None of us are totally bereft of self worth, we may acknowledge ourselves worthy in our artistic talent, our negotiation skills, a subject we excelled at, or a sport we thoroughly enjoy.
Where we lack true worth, are the areas within ourselves that we feel we have to pay for in some way, before we can allow ourselves care, dignity and respect. Or in other words, the good treatment we have to earn before receiving. There is a deeply seated primal belief that yes, we are worthy of love and success... if... we prove our right to it (blame religion for that embedded nugget of self-sabotage).
The currency used to pay for self-worth will differ from person to person; some will sacrifice their well-being, others their truth, their pride, happiness, dignity, time or money.
Most of us aren’t aware of this silent narrator controlling our behaviours and choices. We aren’t conscious of the ways in which we continuously earn our worth, whether that be acts of service to others, or unconsciously punishing ourselves.
If we base our worth on a “only when / if” rule, then when the conditions of that rule aren’t met (and 90% of the time they won’t be), our confidence and peace quickly deflates like a 10-day-old balloon.
Let me illustrate these unconscious rules by sharing with you my own personal version of “when / if”.
I am worthy! Hell yes I am! Because... look at how much I accomplish! I have an impressive trophy wall and all those shiny medals prove that I have worth! My self worth is based on accomplishment.
I’ve written on this subject before, and I know my equation is familiar to a lot of you reading this article, after all, our society has determined that the measure of an individual is based on a lengthy CV.
Now, quick side step; human beings are social animals and cannot survive doing the solo gig. Evolution has required us all to contribute towards the survival of our species by hunting, protecting, and procreating. Every cellular mechanism within the human being is designed to push our species forward into the next generation through collaboration and good old fashioned hunting and killing skills.
Anthropologists will argue that it is natural that we feel good when we ‘contribute’ and feel useless when we don’t. Evolution has required it of us. I agree wholeheartedly - you should feel embarrassed if you are able to provide for yourself and your family but choose not to.
But humans have evolved, significantly, and the basis of our contribution is no longer bringing home meat for the tribe, or telling stories to keep the collective memory alive. Our contribution has broadened to include designing ever-increasingly strange fashion, recording one’s self doing dumb shit for entertainment, and playing video games for profit. Hardly survival necessities.
It’s no wonder we have a population desperately seeking therapy, meaning, self-help books or Susan. Biologically, we are not feeding our self-worth with the fuel it needs.
There are many reasons why our self worth is so wounded, they range from childhood trauma to religious, cultural and gender damage. Throw in our biological compulsion to contribute towards the tribe (which most are unable to do), and we are left with very confused and unhappy little organisms.
Side step over.
So we have two drivers behind our self worth; the first being a biological compulsion of which we constantly measure ourselves against, and the second is a twisted mess of relationship, cultural, economic and subjective experiences that effect our mental and emotional health.
No wonder we created rules to try to govern this mess. Rules like...
- If I am thin, muscular or pretty... I will be worthy of being loved.
- If I have a degree behind my name... I will be respected.
- If I am always accommodating and sweet... I will be liked and accepted.
The thing is, you have worth simply because you exist. With that birthright comes a prepackaged worthiness kit that includes respect, dignity, care and safety. And yet even these bare minimum expressions of worth are an unattainable goal for most. Most feel unworthy of receiving care, asking for help, saying no, or maintaining boundaries.
The very concept and understanding of worth must be re-examined by the individual, and fostered by society.
Ideals of success, achievement in the sciences, arts, business or sports, are not constructs of self-worth, but should rather be recategorised into pride, motivation, and creative expression. Similarly an attractive form should most definitely be under the ‘mating’ category, and certainly not self-worth (sorry Instagram models).
So, where does this leave you?
With an invitation to look at how you have attributed worth to yourself, how you have paid for it, and what the truth of worth really means.
I’ll get you started with a few questions that will have the most impact if you can be beautifully and courageously honest with yourself (the good news is no one is listening to the voices in your head but you, so you have the freedom to try total self-honesty).
- Are you afraid to be hurt, or to hurt others, if you say no?
- Do you think exhaustion is a ticket to allowing yourself a moment of rest or peace?
- Has procrastination left you feeling there is no hope for change and you don’t have what it takes to feel fulfilled?
- Are you constantly at the mercy of outside events that leaves you feeling either happy or sad?
Self-worth is not given to you, it is not granted, allowed or dependent on circumstances. Self-worth is what you are born with. If it is feeling a little (or a lot) depleted, your inner reservoir is not going to be filled with other people's buckets, nor is it going to magically appear one day because your partner, boss, colleague or social media has decided it is time for you to feel worthy.
You ARE worthy... the only thing to be decided, by you, is if you want to squander your birthright, or use it.