Feeling Worthless And What To Do About It
Updated November 20, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
Positive self-worth is necessary for overall happiness in life. While people with high self-esteem feel good about themselves, those with low self-esteem often struggle with shame and feelings of worthlessness. Childhood trauma, abusive relationships, loss as an adult, and the trials and tribulations of life can leave one feeling as if they don't have any value. Over time, feelings of insignificance can creep in and cause a person to feel worthless and not know what to do about it.
Fortunately, our brains are flexible, and these feelings of self-doubt don't have to last forever. We can gradually stop feeling worthless by getting rid of all the negativity other people have imposed on our minds, and develop skills to prevent it from happening again. Our worth is within us; it's just covered with the dust and grime of years of criticisms and put-downs received from others and ourselves. Sometimes, the compounded effects of adversities and challenges we have faced in our lives can build up feelings of worthlessness within us. The good news is, it's never too late to change the way we think and feel about ourselves and implement changes that allow us to live happier, healthier lives. Let’s explore some practices you can put in place to face your feelings of worthlessness head on.
Setting Realistic Goals
One strategy you can put into place is to set realistic goals for yourself. You may feel worthless because your expectations for yourself are too high. It's unlikely that you could lose 20 pounds in a month or get a top executive job within a year of leaving college. It’s equally unlikely that you will be able to get your entire house organized in a weekend after binge-watching a television show that makes it seem attainable.
Set realistic, achievable goals and don't strive for perfection. Every unrealistic goal you don't meet will increase your feelings of worthlessness, and every realistic goal you meet will decrease them. Make a list of achievable goals that you can work on today and start accomplishing them one by one. Breaking a larger goal into smaller parts will allow you to feel fulfilled in accomplishing each step. For example, if you are feeling like you can’t keep up with the clutter in your house and it is taking a toll on your mental health, begin by setting aside fifteen minutes a day to tackle one area at a time.
Do Something For Someone Else
Nothing makes us feel more useful and worthwhile than helping someone in need. Volunteer at the local homeless shelter or a nursing home. Be generous with your compliments and empathy, show them that you genuinely care. People in less-than-ideal situations are also more likely to be experiencing feelings of worthlessness. It's one of those rare win-win situations: the homeless and aged will feel that they are worth something after all, and so will you. If you are looking for ways to help, check out organizations in your community or get matched online.
Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019, you may have to get creative, but there are virtual opportunities available. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, even the smallest acts of kindest can make someone else’s day. For example, schedule a contactless drop-off to those in need or simply reach out over a video call to someone that may need a pick-me-up. Paint positive messages or images on river stones and leave them around your neighborhood for children to find. Not artistic? Anyone can make a smiley face. There are community groups for such endeavors, and it may give your self-esteem to boost to see someone post a found rock that you painted in the feed. For more ideas, perform a Google search for random acts of kindness and choose one that you are certain you can accomplish.
Stop Telling Lies About Yourself
If you feel worthless, you're also probably desperate for acceptance and you may lie about yourself to achieve it.
Do you pretend to know nothing about art, even though you're an expert, for fear of being called a know-it-all or a nerd? Do you pretend to know everything about quantum physics, even though you don't, for fear of being thought of as stupid? After all, your science teacher said you would never amount to anything because you couldn't understand how a potato creates electricity.
Feeling worthless can incite dishonesty regarding what you know and what you don't, and lying about yourself to gain acceptance from others will leave you feeling worthless. It's a vicious cycle.
Break the cycle by taking small steps towards telling the truth about yourself. Remind yourself that no matter what you do, there will be some people who will not give you acceptance, so why bother to lie? Every time you lie about yourself your feelings of worthlessness increase. Tell the truth about yourself, and you will be accepted by people who have the same interests as you do, and you will regain your sense of worth.
Don't Make Comparisons
It's not unusual for parents to compare their children with others. The neighbor's child got straight A's, and you didn't, your second cousin is obedient, and you aren't, and so on. As a child, you take this in like a sponge, and it doesn't take long for you to decide that one way or another, everybody is better than you.
And it's not only parents that make these comparisons; you may have a partner who points out who is better looking than you, or a better provider, or a better lover. This can become a pattern and leave you feeling worthless as you start to continue the comparisons yourself.
You are uniquely you for a reason. Be courageous and tell your family and partner this every time they compare you with someone else. As you begin to accept yourself, your feelings of worthlessness will start to dissipate.
