There have been tons of writings regarding self worth, its meaning and how to increase it. Most of the times the focus is on what we can do to increase our self esteem following the best tips, practices and methods of someone else who is has been through the same process as us. Sometimes and for some people they do work, sometimes and for other people they don’t. We hardly ever, though, ask questions on how it became low in the first place or what is our relationship with self value.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and ponder on the subject; after all, a bit of diversion sometimes makes us better understand where we are truly standing.
Is self worth something that is inherent or leant? Does it only depend on us or on others too? Can it change over time or it remains always the same? Are there universal tips to be followed on increasing one’s self worth?
Self Worth & The Road To Adulthood
Consider for a moment a baby-or remember yourselves as babies-who waits for everything to be provided from outside. Food, safety, attention, hug, love and so on. As little creatures little can we do alone. As we become toddlers we slowly learn to stand on our feet, we fall and then we try again until we succeed. As children we slowly start to become more and more autonomous, have individual preferences, likes and dislikes, talents and abilities. We start going to school, making friends and forming relationships. In adolescence we rebel against existing norms and we want to create our own, we are transiting from a dependent state into the beginning of independence. We start making life decisions, follow them and face the consequences. There are cultures which promote and enforce independence and many cultures where this process takes longer to be completed, if ever.
In all the above developmental stages there are two major realities taking place simultaneously. The inner and the outer. In every single step of the journey towards independence and adulthood we have our own sense and feelings about who we are (our abilities, skills and preferences). At the same time we constantly receive feedback from our environment, positive or negative reinforcement. Sometimes people like us for who we are or what we did, sometimes they do not. Sometimes they approve of our actions and congratulate us, sometimes they disapprove and reject us.
I don’t think that anybody would disagree with the statement that every child has the right to live and has inherent worth for just being alive and present in this world. Yet, there are children every day who are being hurt or die, because of adult actions and not just physically, but also emotionally due to neglect, abuse and so on.
Self Worth & Worth From Others
It is one thing the value that a child feels they have and another how the community and society they grow up in tells them they have. The dependency we experience, before we are able to take our lives in our hands, is formative because our physical, emotional and mental survival depend on someone else, so that they can stop feeding us, they can stop us from our favourite hobby, they can miss our talent in music, they can underestimate our need for attention, love and guidance. Instead of feeling supported and nurtured for everything we are, we often risk to receive the opposite, doubt, neglect, indifference and rejection.
Consequently, in order to continue to be loved and, most importantly, in connection with people that we love, care about and rely on, we often unconsciously compromise our value. We agree to follow the studies that our parents approve of, we leave behind our beloved hobby, we learn to forget our passions and our true callings for the sake of ‘normality’ and a bargained loved. We are trading off a part of us for acceptance! Someone else’s value of ourselves becomes our own.
That choice has admittedly its benefits, we might live fun university years, being led to another hobby, find a more mainstream passion and so on. Yet, our true nature and desires usually come back to us to be resolved. So far, they had only been suppressed. Usually that happens in what we call mid life crisis, where many parts of our life becomes meaningless, they don’t work, we don’t feel happy and satisfied. Certainly, that goes hand in hand with getting older and experience a shift in priorities and life choices.
It is this shift in priorities, if we choose to listen to it, that leads us to all the things that lie dormant within us. If we enjoy our work, our lives, ourselves in general, then there is no issue with self worth and self esteem, everything progresses well and we transition through life stages with challenges and difficulties, but well adjusted and content.
When we get overwhelmed and we lose our motivation, meaning, inspiration, mental and emotional flexibility, then we probably need to look at deeper and possibly longstanding causes of our state which we might have previously ignored.
Along with a therapist, a healer, a coach or a teacher in weekly sessions or thematic workshops we might discover that our self image and self worth had actually been damaged way before we realised we had one. It could have been pre verbally through our very early years, it could have been through bullying in school, it could have been through dysfunctional family dynamics, a traumatic event or even past life issues (if one believes in them).
The Importance of Mirroring & Connection
Part of who we are and how exist we know it through other people. As babies we smile more when someone is smiling back to us. When we are in pain we go to someone to sooth us. Later we hear about other people’s views, how they find our touch, our kiss, our hug, how they feel in our presence, what do they want from us, if anything, and so on. Similarly, we become a mirror for others, we tell them how we see them, how we feel about what they did, how we are experiencing their presence and their touch.
What one experiences certainly says something about themselves and, possibly about the other. If one feels cold in 10 degrees, another might feel cold in 14 degrees; experiences are definitely subjective, hence the use of thinking and spoken language provide us with the opportunity to explain ourselves and our experiences to others. This is our value
Whatever we feel, experience and are aware of is the field of our existence. This is not to be questioned, approved or rejected. It is either acknowledged and cared for or not. That applies equally to ourselves and others. When an unfair criticism against us really bothers us it is most of the times because it agrees with something that we also believe about ourselves and we don’t like it. Otherwise we could respond to the criticism with our opinion and leave it with the critic because we ourselves know who we are and can receive feedback. This stance, of course, requires commitment to self awareness and self development.
When we truly know and support ourselves we use firstly our inner mirror to acknowledge and accept ourselves and then we ask for it from someone else. Filtering the reflections of both the internal and external mirrors we can gain the benefits of seeing ourselves through someone else’s eyes. We are all worthy to be loved for exactly who we are. Our choices reflect whether we believe that or not!