One dictionary definition of the term “self-worth” reads: “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person; self-esteem; self-respect.” As I began to contemplate this subject I couldn’t help but think that if self-worth is about our own sense of value or worth, then why has it been so affected and influenced by what others think of us? I believe that we are all born with a great sense of self-worth. Most babies come into the world knowing that they are special, worthy and loved. So what happens to that sense of self-worth and value over the years? In my coaching experience, I have come across so many cases of people who deep down do not feel that same sense of value, which, I am sure, they did when they were a baby. Some people I have met don’t even know that they have lost their sense of self-worth in the first place, nor do they realize that they’re spending the majority of their lives trying desperately to get it back.
So, how did we lose our self-worth anyway?
It is no one’s fault, but over the years many of us have had our sense of worth slowly stripped away. It began, I believe, when we were toddlers and we first heard the word “no.” We started to hear what we could and could not do from so many people in our lives. We were told what we should do, what we had to do, what we must do and on and on. Our sense of value was slowly replaced with doubt and fear.
Who was I to know what was best for me, when so many other people seemed to know so much more about the world and my place in it?
Our parents, teachers, siblings, and elders all spoke to us with such authority, that we couldn’t help assume that they must be right. We became frightened and fearful that what others were saying must be true, and that was the beginning of surrendering our sense of worth to those around us. We didn’t ever really get the chance to find out for ourselves who we really were, what we wanted to do in our lives and what our truth was. We were fed so much information that it was difficult to ever really think we were capable of knowing for ourselves. We heard it at home, at school, from friends and relatives, from teachers and preachers. How could we ever have our own true opinion with so many people telling us what was right and what was wrong? And on and on it went… wherever we went we were told by others how to think, how to dress, how to speak, how to feel, and what we should do.
So, the authentic and genuine innocence of our youth began to slip away, and with it went our feelings of being special, worthy and loved. People who loved us and people we hardly knew at all, began to wear away our sense of value and self-worth. Slowly but surely, our experiences made us feel as though we were less and less worthy…soon everyone else started to become right and we, as a result, were usually wrong.
Many of us spent the formative years of our lives trying to perform, to fit-in and to succeed. The harder we tried though, the higher the bar seemed to be raised. We compared ourselves to others in the race to prove our worth. As a result, it seemed we had to PROVE our worth instead of just knowing we were worthy and of value. No matter how hard we tried there always seemed to be someone who was better, stronger, faster, smarter… Even if we were at the top, someone was always nipping at our heels, trying to take away our crown of glory. The image of perfection, which many of us were taught (consciously or subconsciously) to aspire towards, was becoming more and more elusive. The more we pushed, the more we tried the more difficult it was to retain any sense of worth and value.
So how do we go about reclaiming our sense of self-worth? And, how do we prevent others from losing theirs in the first place?
The first thing we must realize is that our sense of worth cannot come from anyone or anything outside of ourselves. When, as babies, we first had that feeling of being special, worthy and loved – it came from within! Self-worth was an intuition, a knowing, that did not have to be proved.
Only as we began to grow and interact with others outside of ourselves did the feeling of worth begin to be eroded. We are born with a strong sense of self-worth because that feeling is inherent within all of us. To get it back, we must be prepared to let go of the opinions of others and realize that what we think of ourselves is the most important thing in our world. We must realize that we are what matters most – and, that is not a selfish thought. Once we are able to accept this concept, then we can go within and begin to rebuild our shattered sense of self.
Begin with these simple affirmations:
I am perfect just the way I am.
I love and accept myself for all of my strengths and my weaknesses.
I no longer compare myself to others.
I trust my own intuition; I listen to my own voice.
I have the ability to filter what others say to me.
I don’t take the opinions of others personally.
I am a beautiful human being.
Although we tend to think that the recognition and accolades we receive from others will give us the self-worth we have lost, I do not believe that is the case. I have found that no matter how much I strived for validation and acceptance by others, I could never get enough to truly make me feel good about myself.
What I have come to realize instead, is that no one can make me feel good about me unless I feel good about me first. I tested this supposition with the decision that when I was not feeling good about myself I would read the wonderful testimonials on my website and would be reminded that others think highly of me. Guess what? It didn’t work. When I was feeling down on myself, no matter how many times I read the lovely things people said about me, it did not make me feel better. As a matter of fact, I convinced myself that these testimonials weren’t really true, rather, people were just saying those things to be nice to me. Have you ever been paid a compliment when you were feeling really down and convinced yourself that the compliment must be a lie?
Interestingly enough, there were times when I was feeling really good about myself and I happened to glance at the testimonials and they nearly brought tears to my eyes. When you feel good about yourself, everyone and everything around you will echo those feelings. When you don’t feel good about yourself, everyone and everything around you will echo those feelings.
This works the same way with advice. When someone offers advice or an opinion – about your career or your parenting decisions, for example – your response will depend upon how you feel about yourself in that area of your life. If you’re having self-doubts about not being good enough at work or a committed enough parent, the advice (no matter how it is delivered) is likely going to make you feel uncomfortable, stressed out, or even angry. Your response, as a result, is either going to be to attack the person offering advice or to retreat feeling miserable and degraded. If, however, you’re feeling great about your job or confident in your parenting, your response to the advice will likely be much more positive. Whether or not you agree with the advice, you’ll be able to listen to what is being said, process it in your own time, and choose how you wish or wish not to respond. The entire experience will be less overwhelming if your sense of self-worth is intact.
To truly reclaim your self-worth, I believe you must go within and begin to feel better about you, regardless of what is going on in the world around you.
The road to rebuilding self-worth and self-esteem can be a long one. We are a product of our experiences, and thus if there have been many times in our lives when we have not felt good enough about ourselves (many of us have had many of these experiences) then, it will take many positive, empowering experiences to counteract this effect.
Be patient as you begin to restore your self-worth. Taking back your power and realizing that what you think about yourself is more important than what others think about you can take some time. Always be kind and gentle with yourself as you begin this process of rebuilding your sense of self-worth. Actually, you are not really rebuilding it – you are merely returning to a very natural state; to a time when you knew you were special, worthy and loved. It’s about letting go of all the experiences that led you to believe that this was not true.
The way to put an end to what seems to be an endless cycle of lack-of-self-worth is to reclaim your own power. I have found that the more confident we feel about ourselves, the better we feel about others. As a result, the need to tell others what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, begins to fade away. Our parenting styles will change. Our interactions with friends will change. Our management of others will change. The need to compete with others to make ourselves feel better will dissipate. The need to explain and justify ourselves to others will become less necessary. The need to be the best and always excel so we feel better than others will dissolve. The need to control others to make ourselves feel good will disappear. The need to make others feel small so we can feel big will dwindle. The need to blame others to bolster our sense of value will evaporate. And, compassion will replace the need to be right.
Then and only then will we begin to build a new generation of people who feel good about themselves and those around them. Who will have a greater sense of understanding and compassion towards their fellow man. Whose sense of self-worth and value will be so strong that they will have the courage and conviction to speak their truth, stand up for their beliefs and allow their inner joy and peace to shine forth on our world.