We often hear of self-worth as necessary for forming a healthy sense of self-esteem and a solid self-identity. Self-worth is at the foundation for the concepts of self-acceptance and self-love. Without feeling a solid sense of worth or value it is difficult, if not impossible to feel worthy of love or acceptance from others.
The implications for a lack of self-worth are many. Those with limited self-worth are more vulnerable to experiencing toxic relationships and self-defeating behaviors which can include negative self-talk, avoidance of intimacy, comparing themselves to others or sabotaging relationships because of feeling undeserving of them. And, for anyone who has experienced an unhealthy or abusive relationship, they know all too well that the feelings of self-doubt that bubble up over time often get reinforced when staying in a toxic situation. Yet, because of their lack of self-worth or feelings of shame, they find themselves staying stuck in an unhealthy situation.
Adults with a history of childhood neglect or abuse often struggle with insecure attachments throughout life, including issues in forming and maintaining a healthy sense of self-worth. Enmeshed, anxious-ambivalent, angry-dismissive or avoidant attachment styles are at an increased risk for diagnoses like depression, anxiety, and in repeating cycles of unhealthy relationship dynamics which perpetuate feelings of worthlessness or in lacking value. Similarly, those who are raised to not recognize their competencies or skills often struggle with feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem throughout life.
10 Warning Signs that Self-Worth is Lacking
- Feeling uncomfortable or self-conscious around others.
- Avoidance of new places, relationships, or situations.
- A history of abusive or neglectful relationships where basic needs are often unmet.
- Seeking validation from others; a constant need for reassurance.
- Settling for shallow or unfulfilling relationships.
- Deep feelings of shame or not feeling “good enough”.
- Discomfort with or inability to accept compliments from others.
- People-pleasing behavior.
- Sensitive to criticism or a fear of being judged by others.
- Social anxiety or fear of being judged as unworthy.
Building or rebuilding self-worth is a process and requires dedication, commitment and a desire to recognize that you are a worthwhile person.
Some tips in helping (re)establish a sense of worth include:
- Aim for Improvement not Perfection. Shed the misconception that you or anyone has to be perfect. When self-worth is lacking, comparing yourself to others is common. What happens is you wind up shortchanging your attributes and qualities while focusing on your imperfections, which keeps you stuck in the loop of thinking you have no value. This type of mindset is toxic to self-love. Instead, recognize that no one is perfect and that imperfection does not mean a lack of worth or value.
- Walk Away from Toxic Relationships. When you struggle with self-worth, you can be attracted to unhealthy relationships for many reasons — they fill a void, they distract you in the moment from having to think about your problems, your attention is shifted from your issues to focusing on their problems, or you may feel that a toxic relationship that lacks authenticity and depth is all you’re deserving of. These relationships are not limited to intimate partners but can also include friends, colleagues or family. Recognize whether your needs are being met or ignored, and how you feel when you are around certain people. If you are feeling unheard or invisible around them, or feel worse about yourself when you are with them, the relationship may not be a healthy one.
- Acceptance. Recognize your inherent value and worth by accepting yourself completely while focusing on building your self-worth from there. Acceptance includes being kind to yourself, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and human and to treat yourself with compassion. If you have struggled with never feeling good enough throughout most of your life, be realistic in your expectations of personal growth and appreciate every step you master along the way. Remember that the journey is as important as the destination.
- Positively Challenge Your Inner Critic. That little voice in your head wants to try and convince you that you are not good enough or worthy of happiness or love. And each time you sabotage your happiness, that little voice wins. If your inner critic is trying to convince you that you are not deserving of love or happiness, or only worth a toxic relationship, challenge those negative thoughts by becoming aware of when you are having them. Where are you when you hear negative self-talk? What are you doing? Try removing yourself from what you’re “being told” by challenging your misbeliefs as untrue.
Bilfulco, A., Moran, P. M., & Lillie, C. B. (2002). Adult attachment style: It’s relationship to psychosocial depressive-vulnerability. Soc. Psychiatry and Psych. Epidemiology, 37, 60 -67.
McCarthy, G., & Taylor, A. (1999). Avoidant/ambivalent attachment style as a mediator between abusive childhood experiences and adult relationship difficulties. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 40(3), 465 – 477.