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How to Stop Tying Your Worth to Things Outside Yourself

Woman Relaxing

“If you find yourself constantly trying to prove your worth to someone, you have already forgotten your value.” ~Unknown

There’s nothing like being one of the few black kids in your school to make you feel like the odd person out.

Well, that was my experience, anyway. I appreciate my parents’ desire to provide my brother and me with a safe neighborhood to live in and a good education, but growing up in a predominantly white area really affected me. I very rarely felt like I fit in among my peers.

That didn’t stop me from trying, though. I did all I could to get people to like me—to feel accepted. Perfectionism quickly became my best friend.

The pressure I put on myself to be perfect wasn’t completely unproductive. I ended up earning the honor of being my school’s first black valedictorian. I also lost seventy pounds and became a renowned soloist in my school district.

But those accomplishments still weren’t enough to make me feel worthy. Deep down, what I really wanted was a boyfriend. Maybe if I could find a boy to like me, I thought, I wouldn’t feel so different from my peers.

Unfortunately, finding a boyfriend proved to be difficult. It wasn’t until I was twenty-one years old that I had my first kiss and met my first serious boyfriend. Finally, I felt normal—all because a man believed I was special.

The problem with connecting my relationship status with my self-worth is that I desperately clung to my boyfriend, despite the many red flags present within our relationship. It took nearly four years before I accepted that his behavior toward me was rather abusive and that I needed to leave.

By the time I left that relationship, my sense of worth was pretty shot. It’s ironic that low self-worth is what led me to the relationship, kept me in the relationship, and what I had to deal with once I left the relationship.

I learned the hard way that when we connect our worth with anything outside of ourselves, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.

Yes, it’s a common trap many of us find ourselves in, but it’s a dangerous one. During the last five years of healing from abuse, I’ve eventually come to realize that my worthiness is an entity separate from my appearance, relationship status, and success.

Yours is too.

These days, I firmly believe that a deep sense of self-worth is the foundation each person needs to fully thrive in his/her work, relationships, and other life endeavors. Despite what society likes to tell us, weight loss, engagement rings, and becoming the CEO of your company aren’t what make us worthy. Such things just don’t have that power in the long-term.

On the contrary, it is because we are worthy that we’re able to accomplish and enjoy such wonderful things. And when we believe we’re worthy, we bring more of our light into the world. We tend to attract similar light too.

So, how exactly does one develop a deep sense of self-worth?

That is the question—and the challenge.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re looking to deepen your self-worth. The following list is certainly not a formula, but it just might get you thinking about how you can get in touch with your own worthiness.

Acknowledge when you are seeking external validation.

It’s common to seek validation from others, so I wouldn’t expect you quit that habit cold turkey. You’re human!

That said, it’s important to at least acknowledge when you’re seeking it. “I’m looking for people to validate me so I feel worthy” might sound like a silly thing to say aloud, but you can’t address a problem until you acknowledge its existence.

Then, think about why external validation is so important to you.

Sometimes, when I find myself pining for more Facebook likes or a quick compliment from my husband, I stop myself and think. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting people to appreciate my work or my husband to tell me I’m attractive, but if I’m wrapping up my entire well-being in either of those things, I’m in for some major disappointment.

Other people weren’t created to make me feel good about myself; that’s my own issue that I need to work on.

Usually, when we’re urgently seeking external validation, there’s a fear underlying our desperation. Getting in touch with those fears is important because then we can determine whether our fears are reality or just fears. Most of the time, they’re just fears, and we shouldn’t give them more power than they deserve.

Practice self-love by caring, comforting, and soothing yourself.

Often, when we’re longing for validation, it’s because we’re in need of attention. Caring, comforting, and soothing ourselves, particularly during hard times, need to become common practices. A lot of times we can give ourselves the attention we’re yearning for; we just have to get used to doing so.

I’m not suggesting that individuals can replace the role of community in their own lives; we still need loved ones to share life with us. But when we really value something, we treat it well. And you deserve to be at the top of the list of things you value, especially if you haven’t been for a significant period of time.

In other words, treat yourself like you know you’re worth it and one day, you just might believe it.

Be willing to believe you are worthy.

