The more I learn about ways to help people live better, happier, more meaningful lives, the more I start to realize that there are just a handful of problems that are at the root of all the other problems/doubts/fears we face. One of those deep, core problems is low self-worth. A low perception of your self-worth can lead to innumerable issues. And that’s why deliberately building your self-worth is worth every effort you can give to it.
Today, I want to address this issue and give you a few things to try so you can build your self-worth.
Self-worth vs. self-esteem
A lot of times, we use the terms “self-worth” and “self-esteem” interchangeably (along with “self-confidence,” “self-assurance,” etc.). I myself use these words interchangeably a lot of the time. That’s okay, because interchanging the two usually still gets your point across. But in reality, the two phrases are subtly different.
As Dr. Christina Hibbert explains:
“Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing “I am greater than all of those things.’ Self-esteem doesn’t last or work without self-worth.”
I distill that down to this: Self-esteem is about what you do. Self-worth is about who you are.
Your self-esteem is about how you see yourself—your abilities, your talents, your choices. It puts a subjective lens over your life. You judge yourself based on how “good” or “bad” you think you’re doing in any given area. That determines the “esteem” you hold yourself in.
Your self-worth, on the other hand, is a constant.
I once heard it described this way: when you’re born, everyone get $1. That dollar is locked up somewhere where you can’t get to it, and neither can anyone else. It’s completely inaccessible. You can’t spend it. You can’t add to it. It’s your dollar—forever.
Additional “money” may come and go throughout your life, but everyone always has their dollar.
That’s your worth (although, believe me, your actual worth is far more valuable than $1). It’s unchangeable and inaccessible. You get it simply for existing. It’s there on day 1 and on day 1 million.
You get the idea.
Why we don’t recognize our worth
Because our worth is an unchangeable constant, when I say “building self-worth,” I don’t actually mean increasing your self worth—since your self worth is as high (and as low) as it will ever be. What I mean is building your perception of your self worth.
We don’t always recognize our self-worth. This could be for any number of reasons, but I think the most common are:
- We confuse self-worth with self-esteem. We think we’re worth less (or worthless) if we haven’t done what we wanted to do. In our heads, we make our worth conditional.
- We let others diminish our worth. If you let them, other people can tear you down and lower your perception of yourself and your worth.
- We lack perspective. As imperfect human beings, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. When we only see what’s right in front of us, it’s easy to forget about that dollar that’s locked away where we can’t reach it.
We all experience feelings of low-self worth at some point or another in our lives. But I can say this with confidence: the times when I recognize my self-worth are the times when I feel the most creative, the most productive, and the most in touch with who I really am.
Building your self-worth is, well, worth it.
But with human nature working against us, what can we do to build our self-worth? How can we remind ourselves that our worth is always there, no matter what?
As funny as it seems, sometimes zooming out helps you learn the deepest truths about yourself. In this case, zooming out gives you important perspective that can help you build self-worth.
When you zoom out, you are better able to see your role in the grand scheme of things. You can see the people you’ve touched, the changes you’ve made, the good you’ve done. With enough searching, you may just find your purpose in life. And what could make you realize your worth more than recognizing your purpose?
Take a step outside of yourself. Meditate, write in a gratitude journal, go on a walk and use your five senses to take in the world around you. Try to focus on something other than your problems or desires. Discover your place in the world, and let that feed your self-worth.
Identify your strengths. Acknowledge your weaknesses.
Self-esteem and self-worth are ultimately two different things, but that doesn’t mean they can’t support each other. Self-esteem won’t last very long without self-worth, but if you are deliberate about it, you can use self-esteem to build self-worth.
Identify your strengths in order to build confidence. What are you really good at? (If you have a hard time answering that question: What do other people say you’re good at?) Don’t just think about tangible things (skills and knowledge). Think about inner talents that have to do with emotion and relationships. Are you a great listener and a loyal friend? Are you really good at identifying and working through your feelings? The strengths you recognize will help you realize what you bring to the table. And once you realize that you bring something to the table, it will help in building your self-worth.
The other side of this is important, too: acknowledge your weaknesses. This is important for two reasons:
- It shows yourself that you are willing to be honest. If you’re honest about your weaknesses, you’re probably being honest about your strengths, too.
- It can help you see that you have worth even with your weaknesses.
As you identify your strengths and your weaknesses, you’ll gain a broader picture of you as a person, and you’ll start to realize your innate worth.
Build positive relationships.
Remember how toxic relationships can damage your self-worth? In the same way, positive, healthy relationships can help you build your self-worth.
This is because the best relationships are actually centered around your self-worth, because they are fueled by unconditional love.
Think of a new parent with their newborn baby. That baby has done nothing to “earn” love (in fact, they’ve probably done several things to discourage love), but to the parent, the baby is the single most beautiful and precious thing in the entire universe. (No one understands the dollar analogy quite as well as a parent does.)
Build and foster relationships with people that love you for who you are, not what you do. Any time you feel like you have to work for someone’s love or prove yourself to them—that’s not the kind of relationship we’re looking for.
(As a quick side note: relationships are extremely complicated. Everyone will, at some point, probably feel like every relationship in their life is conditional. Unconditional love is a rare and beautiful thing. If you can’t find it or don’t recognize it, that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged. The point I’m trying to make is that when people do offer you unconditional love, accept it and try to grow that relationship.)
What are you capable of? No, seriously—what are you really capable of? What could you do if you weren’t afraid, if you really applied yourself, if you put your whole heart and soul into something? I bet we would all be amazed by what we could achieve.
The only way to learn what you’re capable of is to challenge yourself. Push yourself beyond the limit—even just a little bit. Try something new. Do something you’ve always wanted to do.
The point of this exercise is to look beneath the surface. There is more to you than you realize. And if that’s true, then maybe you have more worth than you realize, too.
Change the way you think.
Did you know that you have control over your thoughts? You do. You can choose to think what you want to think, when you want to think it.
We all have negative thought patterns that have worn deep grooves into our brains. It’s easy for us to get stuck in these patterns and not be able to think in a new way. But recognizing those harmful thoughts and replacing them with helpful ones is something we’re all capable of. You can think whatever you want to think about yourself. You can choose to acknowledge your worth.
If you want to think “I am worthy,” you can do that.
Try it, right now. “I am worthy.”
I hope that thought rings true within you. If it doesn’t, repeat it until it does.
Building self-worth isn’t a one-and-done effort. Like most things in life, self-worth requires care and nurturing. It requires you to pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and to where they are taking you. And if you don’t like where they’re taking you, it requires you to change.
Your perception of your self-worth may come and go, but I promise you this: your worth is always, always there.
You are worthy because you exist, because you’re you. You don’t have to prove it, you don’t have to earn it, and you can never lose it.
All you have to do is choose to see it.
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