a sense of one's own value as a human being
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Chances are, you’ve heard of the many, many “self-” words.
There’s self-esteem, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-respect, self-confidence, self-love, self-care, and so on.
There are so many words to describe how we feel about ourselves, how we think about ourselves, and how we act toward ourselves.
It’s understandable if they all start to blend together for you; however, they are indeed different concepts with unique meanings, findings, and purposes.
Read on to learn more about what may be the most vital “self-” concept of them all: self-worth.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you show more compassion and kindness to yourself but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students or employees improve their self-compassion and realize their worth.
You can download the free PDF here.
This article contains:
- What Is the Meaning of Self-Worth and Self-Value?
- The Psychology of Self-Worth
- What Is Self-Worth Theory?
- What Determines Self-Worth?
- 3 Examples of Healthy Self-Worth
- How to Find Self-Worth and Value Yourself More
- The Importance of Self-Worth in Relationships
- The Risks of Tying Your Self-Worth to Your Job
- The Self-Worth Scale
- 5 Activities and Exercises for Developing Self-Worth
- 4 Worksheets That Help Increase Self-Worth
- Meditations to Boost Self-Worth
- Recommended Books on Self-Worth
- Must-Watch TED Talks and YouTube Videos
- 12 Quotes on Self-Worth
- A Take-Home Message
Why “Be Yourself” Is Terrible Advice (And What You Should Do Instead)
Be the person you want to be.Anthony J. Yeung
“Just be yourself” is one of those phrases that belong in the Hall of Fame of clichéd advice.
Struggling with life?
Frustrated with your career?
Settling for less in your dating and relationships?
The common suggestion is that you should “be yourself” and, magically, you’ll do just fine.
In reality, “being yourself” seriously limits your results and stunts your personal development and growth. I’ll explain why this advice holds you back, exactly who you should “be” instead, and the simple steps to become that person so you can reap all the benefits. Here’s how:
Why “Being Yourself” Holds You Back
There’s a lot of codewords that mean the same thing as “just be yourself:”
- “Be true to yourself.”
- “Do what speaks to you.”
- “Do what feels right.”
On the surface, it seems like nice advice to trust yourself and your instincts; but in reality, it reinforces a fixed mindset, entrenches you in your current situation, and justifies your personality and results in life:
“People believe they have an “authentic” self — their “truth” — which is who they should be true to... This line of thinking leads people to saying things like, “I need to be true to myself. I shouldn’t have to deny myself of how I’m feeling. I shouldn’t have to lie to myself. I should be able to do what feels right to me.” Although well-meaning, this thinking reflects a fixed mindset… I know many people who now, as maturing adults, are choosing limiting lives in the name of “authenticity” and being “real” with themselves.”
— Dr. Benjamin Hardy
This begs the question: What if “yourself” has poor, self-destructive traits? Or at a less-extreme level, what if “yourself” is awkward, boring, or unambitious?
Then, you probably shouldn’t be yourself because, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get the results you’ve always gotten.
For example, 12 years ago, I would’ve described myself as introverted, socially awkward, skinny, resentful, and angry. (Sure, I had positive qualities too, but those negative adjectives were pretty damn accurate.)
If I just tried to “be myself,” I would’ve never made any effort to change.
Instead, I would’ve clung to the life I had—and kept repeating the same mistakes and patterns—rather than abandon it for a better life. I would’ve never worked to transform my personality and I would’ve blocked my own progress and growth:
“If authenticity is the value you prize most in life, there’s a danger that you’ll stunt your own development. When I was in grad school, a friend asked me to give a guest lecture for her class. I was terrified of public speaking, but I wanted to be helpful, so I agreed… It was brutal. One student wrote that I was so nervous I was causing the whole class to physically shake in their seats. My authentic self was not a fan of public speaking. But I started volunteering to give more guest lectures, knowing it was the only way to get better. I wasn’t being true to myself, I was being true to the self I wanted to become.” [emphasis added]
— Adam Grant, Ph.D.
“Being yourself” doesn’t show you how to achieve what you want and it doesn’t motivate you to reach beyond your comfort zone and try new strategies.
(Thankfully, even 21-year-old Anthony knew “being yourself” was shitty advice so he actually worked to improve himself.)
