What’s Your Self Worth?

Rebecca Stambridge ©


About Rebecca



Rebecca has worked in mental health for over 15 years, empowering others to improve their wellbeing. She is an integrative therapist as well as a mindfulness and compassion teacher. As well as 1-1 and group client work, she loves to write blogs and guides, helping others learn skills to improve their wellbeing.


 


What’s Your Self Worth?


Are you preoccupied with what others think? Do you feel crushed by perceived mistakes or rejection? Do you experience stress or low mood due to comparing yourself to others? If so, low self-worth might be the cause. Due to my own experience, helping people improve their self-worth is a personal mission of mine. But what exactly is self-worth and how do you improve it?

What is Self-Worth? The phrases “Self-esteem” and “Self-worth” are often used interchangeably. They overlap considerably, but I see a distinction. Self-esteem includes how we feel about ourselves (i.e. whether we like ourselves or not) but also includes how we evaluate ourselves and our abilties. Are we attractive? Skilled? Interesting? If we think we are not as good at things as others, and there is therefore no point trying, we are probably experiencing low self-esteem. To me self-worth is something more fundamental and is a deep sense of our own value and lovability as a person, regardless of apparent attributes. When we love someone we accept them unconditionally, yet many people do not have that same attitude towards themselves. To have self-worth means to love and accept yourself regardless of external achievements and circumstances. A person who lacks self-worth will always need evidence and validation that they are worthy of love from the outside. This is counter productive as this perpetuates the idea that you are only valuable if certain conditions are met (i.e. enough friends, the right job etc). Therefore, a very “successful” and confident person, with reasonable self-esteem, may still lack self-worth if they need that success to feel good about themselves and are devastated if they don’t maintain it. My Journey So why is this a personal mission of mine? To share my own journey, I had long suspected my self-esteem needed some work, for various reasons, from my teens right through to my 20s and 30s. But the older I got the more I developed confidence in my abilities and personality. I went for jobs, partners and friends I wanted and never felt held back by a lack of self-esteem. However, despite feeling I had achieved a lot in my life, I still had a deep sense of unease about myself and a feeling of not being comfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t really sure who I was and spent a lot of energy wondering what other people expected of me. Despite being aware I had things to offer the world, whether I liked or felt good about myself depended entirely on how I thought others saw me. Not only that, but my willingness to devote energy into certain activities was heavily influenced by how these activities might be perceived. I found it hard to make decisions because I often didn’t know what I liked in contrast to what I thought I should like. Half the time I didn’t even know who I was never mind accepting who I was! As a result I ran myself into the ground, trying to be everything to everyone, to construct what I thought might appear a “valuable” life to the world around me. But I would often have a crushing sense of failure and shame if I felt my life did not measure up. In reality I had no idea whether people approved of me or not (because I never asked them!). It just felt like a draining, never ending quest for acceptance by imagined “others”. On the outside I might have seemed fine, but I carried an inner restlessness, struggled with my mood and had problems in relationships. Then one day (following another incident which brought things to the surface)…..the penny dropped…I had zero self worth. Living my life needing constant approval was causing me (and those around me) a lot of unnecessary suffering and I didn’t want to carry on like this. Thankfully, as a devoted self-help reader and mental health professional, I was already armed with lots of relevent techniques and went on a quest to improve my self-worth. I am pleased to report that, after only a few months, I noticed a difference in how I felt about myself and have done ever since. What I offer below is based on what worked for me.

Firstly it is useful to point out that, in truth, we are all designed to crave approval and acceptance to some degree as social rejection hurts. It hurts because, on an evolutionary level, if we were not accepted by our peers then pre- historic man would not have lasted very long. Our survival depended on being supported and loved by others. As we have evolved with the same brains, its normal to want to be liked, loved and validated for who we are because we are built that way. However, positive early attachments and a relatively stress-free upbringing at home or school can mitigate this to some degree so that we can know and accept ourselves enough to still make positive choices which suit our deepest needs. On the other hand, many people who experience emotional or mental health problems tend to significantly lack self-worth but may not be aware this is the cause. Not feeling loveable or good enough as a person can affect us in a variety of ways:

Signs you lack self-worth:

  • If things go wrong you may blame yourself which makes you less likely to cope with stressful events. You are more self critical and feel more shame which causes low mood.


  • You may have arguments with loved ones, or struggle to maintain positive relationships, because you interpret their actions as signs you are unlovable.


  • You are more sensitive to perceived rejection or criticism and this can cause anxiety or stress.


  • You may struggle to know who you really are because you make decisions on approval rather than your own wants and needs. This perpetuates depression and stress.


  • You may put yourself under too much pressure to achieve external standards placed on yourself. Again, bad for mental health!

  • You may be preoccupied with what others think and/or struggle to be assertive due to needing approval.

(NB: This list is not exhaustive and low self-worth can cause a whole range of more serious issues including addiction, self-harming and body issues amongst others).

What Causes Low Self Worth? Lack of self worth usually stems from experiences growing up. Without wanting to “blame parents”, certain parenting styles such as being critical or neglectful (even if our parents genuinely loved us!) are interpreted by our unconscious mind as messages that we are not worthy of unconditional love which we then internalise and take into adult life. We then see the world through this lens and relate to ourselves in this way. We’ll start adapting our personality to seek approval and get further away from who we really are. Some people with low self worth do not recall having issues with parents and sometimes sibling dynamics, issues at school or an early traumatic break up can cause it. Cultivating self worth can feel tricky because it entirely relies on us deciding to love ourselves. But if we have never felt lovable in the first place, how do we do that!? Increasing self worth starts with making a “radical” commitment to try to love and accept yourself regardless of external validation or circumstances. If this feels impossible….then the following steps helped me: Steps to help self worth:

  • Recognise that you lack self worth and that this is causing problems for you. Reflect truthfully about all the ways that low self worth is impacting on your life. This can be a list of past experiences but also an ongoing diary.


  • Accept that all humans, including you, are worthy of love regardless of who they are or what they do.


  • Practice mindfulness to increase awareness of how your thoughts are shaping your beliefs about yourself as well as increase your ability to know how you feel about things I .e. less caught up in thoughts telling you what you “should” do.


  • Start paying attention to when you are making decisions, or reacting to things, based on your need for approval. See how it feels to base decisions on what you would do if you did not care what others thought. This can feel scary but is ultimately empowering. You may need to use other mindfulness techniques to help you manage the fear that comes with making decisions based on how you feel.


  • Be aware how a lack of self-worth impacts on your daily life…e.g ”I am feeling anxious about this event because I am worried about rejection” and then a mantra or affirmation instead such as “but I am okay/good enough/loveable as I am”


  • Try specific meditations to harness self-love and “re-wire” the brain.


  • Practice self-compassion. People who lack self-love are not compassionate to themselves. When we practice self-compassion we are sending messages to ourselves that we are worthy of love.


  • Challenge your assumptions using “Cognitive Behavioural Techniques”. Accept that your lack of self-worth is shaping your worldview and make an effort to find alternative explanations to help you take things less personally.


  • And finally, work with a therapist if you feel you need additional help exploring the causes for lack of self-worth and putting into place any of the above steps. If you would like to find out about my services contact me for prices and availability.



 


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