Many of us struggle with low self-esteem or maybe we have that nagging critical voice that follows us around saying we’re not good enough. This can feel overwhelming, depressing, anxiety-provoking and many more difficult emotions. If this is a pattern that you recognize in yourself, what can you do? One of the pieces to look at is self-worth. The Self-Esteem Workbook by Schiraldi defines self-worth as “you [being] important and valuable as a person because your essential, core self is unique, precious, of infinite, eternal, unchanging value, and good. Unconditional human worth implies that you are as precious as any other person” (p. 29). My interpretation of this is that just for being human, you have worth. Babies, for example, are not defined by accomplishments yet they are worthy of love and belonging just as they are.
From my work with clients, it seems that lack of self-worth often manifests as self-judgement and self-pressure. They have a magnifying glass on every error that they have ever made. Worth, on the other hand, often includes trusting, compassion and belief in being enough. The concept of worth can be hard for people to grasp, especially because its components are hard to measure or physically see.
I recognize that the idea of self-worth is overwhelming and scary for many people; it’s okay to start slowly and also okay to need more support in the process, like from a therapist, friend or good self-help book. You can start with the intention to create a little more self-worth each day. If today you have a little more than yesterday, that’s a change. We can also set the intention to simply respond to ourselves in a different way. Yikes! This is a difficult process, but through it you get to give yourself permission to be a learner, try something new, and invite the compassion in!
In my work, I began to start asking the question “What would someone with self-worth do?” to gain an understanding of what having self-worth might actually look like. I wanted to think of concrete examples, since self-worth can seem like an abstract concept. I wanted to acknowledge that people with self-worth aren’t happy and positive all of the time. Their lives don’t always work out the way they’d like. They do, however, attempt to try to use some of the tools I’ve outlined in this post.
After exploring the question, here are some of the ideas that came to mind:
They treat themselves the way they’d treat a friend.
If a friend messes up, how would we treat them? We might acknowledge their pain and try to support and comfort them. We would never even think to question their worth as a human being. We also wouldn't shame them and critique their every action because if we did, we’d have no friends! It’s time to practice being kind to ourselves - you’re worth it!
They create space for themselves in the world.
When we have low self-worth, we often feel small, unappreciated and not good enough. If we have worth, we get to have a voice in this world! We also don’t need to impress others, but instead get to connect with others. People pleasing shows up as trying to get the approval of others, whereas connecting is a mutual exchange that comes from wanting to give in a way that feels healthy for us. We can find safety within ourselves and value our own beliefs and opinions when we create space.
They have boundaries.
When you have self-worth, you recognize that you are worthy of boundaries. If you go to a party, for example, you are allowed to leave when you are ready! You are allowed to talk to who you want to. Boundaries come in different forms and we get to have a boundary around what information we want to incorporate into our identity. You don’t have to believe everything everyone says. There are people who seem to have it all together and we feel like we’re the only ones who don’t. You aren’t alone in your experience and you get to set a boundary around what you’re willing to tell yourself about other people’s experience. The gift of being a therapist is people invite me into vulnerable parts of their lives and I see that we’re all doing the best we can.
They work towards dropping the need for perfection!
When we have worth, good gets to be good enough. We don’t need to be perfect and guess what? To be human is to be imperfect. We get to invite imperfection and compassion into our lives. When we’re out with friends, for example, we don’t need to question everything we did or said; it takes A LOT of energy to constantly be checking our behaviors and comments to see if they’re “right”. Instead of chasing our worth we can practice being comfortable in our own skin and our relationships will feel more authentic.
They have persistence.
Onwards and upwards!! I’ve noticed that people with worth will trust the process and stick with it. They feel knocked down at times but they continue or make alterations to the process, while supporting their needs. They ask for support when they are challenged by the process. They also try to set realistic goals for themselves so they don’t feel discouraged by their progress. If this is new for you, practice building your self-worth one day at a time. Even if you slip and fall, you get to know that’s part of the process and stick with it. We can practice being kind to ourselves by noticing the small steps or “crawls” we’re taking towards increasing our self-worth. One change in the direction of increased self-worth today is huge, since we are working on negative habits that have been forming for years and they aren’t going to change overnight.
There’s a lightness to them.
I’ve noticed that they have gratitude, laughter and self-love. They also practice affirmations. We can help foster self-kindness in the process by using affirmations, or positive and encouraging self-statements. Here are some examples that you can try on - warning...they may feel uncomfortable at first:
● I’m worthy
● I’m allowed to be self-compassionate while I learn
● I’m enough
● I’m lovable
● There’s space for me in this world
I continue to explore the concept of self worth in my life and practice, and I invite you to bring that exploration into your life with the question “what would someone with worth do?” We can start to ask, experiment, and apply our answers to our own lives.