What Is Self-Worth?
What is self-worth? How does self-worth show in our actions? I recently met two students who had both received a B+ on a test. While the first was practically jumping with joy, the second was more subdued. When I asked the latter if she felt the same excitement as her peer, she responded, "I can't stop thinking about how many questions I missed. I'm an idiot." Though both earned the same grade, one saw it as a sign of her worth, while the other saw it as a sign of worthlessness. This led me to think about, how do we define self-worth? What is it that makes one person believe they are worthy, while another that they are worthless?
In the mental health field, self-worth is defined as "the sense of one's own value or worth as a person."1 Another way to think of this is: many of us believe our existence is justified by achieving value. How we define that value is different for all of us–for a singer, it may be his or her voice, for a parent it may be the ability to take care of his or her family. Our values come from the things we think are important, which develop through our lives.
In the case of the second student, she valued a high score on her test. To her, a B+ did not meet this value. Instead, she saw it as an indication of failure. Did this decrease her self-worth? In my opinion, no, but her opinion is the important one.
Why We Feel Worthless
When we are living with low self-esteem, we tend to see our self-worth as minimal or nonexistent ("Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth: Why Is the Difference Important?"). This can occur for one of two reasons:
We are not achieving the things we value
- We are achieving some things we value but are fixated on the ones we are not achieving
Often when we feel worthless, the things we value seem out of our reach–we feel incapable of achieving what we desire. Our inability, we decide, comes from something within us being "not good enough." We see ourselves as less than other people. Ultimately, we feel unable to change, unable to be worthy.
In order to improve our self-worth, we don't need to make any big changes overnight. Instead, we can start by exploring where we are. We can do this by asking ourselves three questions:
- What are my values?
- Why do I value them?
- Which do I achieve and which do I not achieve?
These questions allow us to start thinking about the why behind the what. In other words, we start to explore why we value certain things above others. This allows us to start looking at our self-worth from a rational point of view.
It's Okay to Feel Worthless
We have all met someone who has tried to "fix" our low self-esteem by telling us we aren't worthless. While this comes from a desire to help, it is often counterproductive. It tells us that our feeling of worthlessness is not real. This can make us feel even more worthless–we see our inability to find worth as a failure. If they can see our worth, why can't we?
It's okay to feel worthless. That feeling, like all of our feelings, is something to be respected. However, instead of saying "I feel worthless," we can learn to tell ourselves, "I feel worthless right now."
We acknowledge that while at this moment our self-worth is non-existent, that feeling is not permanent. Change is possible.
We all have the power to increase our self-worth. Over the next few weeks, I'll continue to explore this topic in a series of posts and videos.
- "Self-Worth." Dictionary.com. Accessed February 12, 2019.
Mahrer, B. (2019, February 14). What Is Self-Worth?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2019/2/what-is-self-worth