To fully grok the concept of self-value (or self-worth), it helps to believe that each person has a soul, and that each soul has value beyond what is physical.
It’s difficult to make the point for a person’s inherent value, if I choose to believe a human being is just an electrified bag of chemicals walking around comparing his or her value to those around them based on looks, action, relationship, ownership, etc.
That out of the way, let’s move on to make what I hope is a helpful distinction between “Self-Esteem” and “Self-Value.”
Some folks will tell you that self-esteem is what you think of yourself, and self-value is what you’re born with. From where I stand, that’s partially right.
Self-esteem is based on your ego’s assessment of your “place in the world”: your skills, your ability to accomplish, your accomplishments, what you look like, who you know, etc. It’s an intellectual assessment. The list goes on. It’s a good list, and there’s some advantage in recognizing the value of each thing on it, but if you focus only on that worldly list, there’s something missing.
You see, in the case of self-esteem, the ego’s assessment is largely based on what others tell you is worthwhile. Think about it: the vast majority of your beliefs about reality have come—either from observation, or communication (written or verbal)—from other human beings.
We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
~e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962)
What’s often missing in self-esteem, is appreciation for who you are. Self-esteem is based on the value of all the stuff you can do and know and own, and the “social capital” you can leverage, etc., but it’s not about your core, essential value—the worth that you possess just being.
Self-Value, then, is independent of anything that you own or do, or that you would define yourself with. Another term for self-value is self-worth, and you were born as valuable, or as worthy, as you will ever be. Your heart recognizes this, and in fact, self-value is your heart’s recognition and appreciation of who you are. It’s not possible to truly recognize who you are and not value it. The heart knows the truth. The best thing about recognizing your self-worth, and truly feeling it, is that once you do, you are no longer dependent on anything you can do or own, or any person, for your happiness.
To drive an important point further, if you aren’t feeling worthy, then you simply aren’t seeing yourself truly. Instead, you are seeing yourself through a veil of cognitive distortions conjured by the intellect. Some of these distortions are a result of your conditioning by others, and some are the result of your own defensive thought patterns. You can learn more about these kinds of destructive thought patterns in Dr. David Burns’ excellent book, Feeling Good.
A key component of self-value is sober self-love that sees your gifts, and can take in opportunities for both worldly improvement, and greater self-awareness (growth), in stride. You take everything in as part of YOU, without judgement (good or bad), but rather a feeling of acceptance and appreciation. You might feel something like this if you were considering an antique silver bowl that you loved in every way, but was tarnished. You’d know that you’d want to give it some attention (polish) to get it to where it was fulfilling its potential to the world, but you would also appreciate the overall worth of this silver bowl regardless of the work it “needed.” It would have undisputed inherent value, plus the potential for improvement that others would see.
One challenge to feeling our self-worth is that most of us throw up a veil of limiting thoughts and beliefs that block us from seeing through the eyes of heart. Without that clear channel, we can’t see or hear our inner selves as well. We won’t see us as the Divine sees us: valuable and worthy no matter what. In the example of the home, we are “duped” what we see are needed improvements, and forget to realize the value that’s already there.
Indeed, the problem with self-worth is that even though we are born assuming it, and we can’t lose it, we sure are gullible enough in allowing the world to talk us out of it.
It starts when we are very young, when many of our heartfelt preferences, desires, and ideas are fairly regularly trounced by the authority figures we believe we depend on. Add to this the constant measurement and rating of our abilities and performances based on the approval of others, and a healthy habit of self-recognition and value can get lost rather quickly. When this happens, we learn to esteem the packaging we’ve contrived to please our consensus reality, and then wonder at that hollow, nagging feeling that: “There must be more to life.”
When you’ve rediscovered your connection to self, you no longer ask that question. Life feels more as if it is coming out of you, and not at you. You appreciate everything more, when you appreciate your self—when you appreciate your Self (capital “S”).
If you’re someone who’d like to feel more worthy, there are a host of ways that you can get on the road back to self-value, and I list some practices in my InspireMeToday “500 Words.” Still, as I suggest to certain of my clients, you can begin this second by earnestly asking, “How might I cultivate more self-value, happiness, and well-being?” Then listen and watch for some direction. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the voice you’ve made such a consensus-endorsed practice of ignoring.