In this new blog series I’ll be looking at three core issues that many of my clients come to see me about – self worth, self image and self confidence. As you’ll see, they’re all interrelated, but it’s worth spending a bit of time focusing on each issue separately as they’re subtly different, and all build on the other.
Last time I wrote on Self-esteem and how important that is but one of the most important aspects of all the “self’ issues – and the one I’ll focus on today – is self worth. For me, it’s the bedrock of feeling ok, a basic sense of being good enough and somehow fit for life. When you have adequate levels of self worth, you feel secure in the knowledge that you’re as good as anyone else in life, be it your parents, your partner, or a stranger in the street, and no one is better or worse than you. Of course, feeling valuable and worthy doesn’t prevent you from experiencing the same ups and downs in life as everyone else – no-one is immune to suffering and difficulty. But people with high levels of self worth tend to bounce back quicker than those with less, simply because they don’t make issues they experience entirely about them – or see other people’s bad behaviour as somehow indicative of their worthiness, instead they are able to get some perspective on situations quite quickly and de-personalise things
So what stops us from feeling good enough – or as good as the next person? After all, babies are born feeling they’re pretty important and their needs should be met! Although some elements of feeling unworthy can be down to genetics and a predisposition to depression and sometimes addiction, it’s mainly to do with the experiences you have as a child and the conclusions you draw about yourself from these experiences, along with the behaviour of your main caregivers.
If you had a parent who was abusive, seriously depressed, addicted or absent, you’re much more likely than someone who had relatively balanced parents to experience feelings of low self worth that continue into adulthood. This is because children don’t know how to differentiate between the adult’s poor and dysfunctional behaviour and their own value as an individual. They take that adult’s inability to love them as a reflection of their own worth and then seek out partnerships in adult relationships that mirror these in the hope of somehow “winning over” the parent who could never meet their needs as a child.
Alternatively, you may have had a relatively secure childhood, but then found yourself in a relationship with a partner who was addicted or abusive – it’s very difficult to maintain your self esteem when you live with someone who doesn’t respect you or treats you in an unpleasant or careless manner and sadly, it’s all too easy to slip in to a position of staying in the relationship in the hope that the situation will improve if you love them enough or do whatever they ask.
Whether your feelings of low self worth began in childhood or later in life, the fact is that once you’re in a cycle of feeling bad about yourself, your experiences can start to reflect this. You may not believe you deserve anything better than second best, and so may find yourself involved in an affair or other “unavailable” relationship, or working in a job that doesn’t do your skills and experience justice, because you can’t see yourself succeeding in life.
How to break the cycle and improve your self-worth
This is an area of life where changes don’t happen overnight, but each “deposit” you make into the self-worth bank will add up. Regularity is key – you want to make gradual changes that slowly become part of your everyday existence. Here are some tips to help you feel better in your own skin:
- Keep a “feelings journal”. This is where you write stuff down every day that’s going round in your head. If you’re going through a particularly hard time, write in it several times a day. Don’t censor yourself or try and make it into a work of literary fiction – no one else is going to read this. The first step towards getting a grip on your feelings is knowing what they are. It is also quite a soothing exercise in itself to acknowledge everything that’s happening to you, whether positive or negative. Get in touch with what you’re feeling, and try not to judge what you write. In time, you can look back through your diary entries and spot recurring themes, or try and find out what kind of events lead to certain types of feelings. But at the start, try to just get it all out there and on the page.
- Practice acceptance. This might seem counterintuitive – especially if you’ve spent years hanging around the self-help sections of bookshops, looking for solutions that will help you radically change your life. I’m not saying that you can’t have goals about improving yourself and your circumstances – I’m a big fan of knowing where you want to be and working out how to get there. But when you lack self-worth, a lot of your desire to change is about self-rejection. Keeping the feelings journal is a start, as it’s an affirmation of you and what you’re actually feeling and thinking, not how you think you “should” be. Start to be more aware. Look at your surroundings. Concentrate when someone’s talking to you. Savour your food. Try to live in the moment. You are the only person in your world. There’s a great book on mindfulness by Jon Kabat Zinn called “Wherever You Go, There You Are” (which I highly recommend for people struggling form low self worth, incidentally) and it’s something to bear in mind. You are unique. No one else is like you, so it’s fruitless to try and compare you to others who you may consider somehow superior to you, or more worthy. Use your senses. Live your life. Changes will come without forcing if you operate from this standpoint of acceptance.
- Practice gratitude. This is an extension of the above concept – but basically, every day, try and think of at least five things in your life you’re grateful for, however small. Maybe it’s a kind word from a friend, a regular pay check or simply the fact that the sun is shining. The more you appreciate in life, the more there is to appreciate. Write them down in your feelings journal, or keep a separate list. It can also help to write down what you’ve done each day. So instead of a “to do” list, it’s a “have done” list. This can help you see the good bits in life when everything feels wrong or just a bit “blah”.
- In your journal, write out, “I value myself, therefore…” on ten separate lines. Complete the sentence with something different on each line. And then go out and start doing what’s on that list.
That’s it for this blog but if you follow any of these tips, do get in touch and let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear from you.