Finally, the fact is who you “are” actually depends on your context:
Your personality reflects your environment and its norms, rules, traditions, expectations, and more. Thus, “being yourself” is meaningless because “yourself” isn’t static—it’s always evolving even if you feel the same.
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our lives is change.”
— Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D.
At this point, some of you might be thinking, “Well, if you don’t want me to be myself, then do you want me to be someone else?”
Instead of telling you to “be yourself,” here’s some far better life advice:
Be the person you want to be.
Who is your dream self?
What are they doing?
How are they living?
It’s infinitely more powerful to be this person through your behaviors and actions than to “be yourself” and cement your current way of life.
Best of all, once you become the person you want to be, you’ll have all the things you want to have.
Here’s how to become this person:
How to Become the Person You Want to Be
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
— Carl Jung
Step 1: Define Your Ideal Life
Many people have no idea what they want.
They might say a few clichéd things like “be happy,” “travel,” “retire early,” etc., but their goals are vague (at best) or things that other people told them to want (at worst).
Instead, define what you want and be very specific.
Try describing your ideal life:
What’s your ideal relationship partner like?
What’s your ideal career?
What’s your ideal lifestyle?
Be detailed and think about what you really want, not what you think you should want.
The point of this exercise isn’t to make it happen with 100% accuracy; the point is to understand what is important to you and give you direction.
Step 2: Be Honest With Yourself
Answer this question:
Based on who you are at this very moment, can you achieve this ideal lifestyle?
Yes or no. (No “maybe.”)
Can you honestly achieve your ideal life based on where you are right now?
For many people, the answer will be a difficult, “No.”
For many people, they’ll see a huge gap between “who they currently are” and “their dream life.”
Step 3: Become The Person Of Your Dreams
It took me years to understand this powerful lesson:
The best way to get the life of your dreams is to become the person of your dreams.
Many people only focus on getting what they want without realizing that every journey starts from within.
As a result, they do nothing to improve, which is the equivalent of saying, “I want my dream life, but I don’t want to do anything differently to get it.”
Instead, define who you have to be in order to achieve your ideal life.
This step is the most important of all.
What are your values?
What personality do you need to have?
What are you working on?
How do you take care of yourself?
Be very detailed.
Life is a movie: You’re the director and you write the script.
You decide who you’re going to be.
If you’re struggling in life and upset with your lack of results, what are you going to do about it?
Yes, it’s hard work to become this person.
Yes, there’s no guarantee you’ll get exactly what you want.
But as you work on yourself, improve yourself, and become the person you want to be, the odds you’ll achieve your dream life will skyrocket — and you’ll know you manifested it.
So stop “being yourself” and start “being your dream self.”
Your dream life awaits.
We all know that people who have higher levels of self-worth tend to be happier. They tend to assert themselves more confidently, and they feel more comfortable in their own skin.
However, you may not have given much thought to the connection between self-worth and being yourself.
If you're not confident about who you are, you put a lot of energy into trying to project an image.
Doing this will hinder you from trying to get to know yourself.
But what should you do if you have low self-worth?
How can you improve this, and use your newfound acceptance of yourself to foster personal development?
This article on self-worth and authenticity will help you work on valuing yourself more appropriately.
We'll consider key signs that your self-worth is currently low and work our way through a range of powerful changes you can make in order to enhance your self-worth.
How Do You Define Self Worth?
First, what exactly is self-worth?
You can think of it as feeling and believing that you deserve to be treated compassionately and respectfully.
If you have healthy levels of self-worth, you're able to see yourself as a good person.
You should know that your value doesn't just revolve around what you can do for other people and showing up for them the way you think they want you to show up.
Self-worth is intimately connected with self-valuing behaviors.
This means holding healthy boundaries with others, expecting reciprocity in relationships, and knowing what you need to put yourself first.
However, many of us go through painful and belittling experiences that make it hard for us to have robust self-worth.
Signs You’re Experiencing Low Self-Worth
Perhaps you suspect that your self-worth isn't all that it could be, and you've started to wonder what kind of impact that might be having on your mental health and your self-knowledge.
What kinds of thoughts, feelings, and actions should you look out for in order to measure low self-worth?
While this sort of difficulty looks subtly different for everyone, there are certain key signs that most people exhibit.
