Self-Esteem: Why Do I Feel Worthless?

By Michael Puskar

Updated May 29, 2020

Reviewer Lauren Fawley

If you have been struggling with self-esteem issues for any amount of time, you are not alone. People can develop discouraging thoughts about themselves for a variety of reasons, but with some support, you can transform these old ideas of worthlessness into new ones that are productive and promote positivity. You may feel down right now, but with practice, you can recover and feel good about yourself.

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Reasons You May Feel Worthless

Self-esteem issues can stem from several different sources and can vary between person to person. Here are some common reasons as to why you might be struggling right now:

- Childhood experiences such as bullying and domestic abuse

- Adult situations like terminated from a job, financial issues, or dealing with a divorce

- Feeling like "the odd one out" at school or work, and other social situations

- Stress and pressure to meet demands

- Discrimination in various capacities, especially on a regular basis

Some of these issues will be covered within the article, but it is important to note that even though yours might not be listed here, your self-esteem issues can be treated effectively, regardless of the cause of them. This does not mean that your reasons for feeling worthless do not matter; rather, the techniques used by therapists to treat self-esteem issues can be applied to just about anywhere.

"How Can I Change My Thoughts?"

Negative thinking patterns can feel overpowering at times, and it might seem very challenging to escape them; however, they are also learned behaviors, which means that it is possible to undo them and develop positive ones that uplift you. In fact, a lack of self-esteem is one of the most common reasons that people decide to seek help, and millions of people have successfully overcome their negative feelings.

One of the most popular techniques for fighting self-esteem issues is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) because it identifies connections between emotions, thoughts, and behavior, and aids you in developing the practical skills needed to manage any negative or harmful patterns.

For example, if you are thinking, "I don't have anything interesting to say," so you do not engage in social behavior, you can challenge this belief. Perhaps, you have had a negative life experience that caused it in the first place, and by understanding where your attitudes come from, you can address it and change them. For instance, if this thought does come up, CBT would empower you to recognize it, and combat it by telling yourself, "I am full of life experiences, and I have a unique point of view. My experiences and perspectives are valid and interesting."


Finding a therapist who will not only listen to you but also give you the skills to cope and tackle the sources of your self-esteem issues should never be difficult, and BetterHelp offers a convenient way to do that through its online therapy services.

Online therapy is an attractive option for many people because it is flexible with scheduling, you can reap its benefits remotely, from the comfort of your own home, and it is more affordable than traditional, in-person sessions. Some people avoid getting help solely because of the costs, and traveling to meetings can contribute to more stress - BetterHelp aims to resolve this by making therapy convenient and accessible.

What is Self-Worth?

Self-worth is a belief about how much you value yourself, and it is tied to self-esteem because self-esteem is what we perceive about ourselves. If you do not feel that you have any self-worth, then merely improving self-esteem is not enough because you will not believe it inside. You need to improve both to get real, positive beliefs about yourself, and one way to do that is through working with a therapist. A licensed mental health professional can help you to find the correct actions to take to improve both self-worth and self-esteem because they are so closely tied together.

The opposite of self-worth is worthlessness. Worthlessness is a strong feeling that can lead to suicide in depressed patients if they do not seek the help they deserve. Many people who experience multiple setbacks in their lives like job loss, financial struggle, divorce, or not liking how they look can end up feeling like their lives have no meaning. Depressed people may feel hopeless that their situations can improve, and they may internalize external events to mean that they themselves are failing or worse failures. These thoughts are unrealistic, and they are symptoms of depression.

Self-worth can change for many reasons. For example, if you are around people who are overly critical, beliefs about your self-worth can sink rapidly. Wondering why you feel worthless is not uncommon, and oftentimes, it is because someone else has projected these feelings onto you.

From childhood, we hear messages from other people about who we are and how we should be that begin to form our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about ourselves and the world. If you have established a self-concept that is harsh on yourself and overly negative, it probably is not serving you well when it comes to going after what you want from life. The problem with feelings of worthlessness is that they can cause bad treatment of yourself, as we often treat things we do not see as worthy in a poor manner.

