In this article we are going to explore how to build self worth. But before we get to the how, it’s really important that we define what self worth is and why it is important.
So i’d like you to take a moment to reflect on what self worth means to you?
How does it affect your life, relationships and career?
I believe self worth is like the roots of a tree. It’s what keeps you grounded and stable during difficult times.
Self worth is your foundation from which everything else grows.
Yet so many of us struggle with a sense of worthiness.
Instead of growing really strong roots, we attach our worth to the external leaves that are decorative and impermanent.
And then we expend our precious time and energy clinging on to these leaves, trying to stop them from falling, wondering why we feel so anxious, stressed, out of control, overwhelmed and exhausted…
I’m not judging – I get it!
I’ve got that t-shirt too. I built a whole life like that.
And then I burnt it to the ground (figuratively, not literally!).
After which I felt so awful about myself that I went on to make a catalogue of really bad choices.
I tolerated awful relationships and jobs that drained the joy from my soul.
I started project after project because maybe the next thing might fill that void and finally make me happy (spoiler alert…it didn’t!).
It took me many years to realise that what was driving this behaviour was my low self worth.
Learning how to build self worth changed everything.
Self Worth Vs Self Confidence
Self worth and self esteem are pretty much one and the same. They both relate to feeling worthy, having self respect and thinking well of oneself.
In essence it’s a deep inner knowing that who you are, right now (without doing or changing anything), is more than enough.
Our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all inextricably linked to our sense of self worth and how we value and view ourself as a human being.
Self worth isn’t rational. We can have the best job, good health, a great physique, be attractive, successful, have lots of money and live a life that many people would be envious of, and still feel worthless.
Self confidence on the other hand is about feeling competent in specific areas.
It is possible for you to have a good sense of self worth but low confidence when it comes to a new job or a specific task that has gone badly in the past.
You can also have low self worth and still feel confident about aspects of your life and career.
Where Does Low Self Worth Come From
If there is one emotion that really erodes self worth, it is shame.
You cannot have a sense of worthiness AND feel ashamed of who you are and what you have experienced.
Low self worth comes from unresolved past experiences and emotions in which you create beliefs about yourself and the world around you.
When you hold these beliefs you tend to only see ‘evidence’ that backs up what you believe about yourself, and any evidence to the contrary is can be dismissed and overlooked.
Often these beliefs start in childhood, from critical parents, well meaning teachers, friends and the media.
You repeatedly hear messages that suggest we have to earn our worth in some way – by being good, by getting it right, by achieving and being successful in our pursuits etc.
The psychological theory Transactional Analysis (TA) suggests that we all pick up messages from our parents and care-givers in childhood about how we need to be to ‘stay feeling ok’.
According to TA there are five common messages that we all carry with us in varying proportions however usually, one or two stand out:
You’re only ok if you hide your emotions, tough it out and get on with it.
If you have this driver you are probably great in a crisis but often have problems connecting with your feelings and can feel numb when things get difficult.
This lack of connection can result in burn out and illness.
You’re only ok if you get everything right.
You like everything to be just so and put enormous amounts of effort into the detail and will not settle until things are exactly right.
Your work is to a high standard but you will often have paid in anxiety and excessive time to get it that way.
You’re only ok if you please people. You like to keep everyone happy, often at your own expense.
You probably have many friends and are great at looking after your family but you tend not to get your own needs met and can end up feeling angry and resentful about it.
You’re only ok if you keep trying hard to do things.
You’ll have a go at things but often feel that you haven’t completed them or get bored and give up half way through.
You get frustrated and tend to struggle with events and feel like a failure.
You’re only ok if you do everything right now.
You are always on the go and do everything fast with barely a minute to relax.
You aren’t great at taking time to enjoy the things you are doing and whilst you may get a lot done (though this isn’t always the case), you often feel exhausted and yet are unable to sit still.
These ‘drivers’ are unconscious, you just feel compelled to behave in this way, usually because that its what you were told or was modelled for you during childhood.
When you learn how to build self worth it can feel uncomfortable to step outside these learned behaviours. Remember true change takes place slowly. It’s acting differently day by day by day.
