Why Self-Worth Matters And How To Improve It
Updated September 04, 2018
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!
Most dictionaries define self-worth as a synonym of self-esteem, meaning "thinking well of yourself." This self-worth definition misses the difference between the two concepts.
The concept of self-esteem was first mentioned in 1657. No wonder it's a well-known concept! 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 greater self-esteem if you did well in a local competition and even greater self-esteem if you won a national competition. 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. You matter! You don't matter because you compare favorably to other people or because you meet some measure of good 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 Good 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 problems.
When people don't believe in their inherent value, 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 fall deeper into addiction or return to it. They can never overcome the effects of the addiction until they develop a stronger sense of self-worth.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions often happen to the same 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 good senses of self-worth. For some, that never happens, and the relationship ends. By improving their self-esteem, they can build a better life anyway.
Benefits Of Self-Worth
Having healthy self-worth doesn't only keep you from having poor mental health. It 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.
Get Your Needs Met
Everyone has needs. We have basic biological needs 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.
So, what does self-worth have to do with needs? There are two ways to get your needs met. You can meet them yourself. To do that efficiently, you need to be able to value yourself enough to justify to yourself putting in the effort to meet them.
The other way to meet your needs is to work with others to meet them. The truth is that even when you meet 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 to meet your needs as well as possible.
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. Not only romantic relationships but also work relationships, friendships, and family relationships are more honest when you value yourself.
What's more, if the other person in the relationship behaves inappropriately, 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? It's 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 gone 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
Self-worth is a beautiful thing! Now, how can you improve it? It isn't as easy as you might think. 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 helpful to those who already have high self-worth. The problem is that if you already feel bad about yourself, you're probably going to feel worse if you try to tell yourself you're wonderful or that you're about to do wonderful things. It's too far from what you believe, and it can be impossible to accept.
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 take a job that seems stable and financially less risky. As more and more people are finding out these days, doing what you truly love tends to have both personal and financial rewards.
When you do what you love, you're honoring the basic fact of who you are and what matters to you. You're affirming your self-worth daily just by doing the work that makes you happy. How can that be? It's because you are saying with each day's work that what matters to you is also important enough to spend your life doing it.
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. 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 bad 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 deeper for ways that 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 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 thoughts.
You can talk to a counselor at BetterHelp.com right away to learn more about how to increase your self-worth. When you change the way you think about yourself, your feelings will change, and your life with them!