Why self-worth matters, and how to improve it

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated January 5, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A positive self-image, including a strong belief in one's abilities, can be a crucial element of mental health, potentially helping us be kinder to ourselves, develop greater confidence, and be more receptive to love. Self-worth generally refers to our sense of self, our values, and our belief that we are worthy of care, support, and compassion. With a healthy sense of self-worth, we’re often better situated to seize opportunities, develop a high level of self-esteem, and improve our mental well-being. You can improve your self-worth by using affirmations, doing what you love, and finding the good in yourself. Working with a licensed therapist can also be helpful.

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Improve your sense of self-worth

What is self-worth?

According to the American Psychological Association, self-worth can be defined as “an individual’s evaluation of himself or herself as a valuable, capable human being deserving of respect and consideration.” A healthy sense of self-worth can be valuable to our careers, relationships, and health. However, it can also be something that many people, even those who are highly successful, struggle with. 

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The benefits of self-worth

Having a strong sense of self-worth can help you in many facets of life. When you believe you’re deserving of good things, regardless of the circumstances, you may be more likely to ask for what you want, get things done, and nurture healthy relationships. The following may be potential benefits of valuing yourself highly. 

Meet your needs

As we work toward achieving our goals, self-actualizing, or simply living a healthy life, we typically have a running list of things that we must do or acquire. There are generally two ways to have your needs met. First, you can meet them yourself. To do that efficiently, you often must value yourself enough to justify putting in the effort to go after what you need.

The other way to meet your needs may be to work with others. Even when you meet your own needs, there may almost always be someone else involved. However, it can be hard to ask for help if you don’t believe you deserve it. A high level of self-worth can act as a signal to yourself that you’re worthy of having your needs met. 

Solve problems confidently

Complications are likely going to arise in life, whether at work, at home, or in your community. When you experience hardship, a healthy sense of self-worth may help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. With a positive self-image, you may be more likely to accept the challenges life presents. You may be more confident in your abilities and comfortable with the possibility of making mistakes, knowing that no matter what happens, you will still have value as a person.

Be more decisive

Without a positive self-concept, you may doubt your knowledge or ability to judge situations and choose the proper path. You may worry about what may happen if you make the wrong choice, which can lead to indecisiveness and ineffectiveness.

A sense of self-worth is often accompanied by confidence in your abilities, which can help you choose the best course of action. You can decide whether a low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk option may be best in a specific situation. You can feel comfortable knowing that, however it turns out, your life will still be valuable. 

Maintain healthier relationships

When you feel comfortable with who you are, you may be more open and honest with your loved ones. A high level of honesty can be vital to romantic partnerships, as well as work relationships, friendships, and family relations. It can also help your loved ones to see how highly you value yourself, which may translate into healthy respect on their part as well. 

Improve your sense of self-worth

Set realistic expectations

People who value themselves highly are often comfortable with their own limitations. They typically understand that perfection isn't a realistic goal and that mistakes are bound to happen. An important aspect of self-worth can be the belief that you are worthy of respect regardless of a particular outcome.

How to improve your self-worth

If you’d like to learn how to value yourself more highly, there may be several steps you can take to improve your self-image. The following strategies can help you build your self-worth, enhance your mental well-being, and flourish. 

Use affirmations 

Positive affirmations can be beneficial tools. One way to use affirmations when you're starting with low self-worth may be to make them positive but believable to you. For example, if you want to get a job for which hundreds of people have applied, telling yourself you are going to get the job might seem overwhelming. Instead, you might use an affirmation like, "I deserve to have a good job like this, and I'll keep trying until I get one."

Do what you love

Research suggests that having a sense of purpose can improve mental well-being. Pursuing your passions, whether at work, through hobbies, or by volunteering, can help you reinforce your sense of identity and boost your self-esteem. For instance, someone who enjoys crafting may feel a greater sense of self-sufficiency after finishing a project. Think about the things in life that matter most to you and determine how you can nurture those interests. 

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Learn to take compliments

When we reject compliments, we often diminish our accomplishments and devalue ourselves. Say that someone compliments you on a portrait you painted. Instead of seeing it through their eyes, you might look at its flaws. You may focus on the eye color you didn't quite get right or the hair you drew too long. You may not accept the compliment because you may believe you don't deserve it.

What happens when you allow yourself to see the painting through the other person’s eyes may be that you suddenly become aware of the things you've done well in the portrait. You may now notice that you've made the mouth very expressive or captured the exact expression of your model. 

Avoid criticizing yourself

Sometimes, we're so worried about being criticized that we criticize ourselves before anyone else has the chance. Think back to the painting example. Even without someone else's input, you can build your self-worth by looking at the good, both in how you've painted and in who you are, no matter how well you paint. Remember that there can be a significant difference between identifying areas for improvement and criticizing yourself. The first can be considered a problem-solving task. The second often serves the purpose of leading you to perceive yourself poorly.

Find the good in yourself

When you experience a negative outcome, you can rebuild your self-worth by looking for the positives in the situation. You might feel like you're a bad parent because you missed your child's dance recital. Rather than defining yourself as a parent by that one instance, try to look for more profound ways that suggest you're a good parent.

Use "I am" with care

When you use "I am" phrases, you’re often putting limits on yourself, particularly if you’re defining yourself in a negative way. Instead of labeling yourself, try labeling the behavior or thought that's concerning you. Rather than saying, "I am bad at solving problems,” you might say, "That idea wasn't quite right.” 

Benefits of online therapy 

Online therapy can be a convenient way of pursuing mental health care. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can chat with a therapist remotely, which may be helpful if you’re not yet comfortable discussing topics related to your self-image in person. BetterHelp works with thousands of therapists who have a wide range of specialties, so you’ll likely have a good chance of matching with someone who can address your concerns, whether they’re related to your self-worth, a mental health condition, or another challenge. 

Studies suggest that online therapy can help people develop a stronger sense of self-worth. For example, in one study, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy generally increased participants’ self-esteem, self-compassion, and overall quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals identify and replace negative thought patterns that may be leading to maladaptive emotions and behaviors, such as those related to devaluing oneself.  

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar concerns.

Therapist reviews

"Dr. Mohammed is a very good therapist to work with. She gets me to think and to challenge my core negative beliefs with more positive beliefs in ways that are easy to do. She is a caring therapist who makes me feel validated and is helping me to see my worth as a human being. I highly recommend Dr. Mohammed to anyone seeking therapy, especially for past traumas."

“Stacy is incredibly insightful. She listens intently, challenges me to digest the issues in my life and I have become a more aware and confident person since beginning sessions with her. Highly recommend!!”

Takeaway

Developing a robust sense of self-worth can be the key to enjoying a fulfilling, healthy life. Learning to take compliments, using the phrase “I am” with care, repeating positive affirmations, and avoiding self-criticism can be beneficial for your self-worth. For support in developing greater self-love and improving your self-image, consider talking with a licensed therapist online or in person.

You are deserving of positive self-esteem

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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