Feelings of worth and value are two emotions that I see depleted or missing entirely with people and it is heartbreaking. Why do so many people feel like they are worthless and are not valuable?
Children seem to innately have a sense of value and worth. Babies are typically not born with crushed spirits and uncertainty of who they are. And when brought up in a supportive, loving home, these babies grow into self assured toddlers. They explore, create, enjoy, and yes, have meltdowns when they can’t keep up with what they want to do, but they don’t question their sense of value and worth. Parents demonstrate to children that they have value and worth by the way they cuddle, nurture, teach, feed, believe in and encourage these little humans.
It seems to be around age 5, when children go to school that they lose this absolute sense of self and feelings of value and worth. (Note: with preschool and use of social media/electronics, this might happen sooner.) Through their peers and the external environment such as uncertainty about playground hierarchy and being excluded and not understanding math and, and, and…children began to think of themselves as good or bad. A more sophisticated wording of ‘good or bad’ is ‘valuable or not valuable’ and ‘worthwhile or not worthwhile’. The sad part is that it seems like those kids grow into adults that spend the rest of their life trying to prove their value to others.
Ways in which we work diligently to prove our value and worth, is by over achieving, getting stuck on perfection, surrounding ourselves with people so we never have to be alone, doing, doing, doing and the list goes on. The paradox is that these activities in turn perpetuate feelings of low self worth. For example, if someone is always working to achieve, when they don’t succeed or “fail”, they might become desperate, inconsolable and anxious. They will then try harder to never fail, which is an impossibility, and experience increased anxiety, hyper-vigilance and guardedness against anything going wrong. They will literally guard themselves into deeper anxiety. It’s a never-ending chasing of one’s own tail.
A by-product of this might also be a shut down of emotions and feelings. After all, who has time to feel when they need to do everything right? Who has time to make close connections with others when they may need to lead a rigid life so that their sense of value and worth stays intact? Want to know what happens to a person who doesn’t have connection with others? They become further withdrawn, isolated and continue to coast down the mental health slide into a big puddle of depression, alcohol/drug use or abuse and other self destructive beliefs or behaviors including, wait for it… more feelings of lack of worth and value.
So, what can you do to change these thoughts and behavior and bolster your sense of value and worth? The first thing you can do is begin to change the way you look at yourself and your definition of value and worth. To do this, look into your past and find out when you received the message that you weren’t valuable. With your adult mind, ask yourself if that was true or was it someone else’s version of you? For example, did your best friend stop speaking to you in middle school because you really were that intolerable or was it because they were trying to join the popular group? Did your mom really feel ashamed of you when you did something wrong, or was that her own feelings of not being a good parent that were projected onto you? I think you will find that most times, we felt devalued because someone else judged us as such. And we believed them.
The second thing you can do is stop believing the lie. The beauty of having a flexible mind is that you can change the way you think and you can literally stop believing someone else’s version of yourself. You can remind yourself several times a day that you have value and worth and someone else’s judgement has more to do with themselves than it does with you.
The third thing you can do is start to cultivate truths about yourself. You do this by learning about yourself and liking who you are. This is crucial for many reasons, one being that you need to formulate value and worth from your own sense of self and not from the external world. Yes, we are social creatures and we need others, but we cannot rely on how someone feels or thinks about us to know if we are okay. If that is the case, then we are always at the whim of someone else’s emotional state. Rather, we need to nurture and grow our own sense of worthiness and value as an internal state of being.
The fourth thing to do is to be aware of how others, including social media impact you. I have had numerous people tell me that they know that their mood tanks and their view of themselves crumbles when they compare themselves to others on social media. I don’t condemn social media because there are good, helpful things out there, but I do urge you to be openminded and take care of yourself when you start to judge yourself based on what you are seeing on social media. It is really okay to take a break and shut down those things that make you feel bad.
Your value and worth is your own to claim, so claim it every day. Don’t give it to others to define for you.