Self-worth is a hard thing to nail down. What does it mean and do you have it?
Getting clear on what self-worth is, is difficult.
I’ve become aware that while I talk the talk, sometimes I haven’t been walking the walk. That’s not to say I lack it completely, but there are certain areas I’m falling short.
A brief history
For most of my teens I had an appallingly low opinion of myself. All through school and most of university I had a really poor self-image.
A couple of events transpired to start me down the path of improvement, which has been patchy at best, but I’ve nevertheless made huge advances.
The first thing to happen was Dublin – I moved there for a year with a few weeks notice. This move away was life-changing. It was around this time that I recognised the problem I had so I picked up a transformative little book: How to Raise Your Self-esteem, by Nathaniel Branden.
It made me look at myself and recognize the concept of my inherent value. I learned fundamental self-acceptance. While acceptance isn’t the whole solution to the problem, it’s the foundation from which the real change comes.
My time in Dublin changed my outlook in life and I met some of my best friends there… people who always accepted exactly who I am and built me up when I needed to hear it.
But eventually I fell off the wagon.
Your Self-Worth Talk Is A Feedback Loop
Your self-image demands consistent focus to reinforce the beliefs you hold about your self, good and bad.
When you build yourself up, you condition yourself to adopt positive beliefs about you. You don’t tell yourself stories that defeat your confidence and you don’t sabotage the times when you do actually feel good. The more this happens, the easier it gets and the more natural it is to feel great.
Then this becomes normal. You hardly have to think about feeling good.
Then something happens. It can be anything… anything at all that knocks you off kilter for a bit and the negative doubts and smack talk creep back in. You see, when you tell yourself a negative story, you believe it, you feel worse about yourself and so the negative stories repeat and snowball.
As your self-worth degenerates it’s easy to feel worse and you get really good at it.
Then it becomes normal. You hardly have to think about feeling bad.
Your Inner Voice – Self-Talk Is Not Cheap
The little voice that talks to you, that tells you that you’re fat/stupid/shit/boring, can also tell you that you’re awesome/funny/worthy.
It’s powerful. But as with any great power, it comes with huge responsibility – you control what it tells you and the meaning of what it says.
Your little voice repeats to you your values and for many of us it’s a broken record that drills into you that you’re not worth anything significant.
When you have it under your control, however, it works the other way. The trick, then, is to get it in under your control.
What stories do you tell yourself?
You can’t start to change your little voice until you really become aware of it. You need to listen the stories it tells you about yourself, and about others before any work can begin to reprogram it.
An example of a story we tell ourselves becomes clear when you come into contact with someone who is “doing well”.
Imagine you’re with a friend and she’s beating herself up about how she wasn’t good enough for something… like her job, a guy, or whatever else. Would you try to make her feel better about herself – perhaps tell her she’s amazing?
Of course you would! Why? Because you’re her friend and you think she’s amazing, and right now, she needs to hear it.
But what if you were with your friend and they were saying something like “I achieved X! Why? I believed in myself and I succeeded in what I set out to do! I’m amazing and I rock my world.”
You’d probably think something along the lines of… “Err… get over yourself! Geez, she’s so arrogant and up her own ass.”. But you wouldn’t say it, instead you smile politely and hope the meeting ends soon so you can tell your other friends how much of an arrogant cow this one has become.
Be honest with yourself – how quick are you ready to judge someone for being arrogant the moment they outwardly express a modicum of self confidence?
“Ah but she’s being arrogant!”, you’ll say. Really though?
You see, on one side our culture tells us to feel better about ourselves; to believe in ourselves; that we have what it takes! but the moment anyone shows signs of that self-belief, of making progress forward, we’re ready to bring them “down a peg or two”.
We’re happy to lift someone’s spirits when they’re down, but we’re not open to fostering their self-confidence and reinforcing their positive self-image.
Why? Because we’re human…
But more specifically, it’s because when someone else demonstrates progress or forward movement, it only serves to highlight to us areas where our own lives are stagnant, it shines a light on our own weaknesses and our lack of self-confidence.
We feel shitty in comparison.
We feel small standing beside someone who is standing tall.
We could instead follow their example – we could tell ourselves that we’re awesome too! We can say that we are worthy of great things and we have the right and power to go after them.
But we don’t. And anyway, it’s not safe out there to feel good about ourselves and “rub everyone else’s noses in it”. There are plenty of people who feel so shitty about themselves that they only gain pleasure just by bringing others down.
As a society we’re deeply conflicted and most of us don’t realize it.
I say fuck that.
I’m awesome. No, wait, I misspoke – I’m fucking awesome! And you know what, any one who treats me like I’m not can… fuck off. 🙂
I have a simple choice to make – I can invite positive people into my life and foster mutual self-worth and confidence, or I can wallow in the same bullshit that everyone else is wading through.
I can be scared to stand up and be judged, or I can show up, present my best self to world and be accepted or rejected. Whether I’m embraced or ridiculed shouldn’t dictate how worthy I feel.
And that’s exactly where I am today – I’m choosing people who are on my side and hopefully together we’ll improve our lot. As the saying goes:
A rising tide lifts all boats.
It takes courage to stand up and be yourself; it’s not easy but it has to be done. After all, what’s our alternative?
Article Image Attribution: Kiran Foster