved by recognizing and accepting responsibility. You’ve got to take matters into your own hands.
Responsibility is about owning up to the fact that you are in control of your attitude, your reactions, and your sense of worth. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and that is the crux of poor self-worth: letting other people and circumstances serve as the source of lowering your self-worth is going to keep you stuck.
Accept the responsibility for your circumstances. Make a decision to do something about them. Even if others appear to stand in your way, work around them. Don’t resign.
Forgive yourself. Responsibility also requires that you relinquish the need to use blame as a source of coping; blame alleviates the need to look at yourself and to change your own behavior. While that seems like the easy option at times, it’s also the one that will leave you stuck in time and stuck with your negative feelings; worst of all, it leaves you feeling helpless. Blame implies that someone or something else has the power that you lack; and if that isn’t giving up, then what is?
Don’t blame your parents, the government, your next door neighbors. What have they got to do with the perfectly well-formed thinking matter inside your head? They may have made things difficult for you but you can understand that without using it as an excuse to reduce your self-worth. Avoid being a martyr; the responsibility to move on as a strong, whole person rests with you.
Work on your resilience. Resilient people have the emotional strength to get through life’s difficulties without falling apart. This isn’t about belittling the hardships and challenges of life – they are still very real – but it is about how you react and work your way through them. You always have a choice between demeaning yourself or always remembering your self-worth and staying firm in that resolve.
To do this, focus your energy on what you need to do to change the situation or the circumstances. Realize that other people have been wrapped up in the circumstances too and are not necessarily directing the outcome.
Break the habit of trying to please everyone all of the time. That is impossible and even being a people pleaser will displease some people — particularly those with a high sense of self-worth who find such behavior cringe-worthy. When you stop having to please everyone else, your desires will rise to the surface and you can start working on your own happiness and self-worth. What a novel idea!
Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. In doing so, respect the feelings of others but don’t be beholden to them. Some people won’t like that you’re doing your own thing and that’s fine. If we all did the same thing, the world wouldn’t get anywhere. Let you do you first, and then you can get around to helping them out with their happiness (since apparently they can’t do it themselves!).
Heed opportunities. Opportunities present themselves in all sorts of ways. Grasping them is altogether another matter that not many of us are adept at doing. Part of building self-worth is learning to recognize opportunities, however small, and working with them. Sometimes a great deal of patience will be called for; at other times, much self-restraint and downsizing of ambition might be needed. Whatever the case, take the opportunities life offers you and make the most of them because you deserve to do so.
Turn challenges into opportunities. Successful people tend to turn challenges into opportunities. Can you practice this thinking style too? Try it out on the smallest of things first and start changing your language by removing the negative words and using words that reflect a sense of purpose, direction, and focus. Don’t go to the opposite extreme though and paint everything as rosy; life still has its thorns and its tragedies, and what is needed is a realistic appraisal followed by a determination to keep striving for better.
Budget your money. It seems a little out of left field, but in today’s day and age, it’s important. Regardless of what you do with your money, have a budget. Then you will actually know what you’re doing with your money and feel comfortable taking certain chances that require an investment. Self-worth is often closely tied to one’s financial situation. All financial opportunities that come your way should be assessed with care and not simply ignored or retreated from.
Retirement savings, investments, and savings in general are all things that will help ensure a sound life for you and financial freedom allows you the space to build self worth away from financial pressures.
Seeing Your Worth
Value yourself regardless of your job and earnings. Undervaluing your worth in tangible terms is a self-worth trap. This step is about money, plain and simple. In societies that tend to value people by what they do rather than by who they are, there is a great risk of undervaluing your self-worth because it’s tied up in earnings and job prestige. If you ever find yourself replying, “Oh I’m just a …” in reply to the question, “So what do you do?”, you’re suffering from a self-worth deficit. You are not “just” anything – you are you: a unique, valuable, and wonderful human being who matters. If you equate self-worth with doing something that is recognized by a monetary or socially discernible scale of wealth and if you don’t feel you meet that, then kaboom! You can easily lose your self-worth.