Things to Improve on Self-Esteem

We all make mistakes, and concentrating on the big picture too much can make you feel quite small, especially when things do not go the way we want them to. Rather than striving for perfection and comparing yourself to others, choose to focus on how unique you are. Do not be mistaken though; a little competition in life can be a great motivator for a lot of people. However, if you find yourself often comparing yourself to others when it comes to what you should be striving for, you may be struggling with issues of self-acceptance. More often than not, when we are trying to "measure up" to something or someone, the measuring stick we are using is not realistic. When we compare ourselves against someone else, we often see what we want to see, or we see an ideal version of a real person.

Try to avoid "should" thinking. Telling yourself that you should be a certain way, achieve a certain goal, have certain things, etc. can set you up for failure. Usually, if you are thinking "should" thoughts, they are not truly self-directed goals and values but instead have been given to you by someone else. This can create unnecessary stress and pressure on yourself when instead, you can be creating more productive thoughts and goals that align with your own values.

Valuing yourself means valuing the inner compass that tells you what is important to you. Celebrate the things you are good at - even the small accomplishments. Try to avoid looking down on yourself; instead, talk positively about yourself as if you were talking to someone that you care deeply about. When you talk to others, you often value them above yourself, which means that you are less likely to say something to upset them. By talking to yourself the same way, you will be less likely to use thoughts or words that bring you down. Be realistic about your limits; if you are feeling overwhelmed, lower your expectations a little. Taking supportive actions for yourself is not failing; it is merely giving yourself a chance to be successful in the long-run. When you have reached a goal, celebrate it. Always try to acknowledge compliments, and recognize that one thing you "should" do is treat yourself with care.

Actions for Improving Self-Worth

Valuing yourself means that you believe that you matter and you can make a difference, and you treat yourself accordingly. There are several ways to tap into your inherent value as a person. Some examples are by helping others and by valuing what you already know and what you have accomplished. Start by making a contribution to your community. Volunteering with other people can show you how much you have to be thankful for, and feeling like you are making a difference can give your mood a boost. By being thankful, you may also be able to see what aspects of your day are precious that sometimes get taken for granted. Try to pick five things each day that you feel grateful for; added bonus if they are things about yourself.

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Anytime you notice that you are talking negatively about yourself, take a moment to pause and think about what you would say if you were talking to someone else instead. It is likely you wouldn't be as critical. Ask yourself, "How is saying this to myself helping me?" You deserve an inner dialogue that helps you to achieve your goals and reach your dreams, so try to let go of the thoughts that stand in your own way.

Self-worth has to do with accepting yourself as you are, and knowing that even with your faults, you are a valued person. None of us is perfect. We all have things we want to change about ourselves, and that is okay! You can have a desire to push yourself to be healthier without letting it detract from your overall sense of worth and quality of life. The key is to accept yourself for everything you are while letting go of all the things you are not. In doing this, you will increase your overall level of happiness and even perhaps have an easier time making those changes that are within your control to change. Be proud of who you are and everything you have gone through to create yourself that way, regardless of any perceived imperfections.


"Why Do I Feel Worthless?"

Often, feelings of worthlessness can be a symptom of depression. Many depressive disorders leave patients feeling alone, unworthy of social interaction, and unworthy of help. The trouble is, this is a vicious circle and those feelings often foster greater depression. Sometimes these persistent feelings can stem from a very young age, especially in those who have been bullied in the past.

For those who have had these symptoms for at least two weeks, it is recommended that you seek help from a professional, as it can be an indicator of clinical depression or a related condition.

Finding professional help means considering treatments like medication, outpatient therapy, or other kinds of treatment decided on by you and your team. Specialists, like those from BetterHelp, are available for convenient, online counseling. They can formulate a coping plan so that you do not have to suffer from depression any longer than necessary.

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