“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha
Self-worth comes from knowing that you are enough, just as you are. You are inherently worthy, and you don’t need anyone else’s approval.
I didn’t always hold myself in high regard, or treat myself with the respect I deserved. I’m now in my thirties and live a beautiful life filled with self-love, kindness, and passion, but in my younger years I suffered from low self-worth.
I had my fair share of life lessons and allowed myself to be treated poorly.
I begged for love from a partner who was repeatedly unfaithful, holding onto hope that somehow he would change.
I criticized my perfectly healthy and beautiful body, wishing it were different, and endlessly compared it to how others’ bodies.
I also unconsciously bought into the belief that it was selfish to look after myself rather than seeing it as an essential part of supporting myself.
I spent years being my own worst critic, and I couldn’t understand how to become my own best friend.
I now recognize that I was desperately craving love and attention, but was withholding it from myself. I had forgotten my inherent power and worthiness.
We all have times when we get caught up in routines and behaviors that don’t support us, yet we have the ability to make changes in our lives. We are never powerless. Once we understand where we might be hurting ourselves, it becomes much easier to know how to step up and support ourselves.
Here are three ways you may be undermining your own self-worth, and how you can stop.
1. Stop focusing on what is wrong with you.
Most of us have a tendency to focus on what is wrong with us, and what it is we want to “fix.” We may focus on the fact that we think we are too big, too shy, not pretty enough, or not capable enough. There is no end to the ways we can critique ourselves! We unconsciously get into the mental routine of continually undermining our own self-worth.
As a teenager, I struggled with my body image. Tragically, I look back and recognize that I had no reason to, but at the time I was comparing myself to the glossy images in magazines and other people who looked nothing like me.
I hated my fair skin, was unhappy that my thighs touched, and thought my lips were too thin. I wanted to be a beautiful person, but thought of myself as anything but. I was relying purely on my physical appearance for my self-worth.
Over the last fifteen years I’ve built a beautiful relationship with my body, and also with my soul. I now see my body as an amazing creation that allows me to experience life. I am grateful for my beating heart and two legs that hold me steady. I also recognize that I have a caring and kind nature, and those internal attributes are much more important than how I look on the outside.
The lesson: Consciously focus on what is right with you.
Regardless of how you might want to improve, you will have things that are worth celebrating about yourself. You will have gifts and unique talents that have come together to create you—a unique expression of humanity.
Don’t overlook how amazing that is. Remember all the things you love about yourself, and make a list. If you find it difficult to bring to mind the things that are so very right with you, ask a close friend what it is they appreciate about you and truly listen to and believe their response.
2. Stop accepting less than you deserve.
Many of us look for our self-worth in the wrong places. Rather than deriving it from ourselves, it is easy to get into the habit of looking to others to make us feel worthy and loved. This can easily lead to struggling stand up for yourself and what, deep down, you know you deserve.
By not wanting to upset others, you may end up giving too generously and find yourself in relationships where you feel you do not get enough in return.
I have fallen into this trap in many relationships over the years. With friends, I would desperately make sure I paid for things to ensure I was never in debt to anyone, and always ended up spending more.
I stayed in an unhealthy relationship littered with infidelity for years longer than I should have because I didn’t have the courage to stand up for myself and say, “How you are treating me is not okay.” It leads to feelings of frustration and resentment, and erodes your self-worth.
My need to be liked and keep others happy led to situations where others took advantage of my good nature. I forgot it was my birthright to have boundaries, and that I didn’t have to put up with other people’s bad behavior. I had forgotten my power to say no.
The lesson: You teach people how to treat you.
Boundaries are important, and if something doesn’t feel right to you, you have to stand up for yourself and say no—whether it is someone’s behavior that’s crossed a line, or their ongoing expectations of your giving nature. You cannot expect anyone else to look out for your needs if you are not willing to first look out for yourself.
If you tolerate negative situations or draining friendships, you are unconsciously saying yes to that type of behavior.
Give yourself the space to reflect on your current relationships and have the courage to ask, “Do I feel I am treated as I deserve?” If the answer is anything but yes, don’t be afraid to reclaim your self-worth and stand up for what you need. You’ll feel better in the long run.
3. Stop putting yourself at the bottom of your to-do list.
Many of us have unconsciously taken on the belief that looking after ourselves is indulgent and selfish, and that the right thing to do is to take care of everyone else first. We put our own well-being at the bottom of our to-do lists and just hope that we might have some time and energy left to give to ourselves.
Yet, if we don’t nourish ourselves, we won’t actually have anything to give. You cannot pour from an empty cup. When you put yourself at the bottom of your to-do list, you begin to burnout. You get sucked into a cycle of exhaustion, martyrdom, and low self-worth.
Although I always had a tendency to give to others before myself, this wasn’t a lesson I was truly faced with until I had children in my late twenties. When there are multiple people relying on you, it becomes very easy to slip into martyrdom and begin to believe you have no time for yourself. After a couple of years of this routine, I reached a breaking point where I felt burned out and depleted.
Slowly but surely, I began to start finding the time for small acts of self-care that revived and restored my spirit.
I found an outlet for my creativity by starting a blog; I began reading again and regularly taking long hot showers. They were small things that made a big difference. I went from feeling rundown, exhausted, and unsure of my worth, to remembering the things that made me feel alive, energized and whole.
The lesson: Recognize that self-care is an essential part of supporting yourself.
When you show yourself respect by prioritizing your needs, and fill up your own cup, you send yourself a message that you are important and worthy.
By consistently showing yourself this level of respect, you can pull yourself out of the cycle of exhaustion and martyrdom and begin to build self-worth. We each have different things that fill us up and make us feel alive and well inside, but you owe it to yourself to discover these things and make time for them in your life.
Cultivating self-worth will be a life-long journey for most of us. It is likely that many times over, life will knock our confidence and we will be required to once again dig deep into ourselves and uncover our inherent worthiness. Being aware of how we can support ourselves empowers us to take actions that will move us forward on the path to greater self-worth.