Value your time. Alongside undervaluing yourself because of the job you have or the earnings you make is that of how you spend your time. If you’re performing volunteer or low-paid support work that eats up your time well beyond what you can afford, and you’re neglecting other parts of your life, such as looking for a job, spending time with your family, or ensuring that your own life is running smoothly, then it’s possible that you’re caught up in competing value systems. That never leads to anything good!
The first value system is that which tells us we must volunteer or contribute community service to others more needy in society because it is both noble and essential for our own sense of well-being. The second value system is that which rewards us for knowing our self-worth and for expecting good compensation for what we contribute to society.
These two competing values create tension for many well-meaning people who want to give but find themselves caught up in the challenges of lack of time, lack of money, and a sense of inadequacy with all the juggling. Ultimately, if you are stressed out, feeling undervalued, and you’re inadequately compensated, your balance of these two values has become skewed and has depleted your self-worth.
Eventually this will lead to one or more of the following: being sick, exploding and walking out for good, resenting the loss of your time, and/or perpetuating an unhealthy balance that not only impacts you but serves as a poor role model for your children, friends, and others watching you. When you feel a need to downplay your talents and skills and give them away freely or at little cost, it’s a wake-up call to take back your time and to start valuing yourself more.
Evaluate the balance between the time you give away to others and time spent on your own life. Could you be spending more time with your family and/or friends? If the answer to that is yes, then realize that your wealth resides in keeping that time for you and those you love, and reducing the amount of time you give away to others. When altered, this can easily spur you onto the path of increased self-worth.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up helping out completely, but you do need to put community service or commitments to helping others into perspective. At the end of the day, you matter more than anything.
Follow through. Maintain your focus on self-worth as an important part of what goes into making you whole. Make time on a regular basis to check on your progress in building your self-worth and be patient. It takes time to change negative self-talk and putting yourself last. If your entire pattern of interacting with others has been based on effacing yourself as much as possible, it will take a lot of courage to make the changes needed. But it’s 100% possible.
There will be some people who find the new, more assertive you a little confronting. Don’t let that worry you because it’s about your journey, not theirs! You are seeking to gain respect as you go, something that people pleasers rarely have.
Live in the present. The past has its lessons from which you’ve learned but it’s long gone, so leave it behind you. The only moment that truly matters is now. It is the only moment that “is,” after all. Nothing else is a sure thing. And if this moment isn’t what you want to be, make it so the next moment is.
Keep a notebook of your achievements. Every time you feel tempted to put yourself down and to bemoan that you’re getting nowhere, make a cup of coffee, sit down comfortably and take out this book and read through it. Can you update it with a new achievement while you’re there?
Compete only with yourself, not with others. Those achievements are what you do and how they make you feel, not how others perceive them or what others have done just like it.
Be careful of platitudes in place of affirmations. In the sense of self-worth, platitudes represent the sayings, pep-talk, or accepted wisdom that do not resonate with you at all. While one platitude might really grip the imagination of one person, to you it might seem like vapid nonsense. While there is no need to disparage the person who thrives off it, equally you don’t need to feel that you should adopt platitudes that do nothing for you. Find your own sources of inspiration and live up to them.
People tend to reinvent themselves every 10 years. So there is no need to beat yourself up for not being the same person as 10 years ago. Instead, say to yourself “Thank goodness,” pick yourself up and move on. Think of all the wisdom you’ve gained in the meantime and make use of that.
Everybody you meet is abundant with opportunities. Be interested in other people and be willing to spend time with them to learn new things. You never know what you may discover that will enlighten you as to ways to build your self-worth. It also helps to listen to a broad range of people, to put your own troubles and angst into perspective.
Share your learning about building self-worth with others. Show your children by example how you are continuing to learn self-worth and improve it. Help them learn that it is never wrong to reinvent yourself and to pull yourself up out of the doldrums. Show them that life’s journey is as much about cultivating your better self daily, weekly, and yearly, as it is about moving up the corporate ladder, buying a new house and car, or marking notches in the social stratosphere.
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