Understanding Self-Worth and How to Build It
Have you ever noticed the amount of self-help books out there?
A quick trip down the self-help aisle at any bookstore will easily engulf you with hundreds of books covering hundreds of topics. From overcoming obstacles to building good habits, every topic covers at least one aspect of self-improvement. The concept is clear: The sense of self is important, and the way we value ourselves is essentially how we carry out the rest of our lives. The factor that drives our sense of self is our self-worth. And the way we view our self-worth, my friends, is incredibly important.
The Chain Reaction of Self-Worth
In a nutshell, the way we value ourselves and our worth can negatively or positively influence everything we do. No pressure!
Self-Worth: The Variables We Base It On
Self-worth is the root of our very selves. Our feelings, behaviours and thoughts echo our perception of our own worthiness; both good and bad. With the rise of social media and pop culture, we often rate our value based on external factors that have little to do with who we are and instead focus on what we are to others. Common examples include money, career, social circles, appearance, and our upbringing.
Why shouldn’t we look to these components to measure our self-worth? A lot of these variables are out of our control. Our genetics and upbringing were not pre-selected by us; sometimes our financial status and careers are circumstantial, too.
Is it wrong to love our careers and social circles? Absolutely not! Our successes should contribute to our sense of self-worth, but they shouldn’t define it.
I remember going to see a motivational speaker years ago. He walked around the room, asking random members of the audience to introduce themselves. The theme of every response was something like, “Hi, I am John and I am from downtown Toronto. I have worked in marketing for a large agency for 10 years now…”and so on.
I remember getting anxious at the thought of the speaker asking me to introduce myself; after all, at the time I was working two part-time retail jobs. In that moment, my self-worth was hurting because I was comparing career notes with a thousand people in the room.
I didn’t get picked to speak (I was so thankful at that time!) because the speaker went back to the stage. He immediately noted that when asked who we are, we immediately retreat to what we do. The human instinct to measure who we are based on accomplishment is a behaviour we all carry. He asked us, “If you were to introduce yourself without mention of your career, success, or status, what would you say?”
You could hear a pin drop. Silence.
Re-Building Self Worth
If what that speaker suggests is true, then we can’t rely on money, appearance, and social stance as a measure of self-worth. Without these factors, what should we base it on? How do we go about re-building our self-worth?
Accepting who we are. Self-love doesn’t come easy to most of us, but it is so important to learn how to accept who we are, right now, in this moment. It’s okay if you love to sing but you aren’t the greatest singer. You can love your drive and passion even if you failed on a work project. Every quality deserves to be recognized and appreciated.
Discovering your values. While journeying through self-acceptance, we can discover our core values and learn to lean into them. What drives you? What makes you feel alive? Maybe it’s your sense of compassion, your faith, your drive for justice or your trustworthiness. Your values can steer your behaviours, thoughts and actions; and because they aren’t circumstantial, you can rely on them a whole lot more than external variables.
Shut down the negative self-talk. Take some time to really notice your internal conversations and what you are saying to yourself. Do negative thoughts appear when you look in the mirror? What comes to mind when you mess up on making dinner or when you’re late to a meeting? Taking note of your thoughts throughout the day can shine a light on what you’re basing your value on.
Bring in self-affirmation. Ok, now it’s time for the uncomfortable part. For every negative thought, replace it with a life-affirming one; even if you don’t believe it right now. I am confident. I am worthy of love. I am a beautiful person. I will get through this. Is this a form of self-denial? Absolutely not. You can learn to accept yourself and still improve on your behaviours and habits. Believing you are confident will not magically make you the best public speaker, but it does influence how you handle yourself in that situation.
Navigating self-love, self-worth and self-acceptance is a lifelong commitment. It is a journey and not exactly a destination – don’t sweat it! Finding ways in your day-to-day to improve your sense of self-worth will slowly increase your quality of life, and the way you respond to external factors.
Is the negative self-talk too overwhelming to navigate alone? Is your past defining how you view yourself? Some of us need other people to assist us, and that is more than fine. Reaching out to one of our professionals can make a great starting point in your self-worth journey.
The clinicians below are specialized in the treatment of self-esteem and self-worth. If you or someone you know is struggling you can click their name to read each clinician's biography and find someone who click with you.
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