If you frequently notice one or more of the following signs, there's a good chance that you have low self-worth and could benefit from changing the way you relate to yourself.
Changing Yourself For Others
If you have low self-worth, you'll think that acceptance is conditional.
In other words, you'll believe that you have to act and be a certain way to receive love and respect.
Consequently, you'll find yourself changing all the time to fit in with others, meet their needs, or be who you imagine they want you to be.
You should know you shouldn't have to change yourself for others.
Surround yourself with people with who you feel comfortable being your authentic self and as time progresses, it will become easier being yourself with others.
Seeking Approval From Others
Relatedly, low self-worth leads to seeking reassurance and love, even if it's for an artificial self that is projected in order to gain approval.
You might need friends, family, and partners to repeatedly affirm their attachment.
Affirmation is a love language however it shouldn't be used to constantly seek a boost of self-esteem.
You may also need others to validate your decisions before you feel confident in making them.
Not Communicating Your Needs
If you think you aren't deserving of consistent love and respect, you'll likely be anxious about telling people what you really want and need.
You can’t show vulnerability or be your authentic self. After all, if you do that, perhaps they'll reject you.
People with low self-worth typically think it is safer to stay quiet, rather than risk annoying someone or putting them off.
Allowing Others To Take Advantage Of You
Perhaps you let people disrespect you because you suspect they're right to view you as a disposal or to characterize you in a negative light.
Or you just constantly fall into a pattern of people taking advantage of you but simply not acknowledging it.
You may even be grateful that these people are still in your life at all, even though they don't treat you with kindness.
Fundamentally, if you lack self-worth you probably don't think you deserve love or even know how to love yourself.
You might think of all kinds of different reasons why this is the case, often comparing yourself to others and noticing ways in which you believe you come up short.
Self-love is a foundation that will reflect positively in all areas of your life.
No Healthy Boundaries
It's hard to set firm rules with people when you don't really think you deserve to be treated well.
As such, if you have low self-worth you probably let others set all the terms and conditions for your interactions, even if these seem inconsistent or feel bad.
Setting healthy boundaries is important and will set the tone of your interaction with others. Remember, respecting yourself will help others respect you too.
Almost everyone with low self-worth also lacks self-belief.
You probably find it difficult to trust that you can succeed, that you are talented or that you can change.
You simply just don't believe in yourself.
Instead, you stay in your comfort zone, missing many opportunities for development and growth.
Being Afraid And Not Being Yourself
Finally, one way you might describe feelings of low self-worth is by saying “I never act like myself.”
If you're almost certain that the real, authentic you will be ridiculed or rejected, you'll live in fear of anyone discovering your true self.
In time, this can lead you to lose touch with that true self altogether and you might end up feeling unfulfilled.
Being your authentic self will bring people into your life that will love and appreciate you for who you are.
How To Know Your Self-Worth
Armed with a clear idea of what low self-worth looks like, let's now turn to how you can gradually strengthen and enhance your self-worth.
While this kind of transformation doesn't happen overnight, there are changes you can start making today that can almost immediately transform your thoughts and feelings.
And as your self-worth grows, so too will your sense of self – your understanding of who you are, what you really want, and what you're capable of achieving.
To have self-worth, you need to have a solid sense of who you are, and then work to have a positive attitude towards that person.
There are dozens of things you can do to facilitate the relevant sort of self-awareness here.
One of the most effective ways is learning how to journal and make it a daily habit.
Write a page and honestly reflecting on your experiences and on how you feel.
This helps you develop the habit of checking in with yourself without judgment, and without focusing on pleasing others.
An exercise you can do is simply check in with yourself every couple of hours.
Challenge yourself to come up with three words to describe how you are.
Again, this just gets you into the habit of honestly looking at what's going on inside you, without an agenda.
In addition, note that forgiveness is another crucial component of self-awareness.
It's healthy to recognize our mistakes, but allow yourself to move on rather than perpetually beating yourself up about them.
Recognize that you've understood what you did, why you did it, and how to avoid repeating the same mistake. Then grant yourself the same forgiveness and clean slate that you would give someone you love.
While self-awareness focuses on building up an understanding of who you are, self-love is all about having a genuinely positive attitude toward that person.
What do you like about yourself?
