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  • Writer's pictureAveril

Building Self Esteem: Remembering Your Intrinsic Worth

Updated: 18 hours ago

Here’s a sneak peek into one of my sessions -

I have had this same conversation with so many clients.

They come because they don’t feel ‘good enough’ - they don’t like themselves, they give themselves a hard time over every mistake, they are anxious in new relationships as they assume eventually their new partner will find out how inadequate they are.

They blame it on their appearance, or an aspect of their personality, or that their life isn’t where they thought it should be by now.

(I get it. I truly empathise, I have absolutely felt this way before. When you feel like this, it seems without-a-doubt, unquestionably true. And it’s awful and exhausting and leads to bad choices and playing small and lost sleep and energy).

So then I ask my clients where a child gets their worth from, what makes a child ‘good enough’. They usually look at me blankly.

A child just is worthy, they say.

Oh! I say. Well, how would we make one child worth more than another child? Or worth less?

The client looks at me like I’m a monster.

You can’t! They exclaim, horrified.

Huh, I say. Well then. Where did yours go?

At what point did your worth change?

Was there an age at which the fundamental worth you had as a child was taken off you and you had to start earning it?

It’s a simple thought exercise, but it’s true. We can’t make a person more or less worthy than another. The intrinsic worth we hold just by virtue of having been born into this world is unchangeable.

It’s not like on your 18th birthday the Universe suddenly says “That’s it! Your intrinsic worth has expired. Now, off to university/work/the gym with you, go earn your worth!”

But what about the crappy things I do? My clients might ask. I was thoughtless to that friend of mine, or I don’t call my mum enough, or I can't find a good relationship, or I keep changing jobs. I’m useless.

Quite honestly, the type of people who usually come to me because of low self-worth are not doing anything really terribly crappy. I don’t have megalomaniacs or mass murders sitting in my office feeling bad about themselves.

I usually have wonderful, caring, anxious humans who, like all humans, occasionally make a misstep, and then beat themselves up terribly. Or they have a sense that everyone is doing better than they are, happier than they are, got-it-together more than they have (thanks social media).

True self-esteem and self-worth is a sense of your own fundamental, unchanging goodness, despite the blunders we all make from time to time.

Holding yourself in that place of acceptance makes it easier to recover from these blunders too – if you know in your heart you are generally a decent person much of the time, it is easier to acknowledge when you make a mistake and to apologise or rectify it without defensiveness. There’s a sense of internal stability that makes it so much less threatening to correct course when we inevitably veer off from time to time.

Good self-worth also helps us to use healthy boundaries with others. If you have a strong sense of your own value, you are more easily able to discern which feedback will be helpful to take on and which won’t, say no to requests, and set limits on how it is acceptable for others to treat you.

Remembering your own worth (because it never left you) can be a process that takes time and effort. It’s hard to just suddenly decide that you are worthy and good enough after all and live happily ever after. However, beliefs like this can be changed through a process of deliberately thinking and behaving differently and then seeing different results.

Practice noticing where you think and act out of a place of believing you are less worthy than others, or that achieving something will increase your worth. Notice how believing that you are less worth leaves you feeling, and how that makes you want to act. Most people find themselves feeling low, frustrated, ashamed, and wanting to hide away. This is hardly the place from which we can bring forward the best selves we most want to be.

Catch yourself and imagine instead, just for a moment, that your worth is the same as all humans and has been there all along. Really sit in this feeling, let it permeate a little.

Then, from this space, how would you think and act in this moment? Try it out as an experiment, act as if you believed your self worth was equal and unchangeable. If it’s hard to figure out, bring to mind a friend, family member, celebrity, or character who you think embodies steady, healthy self-worth and consider what they would do or say to themselves in this moment.

I always tell clients that if you try this out for a while and it’s awful, you always have the option of going back to the old way. You can always go back to believing that you aren’t worthy and the ways of being associated with that. But just for now, try this as an experiment and see what happens.

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