Why Self-Worth Matters And How To Improve It
By: Stephanie Kirby
Updated May 21, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
Does it ever seem like people place too much importance on their sense of self-worth? If so, consider this: believing in your value is a crucial element of mental health. Without it, it's easy to become depressed and anxious. Fading into the background in social situations is easy. What's more, it's easy to let opportunities pass you by. You can develop a healthy sense of self-worth without losing empathy for others or becoming excessively self-centered. With all its benefits, self-worth can bring you and the people you care about greater happiness. Given that, there's every reason to improve it.
What is Self-Worth?
It's hard to understand why self-worth is so important if you don't understand what it really is. And, it tends to be one of those things that everyone "sort of" knows about, but no one can really define. We'll get into more details about self-worth throughout this article, but here's what you need to know to get started.
Self-worth is being able to feel good about yourself with no influence from another person or outside source. And, it's something that many people, including highly successful people, struggle with. According to one news report, 85% of people struggle with having good self-worth. But thankfully, there are plenty of things that you can do to improve your self-worth, and we'll discuss some of them later.
The concept of self-esteem was first mentioned in 1657. What many don't realize is that self-esteem is something you get from outside yourself. When you have self-esteem, it's because you've met some criteria others have devised. For example, if you're a gymnast, you would have high self-esteem if you did well in a local competition and even higher self-esteem if you won a national championship. You measured your value about what others did or to what they conceived as a measure of success. The same thing can happen at work, or even in relationships.
Self-worth is something different. This concept didn't come around until 1965. Self-worth is the belief that you are a valuable person regardless of what you have or haven't accomplished. It's the belief that you matter. And, you don't matter because you compare favorably to other people or because you meet some measure of excellent performance, you have value simply because you are you. Self-worth comes from within to give you the ability to receive self-esteem.
What People Say About Self-Worth
Some of the greatest leaders, artists, and public figures have been talking about self-worth long before the concept was ever named. The buzz around self-worth continues today. Here are some of the most noteworthy self-worth quotes:
"You, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." ~Buddha
"What lies behind us and what lies before we are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." ~Carl Jung
"It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes." ~Sally Field
"A man cannot be comfortable without his approval." ~Mark Twain
"Because one believes in oneself, one doesn't try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn't need others' approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her." ~Lao-Tzu
Importance of Self-Worth To Strong Mental Health
Self-worth seems to shield us from many types of mental illness and emotional problems. Low self-esteem has been identified as a factor in addictions, depression, anxiety, and relationship issues.
When people don't believe in their inherent value, then drugs, alcohol, and other addictions seem to ease the pain. They may fight their way out of addiction just by force of will. Then, whenever they feel the worst about themselves, they return to it or fall deeper into addiction. They can never overcome the effects of the habit until they develop a stronger sense of self-worth.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions often happen to people who deal with low self-worth. At this point, no one knows whether it's the mental condition and the stigma associated with it that causes the low self-worth or whether it happens the other way around. Either way, they build on each other, creating a persistent feeling of unworthiness and despair. In this case, both the mental condition and the self-worth issues must be dealt with.
People who don't value themselves tend to get into unhealthy relationships. They may look for someone who they believe can do for them what they feel they can't do for themselves. Or, they may search for a partner who seems inferior so that they can feel better about themselves.
No matter how it happens, the relationship starts out with a faulty foundation and only gets unhealthier as time goes by. The relationship can't be healed until both partners have a good sense of self-worth. For some, that never happens, and the relationship ends. But by improving their self-esteem, they can build a better life either way.
Benefits of Self-Worth
Having healthy self-worth not only helps prevent poor mental health, but it also has many other positive benefits, too. When you value yourself no matter what circumstance you're in or who is around you, you can have what you need and more. You can be your best and do your best. You can have the best quality of life possible for you at any given moment. Here are some of the benefits that come along with it:
Get Your Needs Met
Everyone has needs. We have basic biological requirements for water, food, air, and shelter. We have needs for safety and security, and social needs of love and belonging. With those needs met, we can move on to meeting our needs for accomplishment and self-actualization. There are two ways to get your needs met. First, you can reach them yourself. To do that efficiently, you need to be able to value yourself enough to justify putting in the effort to meet them yourself.
The other way to meet your needs is to work with others to meet them. The truth is that even when you reach your own needs, there's almost always someone else involved in helping you meet them. You can't be assertive about getting help to meet your needs unless you value yourself enough to face that challenge. While it's true that you can be dependent on someone else without having good self-worth, you'll likely give up other needs such as independence if you don't value yourself. With a high level of self-worth, you can do what you need to do with and without others.
Solve Problems Confidently
Everyone deals with some problems. Problems come up at work, at home, and in the community. When these difficulties arise, a poor sense of self-worth usually leads to feelings of being overwhelmed. However, when you have positive self-worth, you're more likely to accept the challenges life offers you. It's easier to find the strength to see the difficulty more like a puzzle than a punishment. You use your intelligence and your social connections to solve the problem, knowing that no matter what happens, you will still have value as a person.