While it may not come naturally to think about this, consider the question genuinely and try to come up with at least ten things.
They don't need to be big – start with anything at all that makes you feel proud, then go from there.
Self-love also involves doing things for yourself just because they bring you joy.
Whether you set aside a few hours, a day, or a weekend a month for this, try to spend some focused time indulging yourself in this way.
Again, take the emphasis away from pleasing others, from meeting their needs, and creating a certain impression.
Instead, ask yourself: what do I want?
What would make me happy right now?
It doesn't need to be productive – it just needs to make you feel good.
Further, affirmations are an excellent technique for fostering self-love.
Think of and build a few positive affirmations that you can repeat in the mirror each day.
For example, you might say something like “I am strong, creative, and loyal – I love and value myself.”
Affirmations can feel awkward or artificial at first, but you'll soon start to feel their impact.
Self-acceptance is subtly different from self-awareness and self-love.
One way of thinking about it is self-acceptance is about having a positive and loving attitude toward even the difficult parts of yourself.
So, the things you view as idiosyncrasies, as abnormalities, or maybe even as flaws.
Try to embrace these, acknowledging that everyone is imperfect.
Even the people you perceive as role models have weak spots, hangups, and things that trip them up.
Try to remember this when you feel under pressure to be unrealistically exemplary.
Once again, daily positive affirmations can help you to develop this aspect of self-worth.
Repeat Phrases like “I don't need to be perfect in order to be good enough”.
This can assist you in shifting your perspective when you start to demand the impossible from yourself.
In practice, self-acceptance also involves letting other people see the unusual parts of you.
Refrain from only showing the parts of yourself you think would be widely accepted or praised.
To build self-acceptance in your friendships and romantic relationships, challenge yourself to be more real with people – to be yourself, not a sanitized and acceptable caricature.
You'll likely notice that this in fact deepens your connection with others.
Mindful self-compassion is a term that originates in Buddhist practice and philosophy, and it emphasizes treating yourself with kindness.
In short, you should aim to support yourself in the way that you would support someone you care for.
Listen to yourself, know when you need a break, and talk to yourself in a careful, gentle way.
It can be difficult to do this if you've experienced a childhood in which people talked down to you or criticized you.
With time and effort, you can develop a nurturing inner voice.
There are special “loving-kindness” meditations that can be particularly helpful here.
To do a basic version of this meditation, start by getting comfortable and spending several minutes focusing on deep, slow breathing.
Next, recite the following to yourself: “May I be at ease, may I be happy, may I be at peace.”
Feel free to adapt the words to suit you.
In addition, monitor how you talk to yourself.
For example, try writing down all the things your inner critic says over a period of two days, then write down counter-statements that challenge those harsh words. In time, this habit can defuse old feelings of self-loathing and rob your inner critic of its power.
Finally, self-respect revolves around believing that you are deserving of respect – from others and yourself.
This means believing you should be treated as a being with value and dignity.
Never be treated as a means to an end or as someone who exists to please others.
You might have been raised to derive pleasure and satisfaction from how “useful” or “helpful” you are.
This can be very tough to shake the idea that you exist to make life better for others.
You are a person who deserves happiness and fulfillment, and the more you recognize this the more you'll develop self-respect.
Focus on how you interact with other people and what kinds of expectations you encourage.
To explore this topic in more depth, let's now turn to the issue of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with people in your life.
Set Healthy Boundaries In Relationships
In the simplest terms, personal boundaries are rules that you have in place to make sure that you have healthy, fulfilling, and mutually respectful relationships with others.
While it's certainly good to offer empathy, compassion, and emotional intimacy to those we care about, there are people who will seek to take advantage of this generosity (sometimes not even at a conscious level).
As such, it's important to have a clear sense of what you will and won't accept.
Here are four key things worth considering if you want to set boundaries as part of developing greater self-worth.
Everyone has different boundaries, and there's no one set of rules that will suit everyone.
Limits provide a helpful illustration here – we all have different limits depending on our values and morals.
Figuring out your limits is about reflecting on what you are comfortable with, and how you want to be treated.
Generally, people subscribe to an idea about reciprocity here – we should treat others as we want to be treated.
So, one useful question to ask is “Would I think it's okay to do this to someone else?”