Rid Yourself Of Toxic Relationships
The very relationships that you cherish may be the reason why you are feeling worthless in the first place. Your family may be in the habit of criticizing whatever you do and making you feel worthless, and your friends and colleagues may have their self-esteem issues and feel better about themselves when they make others feel small. You may be in an abusive relationship. Whatever the motive for the cruel joke, the unkind comment, the cutting criticism, your first step is to confront the person who is undermining your sense of self-worth.
Tell them that what they said made you feel bad about yourself and ask them why they said it. Have the courage to disagree with them. If you're feeling comfortable that they're listening to you and are empathetic, have an open discussion about how your sense of self-worth has been eroded over the years because of the constant bombardment of criticism.
The people that you confront this way are likely to have one of two reactions; they will either be horrified that they have caused you pain by making you feel worthless, or they will try to further undermine your sense of self-worth by calling you oversensitive or lacking a sense of humor.
Embrace those that were thoughtlessly unkind and forgive them, and keep your mind open to the possibility of walking away from the others. It may take you a few minutes to decide to leave your partner or walk away from a family member, or it may take years. Trust yourself to know when the time is right, especially if the situations leave you feeling worthless over and over again.
Watch Your Words
I feel worthless. You're probably repeating this mantra, or a similar one, to yourself many times a day. This isn't to say that the words are being spoken out loud though. Keep a written list of how many times "I feel worthless" pops into your head during one day, or that you say it out loud, and write down what caused you to think or say it. Study the list at the end of the day and investigate what evidence there is to prove your worthlessness. Did you forget to buy the milk, cheat on your diet, spend time chatting with a friend instead of doing the chores? The chances are that you're beating yourself up over the normal small bumbles of daily life and deserve forgiveness from yourself instead of criticism.
The next time "I feel worthless" pops into your head, or you say it loud, ask yourself if what you did or didn't do warrants the harsh self-criticism. Probably not.
Every time you catch yourself thinking or saying, "I feel worthless," follow it up with an emphatic positive affirmation like "I am worthy!"
Surround yourself with other positive affirmations and inspirational quotes. Paste them to your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, and the back of the toilet door. Say them out loud whenever you see them. Write "I am worthy!" on Post-It notes and stick them on your steering wheel and computer. Say them out loud whenever you see them.
Here are a few inspirational quotes to start off with:
"You are not worthless. Even if you've been called that your entire life." Kevin Walker
"The only person worth being in your life is a person that will never make you feel worthless." Shannon L. Adler
"You were never created to live depressed, defeated, guilty, condemned, ashamed or unworthy. We were created to be victorious." Joel Osteen
Google and find inspirational quotes that have meaning for you. The fact there are hundreds proves that you are not alone.
Talking through the reasons you feel worthless with a trained therapist, and discussing what you can do about it, is the first crucial step in regaining your sense of self-worth. A trained therapist can provide you with unconditional acceptance and listen to you without judgment; it's unlikely that friends and family can offer the same objectivity. In fact, they may be the very people who made you feel worthless in the first place.
Unaddressed feelings of worthlessness can lead to depression, eating disorders, addiction, and other complex issues that are difficult to overcome without the help of a trained therapist. Starting the therapy process now can help you begin to overcome feelings of inadequacy and possibly prevent them from developing into something worse.
If your schedule leaves you feeling like you have no time to dedicate to self-improvement, online counseling offers a greater degree of flexibility in scheduling, as there is no commute to factor in to the session. Another benefit is that the fee for online therapy is typically less expensive than traditional counseling, which is an important benefit for those who are on a budget or don't have health insurance that covers counseling.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
“Ms. McCarthy has helped me in every way imaginable. She is sharp in her helping me connect the dots between my past experiences, the feelings associated with them, and how they have shaped me to who I am today. She accepts me for who I am and creates a safe space for me. I love talking to her and her efforts into helping me make good choices. I would recommend her to anyone and everybody. She is spot on and has helped me better improve my life. She's the best!!”
“Dr. Elisa Doebler-Irvine made the experience of reaching out for therapy in a virtual forum an easy one. She responds quickly and always puts thoughtful insight into her replies. I was cautiously optimistic that I would be paired up with someone who would be able to lend insight into areas of improvement in my life. However, Dr. Elisa Doebler-Irvine was never judgmental. She gave me worksheets or helped me break down my own frame of thinking. She is clearly a talented therapist who will be helping people for a long time to come.”
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