Ways We Compromise Our Self Worth
Low self worth drives you to hide who we really are and chameleon ourselves in situations to be liked and accepted.
This leads to a lot of assumptions about what others think, being overly self-critical, and working extra hard to try to cover our perceived flaws and failures.
Consciously or unconsciously, you think we need to be perfect, pleasing and successful in order to be worthy, belong and have value.
Psychotherapist Sharon Martin outlines 5 ways in which you may compromise your self-worth:
If you have perfectionist tendencies you tend to feel unworthy unless you get it right and make it perfect.
However you usually have such high standards for yourself (and others) that often you don’t see yourself as a perfectionist and can be your own worst critic.
You try desperately to perfect and control everything around you to avoid criticism or failure, and beat yourself up terribly when it doesn’t work out the way you planned.
Working to excess is a way to earn and demonstrate your value and receive tangible proof of your worthiness (praise, financial compensation, awards, qualifications etc).
This need for external validation for your efforts becomes like catnip and fuels you to work more and more.
Your value is linked to what we do rather than who you are.
Over scheduling and keeping yourself super busy is a way to feel important and needed.
We live in a culture that celebrates busyness; however contrary to popular belief, working harder and longer, and being super busy, doesn’t usually make you better or of greater value…
As Joanna Martin from One Of Many says “I am crazy busy has become a badge of honour in our society, and I wonder when exactly did martyrdom become sexy?”
Looking to others to measure your value, often leaves you feeling inferior.
In essence you allow others to drive your behaviour. Sometimes this can be motivating but usually it’s destructive and unhelpful.
Comparisons between people are a recipe for unhappiness and low self worth.
If people pleasing is your thing then you have tendency to prioritise other peoples needs and opinions above your own.
You compromise your values and desires to please others and feel ‘less than’ and guilty when others are angry or disappointed with you.
Your focus is all on others and often pleasing everyone else means you lose connection to yourself.
If this resonates with you check out my article ‘How To Turn Your People Pleasing Into Your Superpower’.
Un-doing these behaviours and learning how to build self worth is a tough job and requires clarity, courage, confidence and communication skills to do things differently, which is what we cover in my 1:1 coaching programme, ‘Stop The World’.
Ultimately your low self worth may not be your fault; however it is your responsibility to do something about it so that it doesn’t keep tripping you up.
You show others your value and how to treat you, and that starts with how you treat yourself.
When you learn how to build self worth and love and accept yourself, you become better able to love and accept someone else, and this flows through all areas of your life and career.
Yes but, how do I develop my self worth I hear you cry!
How To Build Your Self Worth
If you are constantly looking for reward and recognition outside yourself in order to feel worthy then you are always going to be trapped in a cycle of having to prove yourself in some way – by doing more, performing better, looking perfect, working harder, or suppressing your needs and adapting your behaviour and opinions to be pleasing to others.
This becomes all consuming and can feel like you’re on a hamster wheel.
The alternative is to develop a mindset of inherent self worth. This will then naturally begin to influence how you think, feel and behave. And this is the key to your happiness…
So if you are ready to learn how to build your self worth, read on…
Embark On A Journey Of Self Discovery
Switching your focus from others to yourself is not selfish, nor does it mean you become selfish or that your relationships will suffer.
On the contrary, when you reconnect with who you are, what you feel, want and need, you are able to make more informed choices and express yourself more easily, which increases your overall wellbeing and creates happier, healthier relationships.
Self discovery is the first step on the ladder to increasing your self worth and this is why my coaching programmes always start here.
“Let Go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are”
– Brene Brown
Make Peace With Your Past
Holding on to painful experiences from your past breeds shame and takes up valuable headspace, which prevents you from being your best.
If there are things you are holding on to and either beating yourself up about, or blaming someone else for, ask yourself what you gain by keeping hold of it?
Perhaps by holding on to resentments, anger or the hurt you feel you don’t need to accept your part in the situation?
Or perhaps it stops you from feeling how hurt you really were?
Maybe you get to stay in the ‘right’ or avoid dealing with something or someone?
Letting go usually involves some form of forgiveness or acceptance, whether it’s yourself, someone else, or a situation.
The irony is that whatever you’re holding on to is probably hurting you much more than it is anyone else – it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die!