To make the idea of limits a little more concrete, let's consider a few examples.
You may have limits to how much time you're willing to give certain people, and this may vary by individual.
The time you'll happily give to your partner will not be the same as you would give to an acquaintance.
You will likely also have limits about how much (if any) of your money or material possessions to lend others.
Perhaps how much lateness you'll accept at an agreed meeting, and how quickly you expect to hear back from someone when you send them an important message.
Knowing these sorts of limits is the first step to setting healthy boundaries with others.
It's important to actually assert your needs and preferences when it comes to holding boundaries with others.
Some of your limits will be common sense and a matter of basic respect.
Others will relate to highly personal preferences that others shouldn't be expected to intuit.
As such, you need to think about communicating your boundaries. After all, research shows that many boundary violations actually come from misunderstandings (rather than from selfishness or malice).
To communicate your boundaries, try to be as clear and specific as possible.
Don't passive-aggressively imply what you want – state it plainly.
For example, in contrast, “It sure would be nice if I didn't have to do everything by myself” (passive-aggressive) with “If you put your dirty laundry in the basket, I'll be happy to do the washing.”
In addition, stick to “I” statements.
This means focusing on your thoughts, feelings, and needs rather than on accusations or demands.
For example, “I would really appreciate it if we could split the childcare more evenly” is much more likely to get productive results than “You should play with the kids first thing in the morning.”
In addition, especially when dealing with loved ones, make sure that you communicate your care while holding your boundaries.
For example, “I love you and am committed to making this relationship work, but I want to talk about what counts as respectful communication” is going to land much more effectively than “I hate the way you talk to me.”
Tune Into Your Feelings
As some of the above discussion implies, being aware of your own feelings plays a huge role in working to improve self-worth by holding boundaries.
Before you discuss a boundary violation with someone else, make sure you properly understand your reaction.
Try to name how you feel – do you feel angry? Do you feel taken for granted, ignored, confused, or disrespected?
You may be experiencing a mix of emotions, and some of them may even seem to be in conflict.
Once you have a sense of what you're feeling, it's useful to reflect on the roots of those feelings.
Are you experiencing a negative pattern with this person, and reaching your limit?
Or are you re-experiencing old wounds, and reacting more emphatically than the situation perhaps warrants?
Try to develop your understanding of where your emotions come from, and how they relate to other experiences you have.
Be kind to yourself throughout, especially if some of your emotions are overwhelming.
Being fluent in the language of your own feelings is important.
It allows you to take huge steps forward in helping someone else understand a boundary violation.
Your feelings are also a very useful guide to how you would like to be treated instead.
This will helps you give the other person a blueprint of your needs.
While our exploration of boundaries so far stresses the importance of being clear and respectful with the other person, it's equally important to be appropriately assertive.
If you feel like you're being taken advantage of or your limits are being ignored, you should feel free to say so in no uncertain terms.
You shouldn't have to downplay your feelings to please the other person – remember, self-respect requires owning who you are and putting your authenticity before how others want you to be.
That being said, it's not only important to avoid being passive when talking about boundaries.
It's also important to avoid being aggressive.
In other words, don't shout people down, don't talk over them, and don't bully them into doing what you want.
This sort of behavior turns you into someone who is also violating boundaries!
In a nutshell, self-worth simply requires that you be honest, firm, clear, and true to yourself when explaining your boundaries to other people.
If you find it difficult to be assertive, it might be easier to practice in writing before doing it verbally.
Consider writing your thoughts in an email, a text, or a letter.
As you get used to communicating in a transparent and self-respecting way, the relevant language will begin to come naturally.
Know Your True Self Worth To Reach Your Full Potential
So, now you know more about why self-worth is so vital, what it looks like in practice and how to cultivate it. However, you might not realize just how much-untapped potential is still hidden inside you.
You can become anything you want and have anything you desire – but to get there, you need to embrace your true worth as a person.
Today, I hope you will have another inspired day,
that you will dream boldly and dangerously,
that you will make some progress that didn’t exist before you took action,
that you will love and be loved in return, and that you will find the strength to accept and grow from the troubles you can’t change.
And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and wisdom in this crazy world),
that you will,
when you must,
be wise with your decisions,
and that you will always be extra kind to yourself and others.