You might not have a whole lot of self-worth today, but that doesn’t mean you never will. So, while you’re doing the work of deepening your self-worth, believe that you are capable of doing so too. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Commit to the journey.

Deepening your sense of self-worth is no easy feat. It is, indeed, a journey. And because of all the topsy-turvy feelings this journey might invoke, it’s wise to commit to it prior to taking the first step.

Humans make significant decisions every day that require displays of commitment (i.e.: getting married, buying a house, adopting a pet). While I don’t think you have to plan a wedding ceremony for yourself (unless you really want to), I do think the decision to deepen your self-worth should be viewed as a significant one requiring the utmost commitment.

In fact, I’d say deepening your self-worth is one of the most significant commitments any person can make. Don’t you?

Grasping the connection between my self-worth and the way I treat myself was life-changing for me. If you’re struggling to believe in your own worthiness, I strongly suggest that you embark on your own journey towards doing so. That journey just might change your life too.

Besides, you’re worth it.

Woman relaxing image via Shutterstock

About Akirah Robinson

Akirah Robinson is a licensed social worker, writer, and breakup coach who helps women heal and seek healthy relationships. Learn more about her at akirahrobinson.com and check out her new book "Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life" in paperback and Kindle. Wanna connect? Follow Akirah on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Noel

    I used to think I wasn’t good enough especially after I’ve been passed over twice for promotion. My self-esteem back then was at an all time low. I mean, what do I have to do for management to recognize my performance. At that time, I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a manager.

    Then I moved to another company and in less than a year, I’ve held the position I feared I wasn’t qualified to hold and that was more than enough for me to realize that people have different standards but the most important one is the standard you set for yourself.

    This is a great post Akirah! I loved it and thank you for sharing!

  • Bullyinglte

    Thank you for sharing this. I know many of us have spent years measuring our worth, based on how others feel about us. This is a common problem of sensitive people, of which I am one of. It is also common for C-PTSD sufferers as they are always working in recovery to try to please based on past abuse.

    The fear you feel is paralyzing. But once you find that your self-worth has always been from within, then you can turn the corner. I always try to compare it to the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy always had the shoes to go home the whole time, but needed the journey of self-discovery first.

  • Jennifer Taglione

    Wow Akirah, this is amazing! I read the post and it really summed up and helped me clarify what I’ve been struggling with lately. Then I got to the end and saw your name and did a double take. I remember your early blogs and how much I enjoyed them years ago and look at you now, on Tiny Buddha!!!! Congrats to you girl!

  • Nitebug

    Great article. Especially for a guy like me who had low self esteem in my past.

  • Hi Jennifer! It’s so good to see your comment here. I’m glad this post resonated with you too. 🙂

  • Amen. I love the Dorothy analogy too. It’s great when folks encourage and compliment us, but those outside reinforcements can’t be our sole motivators. Sooooo hard, though. But definitely worth working on.

  • Thanks Noel! And you ARE good enough. I’m glad you’ve gradually realized that.

  • Thanks! And I feel you. I’ve really struggled with my self-esteem until recently when I learned about the concept of self-compassion. You should look into it…it totally changed my life. Best of luck!

  • J Mac

    I just realized that I treat myself way more harshly than I would let others treat me – thanks for pointing out the importance of treating yourself well. I think this will be a helpful piece in growing my confidence.

  • J Mac…thank YOU for reading it. And I am glad you feel encouraged to grow your confidence. 🙂

  • Thanks so much for sharing. I too have gone through such struggles even though race wasn’t my problem. I have suffered for years and have finally decided to start living and let go of trying to be perfect. My self worth was so shot that even after studying for years acquiring 4 undergrad degrees and 4 masters degrees I still believe I was the most unintelligent person in the world. I was afraid to speak because I felt people would hear me and know that I am illiterate and stupid.
    I am not where I should be as yet but with growing self with confidence, self acceptance and not waiting for validation I am so far from where I was. I am happy just being here.

  • liz

    i’ve read this several times now and i just want to say thank you. this is something i’ve been struggling with for a while now. it’s good to know that i’m not alone and it helps to hear that it’s not realistic to quit cold turkey (although it’s so hard to not hold myself to that “perfect” standard that i’m so used to)! thanks for sharing your experiences. <3

  • JMM

    Nice piece, thank you and shared it also. As a recovering addict I spent years having very low self-esteem and self-respect. Always trying to be something I wasn’t, and ended up hating myself.

