Most of us are extremely hard on ourselves. In the privacy of our inner thoughts, we spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly, pointing out our failings, and beating ourselves up for every misstep. We say things to ourselves, about ourselves, that we would never utter about someone we loved. And this dark voice in our heads contributes to depression, anxiety, low motivation, and relationship troubles.
Most of us have tried to change these thoughts. We read inspirational quotes and try repeating positive mantras. Yet these strategies often don’t really stick. Ironically, when we struggle to benefit from positive self-talk, we chalk it up to another personal failure. But there’s a reason these efforts are doomed to fail. This is because we don’t really believe them. Changing our inner thoughts about ourselves requires more than trying to insert a few positive thoughts in a sea of self-criticism. We have to look deeper at our core beliefs about ourselves if we’re to have any lasting change.
Many people are not even aware that beneath these negative thoughts we have about ourselves is a much deeper belief that we are not really worthy, not worthy of love, success, happiness. Or we believe that our worth is conditional, that we must earn our self-worth by being perfect, beautiful, constantly tending to others needs, making lots of money, the list goes on and on.
After years of working with people who suffer with critical self-talk, it has become clear to me that many of us need to focus on reclaiming our self-worth. If we begin to understand our deeper beliefs about self-worth, we can start creating a more positive relationship with ourselves. Only then will we learn to love ourselves without the pressure to constantly earn or prove our worth.
Recognize the Unhealthy Messages You Carry About Your Self-Worth
How we feel about ourselves is something we learn throughout our lives from interactions with our world. We begin developing feelings about our worth during childhood when we ask the adults in our lives for attention and care. In adolescence, we look to our peers to determine how to fit in, be accepted, have value to others. And throughout our lives we continue comparing ourselves to others in our culture and communities. Social media has contributed to an explosion of these social comparisons. We evaluate our personal worth based on what we see as valued around us.
Many of us did not have parents capable of listening to our feelings and responding to our needs. Often we learned that our worth must be earned. Maybe attention and support was only given when we had perfect grades or made the team or sacrificed ourselves to take care of others. Maybe it felt unacceptable to be our true selves. And all too often, our Western culture determines value based on external things like looking incredible, being financial success, and being popular. No wonder we struggle to have a strong sense of worth and wind up viewing ourselves as failures.
It’s time to ask yourself, how do you determine your worth? In the quiet of your mind when no one is listening, how do you judge yourself? Do you focus on appearance factors, such as how flat your stomach is, how much you weigh, whether others are attracted to you? Do you judge yourself more by how professionally successful you are, how prestigious your job, how much money you make? Or is your value based more on relationships in your life, whether you have a big group of friends, if you’re constantly caretaking, or whether you are loved? Maybe you only feel good about yourself if you’re highly productive, performing perfectly, juggling a million tasks, crossing everything off your to do list? Be honest with yourself. The clearer you are about how you measure your worth, the more effectively you can change it.
Challenge Unhealthy Beliefs that Hold You Back
Most of us have unhealthy beliefs we carry about how we earn value in this world. We determine our personal worth based on external factors that we can’t fully control. And we often undervalue our unique strengths and gifts. Notice where these messages came from for you. How did you learn to value this quality above all else? What did you observe growing up about what it takes to earn attention and acceptance? What are your examples of people who seem successful and what makes them that way?
Ask yourself whether this measure of self-worth still works for you. Give yourself permission to challenge old notions of what it takes to earn value. Is this who you still want to be? Is this how you believe people earn love and acceptance? Would you teach someone you love to measure their self-worth based on this? If your answers are no, no, and no, then it’s time to rebuild your self-worth from within.
Rebuilding Self-Worth from Within
We all have the capacity to change our core beliefs about who we are. What if you allowed yourself to feel a deep sense of self-worth without having to do or be anything? This gift could open up the possibility of loving yourself unconditionally. This means learning to fully accept and love yourself exactly as you are. Practice fully acknowledging who you are, in all your complicated glory.
How you go about creating a more compassionate belief about yourself is very personal. There’s no formula or one right way to do this. Trust your own style and process. You can explore your feelings of worth through meditation, journaling, art, or talking about it with people you love and trust. You can create a gratitude practice of appreciating yourself for a moment at a time. Let yourself take a deep dive into being fully present with yourself as you shed old, unhealthy beliefs about how to judge your worth. Peel away the messaging that your worth is something you must earn. You don’t need to look outside yourself to be whole. You can fully accept yourself in the process of change.
Rebuilding your sense of unconditional self-worth is a practice. It takes time and intention to gradually release yourself from old messages that no longer serve you. It’s helpful to enlist support in the process. Maybe you have a close friend or family member to share this experience with, someone who loves you and will support your efforts to love yourself more. Maybe it would be helpful to work on this with a trained therapist who could explore your core beliefs and help you create new ones. You choose the path that works best for you. The key is to keep practicing this act of self-liberation by consciously, intentionally allowing yourself to believe you are worthy at your core.
Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Lakefront Psychology, LLC for a psychotherapy consultation, please call 216-870-9816.