Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us they know exactly how it should be done. ~ Rudy Francisco
When we discuss self worth, what we’re essentially talking about is the choice to love and accept ourselves for exactly who we are. Yet for many of us, remembering to make this choice on an ongoing basis can be a struggle. But when we are able to lean in and experience the feeling of inherent self worth, meaning our sense of value doesn’t come from anywhere outside of ourselves, we are able to act in ways that are wholehearted and authentic. When we accept our whole selves, we can be our best selves.
The act of comparing ourselves to others is often what leads to feelings of shame and self doubt, evoking a questioning our value, beauty and worth in many ways. And if we were to dig a little deeper, we’d be likely to come across a belief system that says we are “less than” or “not good enough”.
Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneer and expert in the world of self compassion, reminds us, “Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special and above average to feel good about ourselves.” Yet within these competitive efforts our feelings of self worth “can bounce around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure.”
This is not to say that value does not exist in outward accomplishments and achievement; in fact these are important for building a sense of self and increasing self esteem, but when thinking about self worth, it’s essential to remember that we each hold value simply by being our own unique person.
And unlike when we compare ourselves to those around us, when we cultivate an intrinsic sense of self worth we are able to open ourselves up and connect to the world in more meaningful ways. Not only are we able to recognize our own worth, but we can see the genuine worth of others; and we aren’t feeling threatened by it either. We are also less likely to be affected by and take offense to the negative actions of others, because we aren’t in the habit of internalizing other people’s “stuff”.
So, in working to cultivate a deeper sense of self worth it’s important for us to a) learn and practice challenging the negative and critical parts of our thinking, b) increase our feelings and actions of self compassion, and c) stop comparing ourselves to other people, and attaching our own value to how we are in contrast to others.
A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. ~ Zen Shin
With that said, here are 6 guideposts for cultivating self worth that can be helpful to remember:
1. The opinions and actions of others in no way dictate your self worth.
Be mindful of times when you compare yourself, your worth and your value to that of other people. And if someone attempts to attack, demean or denigrate you, remember that this is a reflection of their feelings of self worth, not yours.
2. Challenge your inner critic, and don’t get caught up in the story.
A thought is simply a seed that has been watered over time and nurtured until it feels true. We often develop shameful or doubting thoughts about ourselves from painful past experiences; but these experiences do not tell our whole story, and these negative thoughts can be faulty and skewed.
In times that you find yourself questioning your self worth, take the time to slow down and just notice. Drop the story your inner critic is telling you, just for a moment. By slowing down the mental spiral and pausing to breathe you are already doing yourself a world of good.
3. Practice affirmations and self compassion
Practice and strengthen the beliefs you would like to have about yourself and your life. What you say to yourself becomes what you believe about yourself. This can be a difficult practice when we are in the throws of self doubt or shame, so it can be a good idea to have a list of affirmations or positive messages already written down somewhere.
Self compassion includes being kind to yourself and your imperfections. Think of what you would say to a loved one if they were feeling the same way, and try saying those same words to yourself. It also includes being mindful that imperfection and struggle are a common part of the human experience. You are not alone.
And it’s important that we make time to step back and look at ourselves as perfectly acceptable and worthwhile human beings, who are constantly growing, changing and learning. If finding compassion for yourself is a struggle, it can sometimes be useful to think of yourself as a small child; how would you speak and respond to a child who was feeling the way you are now?
4. Learn to feel comfortable with saying “no”
No is a perfectly acceptable answer when “yes” or “I have to think some more” are not. When we learn to say no to the things that are not in line with our values or worth, we are giving ourselves the gift of internal peace and giving others the gift of knowledge and boundaries.
5. Align your actions with your principles
Settling (the result of giving in to fear, shame or self doubt) strengthens self limiting beliefs about ourselves and life. Research in neuroscience has taught us that the thoughts and actions we activate time and time again become procedural, meaning we repeat them without even thinking about it. This means that over time settling can become a habit in our lives.
On the other hand, making conscious decisions and acting in ways that are aligned with our values and principles increases our sense of integrity and self respect. The first step in this area is to think about what you really value in life, and the qualities that are important to you. Once you’ve begun to get an idea of your values, the next step is to look at the circumstances of your life and consider whether the actions you are taking are in line with your list of values.
6. Reach out
When we are unable to ground ourselves, and are having a hard time remembering our worth and value, it can be extremely beneficial to reach out for extra support. Make a list of people whose thoughts, perspective and opinion you value and who are able to remind you of your inherent self worth; those are the people you call in tough times. These people can be friends, family, colleagues, a therapist, a spiritual leader, etc.
I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below, and if you have found a way to cultivate more self acceptance and self worth in your own life, I’d love to hear about it as well!
And if you’d like to learn more about Kristen Neff’s work on self compassion, head on over to her website self-compassion.org. There are some great tools and resources.