Not a day goes by where I don’t talk to at least one of my clients about issues of self-worth. If we would talk about “core wounds of humanity” this is certainly one of the deepest, and most common. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if this is not at the heart of every human condition. The difference, perhaps, is only in how we respond and compensate.
At its most basic, we find that there are stories inside each of us about how and why we are “not good enough” or simply “not enough” in some way. When we believe this (and man, is it ever easy to believe this sometimes!) then it is not surprising that it becomes a basic psychological need to find ways of feeling “enough”.
But how do you define what makes a person good enough? What criteria do we use to determine our self-worth? This is the million dollar question. I believe that however you answer that question determines the fundamental drives in your life. Why? Because if you don’t have essential worth as a human, then your existence is precarious, and therefore you can never simply rest – and never, ever be truly happy.
If you believe that you need to be married, or have money, or have a nice body, or be liked, or own something, before you can feel good enough – then you will essentially be bound by that. Your whole life will revolve around achieving whatever it is that makes you feel worthy and enough. But when you believe the thing that gives you worth is some kind of external condition – well look out. That’s a recipe for disaster. Because conditions don’t last.
At the root, it seems like most of us believe that our sense of self-esteem and worth comes from the approval of other people. Especially key people in our lives that we hold in special regard. This is very natural, since when we are growing up, we have an evolutionary drive to ensure a safe connection to our caregivers that protects us and keep us alive. So it makes sense in this way – we need our parents to at least “like” us in order for them to bother to keep us alive.
“It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.” ~ Byron Katie
Our need to be included in social circles is a primitive drive that motivates us to stay within the protection of our tribe. So the need to be liked by others can very truly feel like it is fused with our actual safety as a human being. But this drive gets warped in time.
However, when we believe that we need the validation of others in order to be existentially “good enough” we are now enslaved by the opinions of others. We are no longer free to simply be.
Unhooking from this is, I believe, a core process that all of us need to confront and clarify. Otherwise, we will never find lasting peace or happiness, since the possibility of that is constantly threatened by the shifting conditions of people and events.
When you can find your inner worth that is independent of conditions (people, things) then you are finally free to live your most joyful and creative and meaningful life – whatever that means for you.
And that is the direction that we all want to go in, after all.
Self-worth is an enormous subject and I would like to address it further. If you feel that this is an issue for yourself, look for another post that will talk more about what we can do to start seeing our worth in new ways.