Do you feel as if you do not matter much and have little to offer? What’s the point you ask yourself of making an effort. “Whatever I say won’t make much of a difference and I won’t really be noticed.” These are signs of low self-worth. Such a way of seeing oneself can lead to a depressive mood.
There are several ways in which people value themselves and assess their self-worth.
Comparison with others and self-worth
A common thing is to look for some way you are better than others. Perhaps you have a smarter car, a bigger garden, or more fashionable clothes. Or perhaps you are socially popular or well-known in what you do at work. The Western world values winners – whether it is being more physically attractive, educationally advanced or financially successful.
But not everyone can beat the competition. There is always someone richer, better thought of, or more influential than you or me. We can’t all be at the top of the pile. And measuring oneself against others means that your sense of self-worth will rise and fall in step with your latest success or failure.
Research at the University of Michigan found that the students who reported more stress, anger, academic problems, and relationship conflicts were those who based their self-worth on comparison with others on external things such as academic performance, physical appearance and being socially approved. For students with well-being, however, what mattered for a sense of self-worth was self-appreciation and a sense of one’s unique strengths and qualities.
Some of these may not be valued by others. So how can one appreciate oneself when few do?
Doing meaningful things and self-worth
What is meaningful in life varies according to individual interest and experience but doing something that you happen to value can help with self-worth. Studies are finding that helping others and volunteering has a positive effect on how people feel about themselves.
Doing things for only external reasons can be demoralising when the rewards don’t come; a bonus from the company or tip from a customer that didn’t materialise, or the unforthcoming offer of employment from someone you are trying to impress. However, the worker who values getting a job done well and on time feels good about him- or herself even when the client or boss fails to show any thanks or praise. Everyone needs a bit of thanks from time to time. Being appreciated is what can keep us going. But when you are dependent upon it, then you perhaps need to think again about what you set store by in what you do; what is important about your input.
Adding value to a situation and self-worth
What seems to matter to self-worth is the attitude one brings to any everyday activity and relationship – not just at work but in the home and community. If you attach importance to generosity, then how generous is your attitude to those who need a little of your time? If you value patience in life, how patient are you with children? If you value home life, how supportive are you of your own family? I would suggest that the more your own ways of living are in harmony with the values you cherish then the more self-worth you will feel.
Unique contribution and self-worth
Every person you meet can walk away from you feeling just a little happier. This can be because of the way you deal with them, the effort you put in, and the interest you have shown. Feeling their appreciation if you get it is part of the delight.
To my way of thinking it doesn’t matter in what circumstance you find yourself – at home, work, or play – there will always be an opportunity to add value to the situation by what you choose to say and do. What this is will vary according to who you are – not only your values, but your strengths, experience and disposition. For everyone brings something slightly different and special to the table.
No two people have exactly the same way of being useful where there is a need. It might be a thoughtful suggestion, a warmth of concern, a sense of humour, an appropriate piece of knowledge, a relevant personal experience, a practical action, a sensitive empathy, a wise insight. The list could go on.
Spiritual teachings and self-worth
Feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. A spiritual perspective acknowledges there is some higher power beyond that of human beings. According to this view, all people who behave well whatever their race, education and background are united because there is one infinite creative force behind all that is humane in the world.
I believe that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for this higher power. I am not good but I can feel good because the more I put into a situation then the more I will get out of it as I experience the inflow of energy, fulfilment and enlightenment.
Similarly, spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg had an all-embracing concept of a Divine Source. He also wrote about the image of what we might call ‘a universal human’. This visionary picture of a healthy well-formed human being is thought of as consisting of a myriad of all people who did good things who have ever existed. All these live in an afterlife of heaven. Each is said to be uniquely different but each fits into the whole as an important bit so that the whole body works. In other words, every human soul has been created to become a special part of the all. Everyone can be important in their own way.
Each of us can choose to remain separate and self-orientated or instead choose to serve some unique function by doing something good that adds to the healthy functioning of society.
“The heavenly kingdom resembles one human being since every specific thing in it corresponds to the only Lord” (Emanuel Swedenborg spiritual philosopher)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands (https://spiritualquestions.org.uk/2012/10/heart-head-hands-ebook/)