Where does our self-worth come from?

Updated: Jul 8

green trees beside river during daytime
Photo by Jessica Tan on Unsplash

I have been thinking a lot about self-worth and identity recently, prompted by several articles I read over the Christmas break. Our self-worth is about how we value ourselves - whether we see ourselves as "worthy" - worthy of love, respect etc. I see self-esteem as being slightly different from self-worth. Self-worth gets to the very core of our being; self-esteem is the product of our self-worth - how we think and feel about ourselves based on how worthy we feel. Our self-esteem in turn then drives how we act and behave. How we measure our self-worth has a significant impact on our life, especially if it is measured by a standard that someone else has made for us or another’s expectations, such as our grades, relationship status, or appearance. Low self-worth impacts our confidence and often causes us to play it safe and avoid risks in our personal and professional lives, whether that's sharing our work more broadly, reaching out to people with whom we would like to build a relationship, changing careers or going for promotion. We fear failure, what others think of us, and we fear losing control. Self-worth is also impacted by what goes on around us and the messages we receive from others. If we have been unconditionally loved and respected, despite what we do or not do, then this helps us build high self-worth. Unfortunately, because we are all human, very few of us give and receive that unconditional love and respect all the time. Our religious and spiritual beliefs may also have an impact on our self-worth and identity - both positive and negative. This all means we need to work harder as adults to have a strong positive sense of our self-worth.

lady sitting on a bench watching the sea
Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash
So what can help strengthen our self-worth?

1) Improving our self-awareness to understand our strengths and our values. Knowing that we are adhering to our values and prioritising what is most important to us can give us a strong sense of self-worth.

2) Conversely, we need to stop attaching our self worth to external yardsticks such as our work.

3) Accept that there will always be somebody better than us at everything - but that we have a wide range of strengths and abilities that makes us who we are, and that is enough.

4) Whenever our "inner critic" comes into our head, we remind ourselves of these points, and question where this voice is coming from. Is our inner critic telling us facts? Or just an opinion? Is it telling us something useful that we need to know? Or just trying to cause trouble? For more information on this and some practical exercise, I found this article really helpful. And if you would like to go deeper then read "Daring Greatly" by Brene Brown and her previous book "The Gifts of Imperfection"