Make Decisions More Boldly
Making decisions can be excruciating if you have poor self-worth. You may doubt your knowledge or ability to judge the situation. You may worry about what will happen if you make the wrong choice and feel that the probability of that happening is very high. If you can force yourself to decide at all, it probably will be either the one with the least risk (to protect yourself) or the most risk (because you feel so desperate you'd rather lose it all than live with uncertainty any longer).
Once you find healthy self-worth within yourself, you can reason out your decision and make the best possible choice. You can decide whether a low-risk, medium-risk, or high-risk option is best in this specific situation. You don't hesitate to decide or put the decision off on someone else. You know that, however, it turns out, your life will still matter. You know even if hindsight later reveals you made a mistake, what you decide now is the best decision you can make at this time.
Have More Honest Relationships
You can have more honest relationships when you have a higher sense of self-worth because you don't feel the need to hide who you are. This goes for romantic relationships and also work relationships, friendships, and family relationships. They become more honest when you value yourself.
If the other person in the relationship acts up, you care enough about yourself to deal with it honestly rather than letting it slide. You won't put up with an unhealthy relationship for long, but if the relationship can be salvaged, your problem-solving gifts will serve you well.
Be More Realistic in Expectations
People who value themselves highly don't demand perfection of themselves. Why? Because they are so in tune with their basic humanity that they know perfection isn't a realistic goal for themselves or others. They don't feel threatened by the knowledge that they and others will make mistakes or that the world they live in isn't always safe and reliable.
Be More Resilient
Valuing yourself makes you more resilient to setbacks. When you think poorly of yourself, you're more likely to feel devastated by failures and losses. They may take on an incredible amount of importance to you, even if they're relatively minor. You may see them as signs that you are a bad person or a loser. When you feel good about who you are, you never feel like a failure even after something you've done went wrong. You see the action as a failure, perhaps, but you don't generalize that label to include your identity. When bad things happen, you deal with them and move on.
How To Improve Your Self-Worth
There's no simple formula to change what could be a long-ingrained pattern of self-criticism and self-loathing. It takes some effort and possibly some additional help to make this monumental change. Here are a few possibilities for increasing your self-worth.
Use Affirmations the Best Way For You
Positive affirmations can be very beneficial tools. The right way to use affirmations when you're starting out with low self-worth is to make them positive but believable to you. So, for example, if you wanted to get a job for which hundreds of people have applied, telling yourself you are going to get the job might feel too over-the-top for you to take in. 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
People commonly put aside what they want to do. Instead, they may take a job that seems stable. But each day that you spend at work, you're making a choice about what's important to you. How you spend your time shows where your priorities are. If you want to build your self-worth, do what you love and rest easy knowing you're going after your passion.
Take in Compliments
The better you get at accepting compliments, the more easily you can boost your self-worth. Say, for instance, that someone compliments you on a portrait you painted. Instead of seeing it through their eyes, you look at the flaws in it. You're focused on the eye color you didn't quite get right or the hair tendril you drew too long. So, you don't accept the compliment because you feel you don't deserve it.
What happens when you allow yourself to see the painting through their eyes is that you may suddenly become aware of the things you've done well in the portrait. You may now notice that you've made the lip-line very expressive or gotten the exact expression your model showed you. Now you're happy with what you've done.
Stop 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 in who you are, both in how you've painted and in who you are, no matter how well you paint. Remember that there's a big difference between identifying areas for improvement and criticizing yourself. The first is a problem-solving task. The second has only one purpose, and that's to make you feel bad about yourself.
Find the Good In Yourself
When something terrible happens to you, you can rebuild your self-worth by looking for the ways you are good in that role or 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, look for more profound ways that suggest you're a good parent.
Use "I Am" with Care
When you say, "I am," you put limits on yourself. Sometimes, you define yourself in a very harmful way. Instead of labeling yourself with negative words, try labeling the behavior or thought that's concerning you. Rather than saying, "I'm stupid for thinking that," try saying, "That idea wasn't right." The difference is that you can't change who you are. In fact, you may have little control over what thoughts pass through your mind, but you can change the thoughts you dwell on and choose to act on.
Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you sort out the thoughts that are fueling your low sense of self-worth. Once you identify the thoughts, you can take positive steps to replace them with more helpful ideas. If you're interested in trying therapy to improve your self-worth, the online counselors at BetterHelp make it easy for you to do just that. You can access the platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home or wherever you have an internet connection. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Dr. Norton has helped me tremendously with my self-confidence and self-kindness. She responds in a very timely manner and is always sweet and professional. I've been living under a fog of depression for several years, and working with her has lifted that heaviness. While I still have problems, living without that gloom hanging over me has been amazing. I feel more confident about solving whatever problem comes my way. She has equipped me with tools to take care of myself better than before, and I will carry these lessons throughout my life. Thank you, Dr. Norton!"
"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."
Developing a robust and healthy sense of self-worth can be the key to enjoying the most fulfilling life possible. All you need are the right tools to get there. Take the first step today.