If you google ‘how we get our self-worth’ or ‘how we get our self-esteem’, almost every post and article will tell you that our self-worth and self-esteem is not the product of the outside world but of our inner workings and to have better self-worth we need to fix it from the inside. The second part of that is absolutely correct but the first is absolutely rubbish. Believe me.
If our self-worth is derived not based on the outside world and it’s all an inside job (which to a great extent it is) — where do we get this assessment of ourselves? Are we born with it? Nature over nurture? I am not saying this is how it should be, but this is how it actually works:
So what does define our self-worth?
Our self-worth is derived from and dependent on the reactions others have to our actions and opinions, and more importantly, they are based on the judgments others hold for us.
How we see the world is based on our perception of the world, or the world view we carry — our paradigm, which is quite often shaped by external events and information.
And how we see ourselves in this world is based on what is reflected back to us.
How the world sees us, is very often how we end up seeing ourselves too. We assess our self-worth based on the opinions and judgements we receive from others from a very early age. Our value is dependent on how others value our actions, contributions and what feedback we receive for them.
‘My parent/teacher/sibling sees/treats/thinks of me like X hence I must be.’
Tell a 2-year-old child every day that she is clumsy and eventually you will have a clumsy 5-year-old. (Don’t actually do it please). It turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This child’s self-view is she is clumsy — internal? Yes — it has become her inner voice. What is it based on? External events, ie you tell her she is clumsy.
In our early years we all have our actions and thinking validated (good job, good girl, well done etc). Early caregivers (parents, teachers, preachers and so on) put a judgement on our actions and tell us if it was good or not. On par or not based on their standards and worldviews. Their judgements end up defining our self-worth and value.
Even at the tender age of 2, we start to value our actions and by the external measure of someone else’s expectations. Our self-worth is absolutely a product of the external world and the opinions others hold of us. As we age these become parts of our personality and our character — which ultimately defines our destiny.
Another important dimension of life that reinforces our self-worth is our religious indoctrination. Almost every one of us has been brought up with some sort of systematic religious teachings, whether directly in our homes or indirectly through the broader community and peer groups.
Almost all major religions teach the principles of predestination in some form or the other and when you tell people (especially at an early age) that their efforts have a limited impact on the outcome of their lives, it creates a glass ceiling. It becomes a definition of how they view their efforts, contributions and ultimately their self-worth. Yes, the opposing idea of freewill is also forced upon the same coin but, according to most beliefs, all predestined nevertheless. I do not suppose you can have both; freewill and predestination. One contradicts the other and they do not work together.
This, I understand, can be a debate that can go on forever but the point here is this: Although the idea of predestination might be a good consolation for some, perhaps much later in life to offer an overall positive (retrospective) view of life’s failures, moving forward, it sets people up in a limited manner by setting arbitrary boundaries on the outcomes of their efforts.
In other words, people start to feel; no matter what I do and how much effort I put in, the end is already decided and mostly out of my control, so why bother? Although most people don’t say it out loud and, in an outward fashion, don’t exactly behave this way either. They, in fact, do put in the effort and try to make things happen — but when deep within your core you feel everything is predestined, even your efforts are done inadequately based on limiting beliefs. And the crux of this argument is in the action of someone giving up and saying — ‘it is/was just not meant to be’.
Half-assed efforts because they never actually believed it could be done due to a compromised self-worth.
If you are surrounded by people who don’t appreciate your efforts, you might also struggle to see your contributions as meaningful and valuable. It is easy to feel you are not good enough if that is the general vibe around you and if that is what you are told, directly or indirectly.
Jim Rohn famously said that ‘you are the average of the five people you spend your time with’. To add to that, your self-worth is also the product of those five people’s opinions of you. Your environment makes a huge difference in how you view yourself. An environment can not only build a certain belief about self-worth but can also be conducive to reaffirming and reinforcing certain beliefs.
Self-worth defines actions
“Self-worth should be less about measuring yourself based on external actions and more about valuing your inherent worth as a person.” ― Dr. Lisa Firestone
In other words, self-worth should be about who you are, not about what you do. But how do you know who you are without any external validation? How do you know what you are worth if there is no comparison point, no reference, no anchor? After all, isn’t everything relative?
If you think you are not worthy of a goal, you can have the best teachers, trainers and spend all the effort and money in the world but not achieve that goal. I am going to use an exercise metaphor here; if you think and believe that you cannot bench-press 100kg then no matter what you do, and how much time and money you invest in this endeavour via the best trainers, gear and nutrition — if you do not believe then you will not be able to achieve it.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right” — Henry Ford
Self-worth defines the actions and efforts we make towards a goal. It defines how we see our place in the world and how we see what we deserve in life. Those are some serious consequences of an internal belief and if it is not adjusted correctly, then you are living a life that is less than the one you are capable of.
All that is the bad news. The good news is that it’s a mental block and it can be fixed — with considerable time and effort and obviously a deep understanding and willingness. The first step to fixing a problem is recognising that there is one.
In my next article, I will discuss the ways in which we can raise our self-worth and actually live our best life. Stay tuned 🙂