Self-Worth (Part II): What does Self-Worth Even Mean?

Over the past few weeks I have written a lot about self-worth… (here, here, and here).

Lately this concept of self-worth has really gotten under my skin. I have noticed in my own life and through discussions with others (mostly women), that we as a species don’t value ourselves enough.

I work exclusively with women and being one myself I am only going to address the woman’s experience with her self-worth. However, I firmly believe that men do not value themselves enough either.

Self-Worth: Defined

I had a working definition of self-worth as I was exploring and writing about self-worth. I knew some theory behind psychological construct, but I felt like I needed more background to truly get to know self-worth on a deeper level. Outside of wanting to understand my own feelings about self-worth, I also wanted to give some shape to the content that I provide to you each week.

I started to dig a little deeper into the construct and I realized that my impression of self-worth is different than that of others in the field.

My first step was going to Google.

Google defined self-worth as, "the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.”

My next question was: "How do we, individually, determine our own value or worth?"

I could think of the external factors that might influence our sense of value, things that we “are” to others (i.e. mother, child, friend, spouse, etc.). Or especially for women, how much we weigh could give us a barometer of how worthy we are on any given day.

The Problem

Some psychologists and theorists believe that self-worth and self-esteem are interchangeable.

Argyle (2008) suggests that there are 4 major factors that influence self-esteem (in this case self-esteem and self-worth are interchangeable):

  1. Reaction of Others (how people perceive and interact with you).
  2. Comparison with Others (how you measure up to your reference group).
  3. Social Roles (what we “do”—parent, doctor, counselor).
  4. Identification (how we identify ourselves within a group—political party, racial group).
However, self-esteem is defined by Google as: “confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect.”

From my perspective, I believe that self-esteem and self-worth have distinguishing factors.

What's The Difference?

Can self-worth have a charge (either positive or negative)?

I don’t believe you can have positive or negative self-worth. I picture self-worth as a cloud that expands. It grows bigger as your sense of your worth or value increases. But you can’t ever have a “negative” cloud. The cloud is always there, it just might be smaller or larger depending on your perception.

Self-esteem fluctuates more than self-worth, depending on the situation. “There is always a degree of evaluation and we may have either a positive or a negative view of ourselves” (McLoad, 2008).

Self-esteem seems to be more like a pendulum. As the atmosphere changes, through pressure shifts, the pendulum moves. It can go left or right (positive or negative) depending on our state of mind how we perceive ourselves and our interaction with the world around us.

I think of self-worth as being a bit more stable.  Self worth is the foundation and self-esteem feeds the foundation to strength it or depletes the foundation weaken it.

We All Have Value

To frame my construct of self-worth I am going to use Google’s definition: “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.”

I believe that our value as human beings has nothing to do with what we “do” or who we are to others.

We may choose to connect our sense of worth to: what we mean to others, what others think of us, or what we have accomplished today or in our lifetime.

But the reality is just being alive gives you worth. Living gives you value.

That is enough.

In reference to Brooke Castillo’s podcast, she talks about pink diamonds. Pink diamonds are highly valued, potentially higher than white diamonds. Some people don’t like pink diamonds. But just because someone does not like pink diamonds, does not mean they have no value or worth. They are still a valued stone. They just are.

All human beings have value. They have worth by just being alive. It is not ours to decide whether people have value or not.

There is a difference between our true value or worth, and our sense or opinion of our worth.

My Offering

Many of us connect our sense of worth with our accomplishments as well as what others think of us.

This can make for a shaky personal relationship with ourselves.

It is important for us to reminder that we are like pink diamonds: people may love us or not, but even if they don’t we still have intrinsic value.

Let me suggest that you first become aware of your beliefs about your worth.

Do you base your sense of worth on what you do or what you've accomplished (i.e. mothering, academic programs, etc.)?

What thoughts are your brain producing around your sense of worth?

Our brains have been producing and practicing certain thoughts for a long time. These practiced thoughts turn into our beliefs. These beliefs can play on repeat all day long in our minds.

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are creating these beliefs!

Are your thoughts on repeat throughout the day?

If they are that is OK.

The first step to understanding and possibly changing the self-worth paradigm is awareness.

Please read next week when I go deeper into self-concept (self-worth, self-esteem, self-image).