Self-Worth…. Yes, but how?
Self-Worth…. Yes, but how? When I talk about the distinction between self-worth and self-esteem, and the benefits this brings to reducing stress and anxiety, (particularly for young people), the first question I get is “Great… but how? How can I develop more of this transformative sense of self-worth?”
Well, this is what The Self-Worth Safari is about. But perhaps you need some self-worth urgently: more swiftly than Amazon can deliver your book. This article therefore aims to give you a short taste of what’s in there. To do so, we will focus on the first three shifts, which are described in the beginning of the book.
First let’s be 100% clear on what self-worth is, so that there are no false expectations. Self-worth does not guarantee that you won’t ever feel sad, or stressed, or disappointed, or fail an exam. But here’s the big difference with self-esteem: self-worth means that you can be a loyal friend to yourself, not matter how you feel, no matter how you perform or what’s going on around you.
Yes please, you say, I’m sure. That would be amazing. But HOW?
Let’s take a common situation. Perhaps you have disappointed yourself in some way. You set out to do something and you have just not been able to do it. Or you are experiencing a setback at work or in your studies. Many of the clients I work with have high standards; so when they disappoint themselves, this can really hurt. Furthermore, the effects of this disappointment can last for days, weeks or even longer.
So you are coming home on the train and feeling really down about yourself. You feel that familiar sense of emptiness and that slump in energy; symptoms that you now recognise as the absence of self-worth. What can you do now, on the train?
The first step is one of awareness. I invite you to notice that you are experiencing two forms of pain: not one. The first layer of pain of the situation (i.e. the setback, the rejection, the outcome not achieved). Then there is the second, deeper layer: the way you feel about yourself for being in that situation. This is where most of the suffering lies, where your capacity to act and recover is potentially diminished for longer. The good news is, while you cannot do much about the first layer, you can do quite a lot about the second.
In The Self-Worth Safari , I describe this second layer in terms of the self-assessments we make. Once you can spot these self-assessments, you are well on your way to blowing them away, like feathers. Examples might include…
“I’m too stupid”
“Nobody can be trusted; I need to be more self-reliant”
“Why do I never prepare / plan properly?”
“I always come across as dumb / useless / unattractive”
Don’t bother analysing these or giving them too much attention. Sure, you can spend years in therapy working on these thoughts, but all too often this just results in magnifying the problem. What we focus on gets bigger. When we focus a lot on the problem, the problem just gets bigger.
Shift 1 of The Self-Worth Safari is to replace these assessments with simple actions: such as a sip of water, touching a favourite piece of jewellery or taking a few steps… and affirming your friendship with yourself, no matter what. Particularly in the moment of feeling disappointed with yourself or self-critical. We replace the assessment (which is after all, purely a figment of our minds) with a real-world action or assertion.
Notice this does not mean replacing a negative assessment with a positive one. Not only is this difficult to do, it’s reinforcing the self-esteem imperative. The real antidote to “I am stupid” is not “I am smart”; it’s seeing the futility of all of these assessments. Not only is this much easier to do (with some practice): It’s the beginning of a whole new adventure.
In doing so, we make another important shift, that often brings immediate results. We stop placing conditions on our relationship with ourselves, and instead move to unconditional expression of that friendship. This is Shift 2 in The Self-Worth Safari.
Let’s work this through. So, you are still on that train, coming home with your setback. You’ve spotted and interrupted another train: that self-critical train of thought. You’ve opened your water bottle and taken a sip of water: just to get out of your head and into reality. May I invite you to take a second sip, and this time do so as an expression of loyal friendship with yourself: even in the midst of the hollowness you may still be feeling.
This is a pivotal shift in intention and awareness. It’s also quite radical. It’s counter to what we have been taught to do: by education, by upbringing, by advertising and even by much of personal development. What we are taught to do is to make our relationship with ourselves conditional: on achievement, on love, on looks, on friends, on family, on lifestyle.
So when you take that second sip of water, you are engaging in a radical act. You are affirming that – no matter what, even no matter how you are feeling – you can do things as an expression of self-worth, rather than a condition of self-esteem. You can have self-worth even when you are feeling down. Indeed, that’s when self-worth is a loyal friend. Unlike the fickle friendship of positive self-esteem, which runs away at the first sign of sadness.
Of course, we forget this many time: and in many ways, this is what The Self-Worth Safari is about. We are surrounded by self-esteem-based living, so it can take a few weeks to break out of it. But once you start to taste the joy and freedom of self-worth-based living, you will soon want more.
Back to the train. Already, you are probably experiencing some degree of relief. Sure, the pain of the setback is probably still alive, but it’s no longer being magnified by the whipping you were giving yourself.
This takes us to Shift 3: moving from self-reproach to self-acceptance. Self-reproach is an utterly useless activity. It’s worse than a waste of time and energy, it is unreservedly toxic. While we may profit from unsparing critique of our actions or behaviour, there is the world of difference between such reflection and critique of ourselves.
If you have grasped the first two shifts, you are now ready for this one. But it’s quite possible you are sitting on that train: rebelling at self-acceptance. Thinking thoughts like “I just cannot accept this about myself” etc.
Let’s clear up a common misunderstanding. Self-acceptance does not mean giving up, resignation, or tolerating unacceptable circumstances in life. What it does mean is accepting today’s reality as reality, which includes ourselves and our part of that reality. Just as you cannot be friends with someone without accepting who they are, then by the same token we can also extend this friendship to ourselves. We can embrace ourselves with all our flaws (even addictions) and still stay onside with ourselves, without conditions.
If you cannot do this, go back to Shift 2: what conditions are you placing on your relationship with yourself? How are these serving you? When a person refuses to move forward, it’s usually because they are taking “shelter” in one or other of these conditions. For example, hiding behind perfectionism, refusing to let go of a relationship/family story as a way of disguising fear of the future, deriving identity from a label like “highly-sensitive”, seeking validation from luxury or looks, etc. It’s a long list, and you may need help to identify these conditions.
If you find yourself stuck here, it’s important to be extra kind to yourself. Remember that we’ve all been taught a conditional relationship with ourselves, so it’s hardly surprising that wholehearted self-acceptance does not come easily.
In the end, self-acceptance does not require pre-conditions. You don’t have to prove you are ready for it. It’s just an act of decision.
As you near the end of your train journey, I hope this gives you a taste for another kind of adventure. For many of us, self-worth has been an incredible discovery: like a secret sunlit valley that nobody told us about before. It’s the end of a conditional relationship with ourselves and the beginning of new joy and freedom.
In our next webinar we will address many of the issues discussed here:
> 12 classic symptoms of stress
> the difference between stress and anxiety (and why this matters)
> how low self-worth magnifies the problem
> a fresh perspective on solutions, via self-worth
> 8 practical things you can do to reduce anxiety
> stress in a team environment: what to do?
Subscribe now and maybe you know someone who might benefit from this webinar so share it with them.