Who do we see ourselves as? How do we value “us”? What are we worth when we stare into the mirror, gazing deep into our own eyes?
Self-worth is at the core of who we are. It is intrinsically linked to our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviour — the lens through which we view ourselves as human beings.
How much value we place on ourselves is a complicated algorithm of both external and internal factors.
Take a moment to think about what drives your sense of self worth. Are you focused on appearance, or wealth, or possessions, or status? Are you content with who you are, or do you feel that there’s room for improvement?
Carl Rogers, the founder of Humanistic psychotherapy, put forward the notion that there are three types of self:
- The organismic
- The actual
- The ideal
When it comes to self-worth, the important two to consider are our actual and our ideal selves. Our actual self is who we think we are in the present. Our self-image. Whereas our ideal self is the person that we think we should be.
If our actual and ideal selves are in sync, then our sense of self-worth can generally be described as good. Who we are and who we think we should be are (roughly) in line with each other.
It’s when these two get out of whack that things can go awry. When we think that the person who we are is drastically different from who we should be, then we start to question and doubt our worth. In psychology terms, we call this “cognitive dissonance”.
Now, the ideal self can be a dangerous thing. It’s important to realise that what makes up our ideal self doesn’t necessarily come from our own wants and needs. In fact, it rarely comes from us at all.
Mostly it is formed from the opinions or expectations of what other people think we should be. This can be our parents, our teachers, our bosses at work, our close friends. It can even come from what presents itself to us in media and advertising. “I’m not good enough because I’m two sizes bigger than this celebrity I’m following on Instagram is”. (This could form another Mind Ninja issue in itself, so I’m not going to delve into celebrity too deeply here).
Again, I’m going to pose you a question — what do you think the difference between your actual and ideal self is? Are they mostly in sync, or are they disrupted by that cognitive dissonance I spoke of earlier?
If you’re feeling like your sense of self worth is low, if you’re struggling with placing value on who you are, then I’d like to propose a few ideas to help your thinking around that.
If you take a moment to really consider the expectations that you put upon yourself, do you know where they come from? Is that need to get everything right the first time something that comes from you, or was it projected onto you by a parent or teacher when you were younger?
Some of our sense of self worth comes from a cultural pressure. I came across the idea of internalised capitalism recently, and it made me think about how we value ourselves in terms of our productivity. If we aren’t a contributing member of society, then we’re lazy, apathetic, and mooching off the efforts of others.
I’ve seen that sort of mindset a lot during the pandemic and the lockdown. People pushing content along the lines of “if you haven’t learned a new skill whilst in lockdown, then you didn’t lack the time, you lacked discipline”. It’s a sentiment I couldn’t disagree with more.
What about taking the time to simply “be”, rather than “do”? To spend energy reflecting on and working on ourselves. Does this not have value? Is it not productive? Or are my actions only worthy if I’ve become fluent in spanish and qualified as an accountant by the time everything gets back to a sense of normality?
I’ve digressed, and can feel myself starting to rant, but I think you get my point — take some time to become aware of where these expectations come from. It’s tough undoing years of conditioned thinking, but if you know where that thinking originates, it’s the first step in changing it. Bringing that actual and ideal self closer together.
Secondly, and at the risk of repeating myself across multiple issues, be kind to yourself. You’re a human being. You’re not infallible, and you’re not perfect, and it’s ok to not be either of those things.
I’m neither of those things, and it’s that which gives me the knowledge to say these words to you. I’ve got experience with mistakes. I’ve walked down this road already. The only difference between us is that I might have got a bit further down the road than you have.
Lastly, think about the things that you feel don’t constitute self worth. It can be a useful grounding tool to remember that, even though your bank account may not be bulging at the seams, or you might not be able to get into those nice jeans you bought last Christmas, you’re nevertheless a good human being who exhibits kindness, compassion, and positive regard to others.