  • nmbull24

    You mentioned: Practice self-love by caring, comforting, and soothing yourself.

    How does one do that? Do you have some practical things you can do?

  • Fern

    This post is great! I recently moved to a new city and I’ve had the worst time finding new friends. Being in my 30s doesn’t help. This really gave me a boost and reminded me to keep my head up. 🙂 Thank you Akirah!

  • Thanks for sharing this Rose. I am so glad you are growing and learning to accept yourself more. And hey, how about this? Instead of saying you’re not where you “should be,” you can say, “I’m not where I deserve to be.” I’m always telling my clients to change the word “should” to “deserve” and observe how awesome the slight change feels.

    XO!

  • You’re welcome, Fern! Yes, keep your head up. The only way you can be on the lookout for new opportunities, new friends, and new lessons is if you keep your head up! 🙂

  • Thanks! I’m sending you life and love as you walk the path of recovery.

  • Progress, not perfection. And you’re very welcome. Thanks for reading!

    P.S. If you’re a recovering perfectionist, I recommend Googling the concept “self-compassion.” It changed my life!

    XO!

  • missgiving

    Wow–Akirah! It’s as if we shared the same life story. I need to print this out.

  • It’s reassuring to know I am not alone. Thanks!

  • Many so called “mental illnesses” come from a lack of self-worth. And even “The Secret” talks mostly about obtaining those outer manifestations to feel good. So I am glad you wrote about self-worth and happiness as being an inside job. However, as a relationship coach, I am sure you know the value of checking in with someone to help gauge that inner connection. Someone who is objective, with an open mind and a big heart, can be very helpful. Stay alone with your ultimate self-judgements and decisions, but get feedback first.

  • Makayla

    I think a part of my low self esteem is because I don’t give myself enough credit. I feel like when I say “I’m worthy” I’m lying to myself.. I feel arrogant. I believe in myself that I can accomplish great things, but I can’t say that “I’m worthy” without a little disbelief.

  • Sheree C

    Sometimes it can help to have a quick conversation with yourself about the topic of culture and society. We learn from a very young age {in America anyway} not to “brag”, be self righteous, and that talking about ourselves or having a strong sense of confidence {+ self-worth} equates to cockiness, being a priss and/or selfish. Obviously these things can be true, but I’m talking more about the way these “don’ts” and ways not to be shape our mind. We detach from ourselves from connecting to our inner radiance and worthiness because we are taught to please them {teachers, coaches, parents, professionals….others}.
    Anyway… a really great book is The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte and a self-loving, worthy practice can be to start with a simple breathing meditation where you sit in presence with yourself and remind yourself you are in the process of accepting self-worth as a positive vibration/thing/feeling and lessening the resistance and guilt you feel about it otherwise.

    Namaste.
    Great post Akirah. Thank you.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I know my self-esteem, despite having it swiped on several different occasions. I feel it’s okay to be unique, and unfortunately, it’s difficult to accept. There’s nothing wrong with being entitled to your opinion, but no one has the right to disrespect you and your beliefs.

    What people think of me is irrelevant, so I don’t care. I shouldn’t have to waste time seeking their approval.

    Thank you, Akirah, for writing an excellent article.

  • Ivan Schneider

    When people tell me that I don’t give myself enough credit, they are all lying.

  • Rema

    Akirah – I really enjoyed this article. Kudos to you. I’m definitely going to use the tips you offered. As an African-American, I too grew up in an area where I was the only black kid. Even now, I am the only African-American in my department. I find that I work so hard (perfectionism) to get external validation to feel worthy, hoping that one day I will feel good enough. Thanks again.

  • Rema

    Noel – you are totally right. Different people have different standards but the most important one is the standard we set for ourselves.

  • Eman

    Does this method apply for everyone? Cause i know some people who are born normal but circumstances have made them look wierd or subnormal..but that is not true. They are also human beings or parthuman who seek truth and love like everyone else. Just in a unmainstream point of view.