Letting go doesn’t mean you condone a situation or behaviour, it’s about lightening YOUR load.
Because when you let go of whatever is bothering you, you set yourself free to reclaim that energy for yourself.
You don’t need to know how to let go, you just need to be willing.
You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and change how you feel going forwards.
Remember, whatever you find it hardest to let go of is probably what you need to let go of the most…
Notice Your Judgement
When you find yourself struggling to understand another person or getting irritated by a part of them that you perceive as undesirable, it could be because it’s something that is under-expressed in some way in your own life at the current time.
So when you notice yourself judging someone else, try using this judgement as an opportunity to get curious about why it bothers you so much.
Often you find the key to the challenges you are experiencing hidden in the under-expressed parts of yourself.
For example, if you perceive someone as selfish, maybe you need to be less selfless and start taking better care you your needs…
“We judge people in areas where we are vulnerable to shame. If you feel good about that area in your own life, you’ll have no interest in judging other people’s choices.”
– Brene Brown
Be Your Own Best Friend
When your self worth is low you usually also have a very noisy inner critic that loves getting shouty and pointing out all the things that could go wrong and how rubbish and stupid you are!
“Where we are fearing external judgement we are already judging ourselves.”
– Nancy Levin
The purpose of this inner voice is to keep you safe.
Granted it has a pretty shitty way of going about it at times, but it really is well intentioned.
That doesn’t mean you should allow it to ride roughshod over you though!
After all you’re an adult and have a 100% success rate at making it through hard times…
Start to become aware of the way you talk to yourself.
Would you talk to your friends like that?
Remember, even if you don’t say it out loud, you are always listening.
Your self talk feeds into your low self worth so be kind and give yourself permission to be human!
We all mess things up from time to time. Berating yourself repeatedly for something you cannot change is soul sucking and counterproductive.
Take the learning, apologise if necessary, and then put it in the ‘fuck it bucket’ and move on.
Adjust Your Expectations
Building your self worth in a culture that values perfectionism, conformity, overworking, and busyness can be a tough job!
According to the American 19th century Psychologist, William James, if you have high expectations and low levels of success, it will likely impact your sense of worthiness.
And if you have modest expectations and modest levels of success, you’ll likely feel a greater sense of self worth and be happier.
So with this mind, are your expectations of yourself and others realistic?
Are you comparing like with like?
Unfortunately, you cannot do it all…
Often success in one area might mean failure (or less success) in other areas.
Striking a balance also comes at a cost, and it’s down to you to decide what is important and what will make you happier.
“You can do anything, not everything…”
– David Allen
Play To Your Natural Strengths
Set yourself up for success by playing to your natural strengths and abilities.
Whilst ideally your worthiness wouldn’t be linked to external factors like success, if that’s a step too far then at least help yourself believe you are worthy by giving yourself every opportunity to succeed!
If you are unclear what your natural strengths are then maybe the following questions will help –
- What do others say you are good at?
- When do you lose yourself in what you are doing?
- What do you find easy and enjoyable?
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a treE it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid”
– Albert Einstein
Keep Promises To Yourself & Set Boundaries
Are you committing to actions to change your situation and develop your sense of self worth or just moaning about your circumstances and absorbing self help information?
Making commitments and being accountable is what moves you forward and helps you grow.
Keeping promises to yourself builds self love, self trust and self respect and is the first step in setting healthy boundaries –
“A boundary is a limit that shows others what you will or won’t do or what you will or won’t accept or tolerate from others.”
– Nancy Levin
If you’d like to learn more about boundaries you can read my article ‘Boundaries: What Are They And Why Should You Care’.
And if you are ready to start taking control of your life and building your self worth you can download my FREE guide ‘How To Say No & Be Ok With It’
Low self worth impacts every aspect of your life.
Of course you can build success and a great life without it; but much like a tree with rotten roots, it will only take one strong gust of wind to knock you over…
Investing in yourself when you have low self worth can feel like a challenge; however I promise you that learning how to build self worth will be the best investment you will ever make.
If you’d like some help figuring out how to build your self worth, hit the ‘book a call’ button below for a free no obligation chat to see how I can help…