How to Build Your Self-Worth When No One Taught You How

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by Tiffany Walking Eagle | 8-minute read

These days, the self-love movement and mental health awareness is everywhere you look, but in my humble opinion, there isn’t much practical advice out there on how to actually acquire a healthy sense of self. I see a whole lot of “You’re amazing and beautiful, and you’re doing great, sweetie, and don’t forget to constantly love yourself…” But what does that even mean!?

To those of us searching desperately for ways to find our self-worth, our identities, healthy means of functioning in life, et cetera, “love yourself, sweetie,” doesn’t quite cut it. We’re looking for real ways to find our worth, since our inherent value was never taught to us.

We are broken people with broken parents from broken homes in a broken world trying to make something beautiful, or maybe even just good, but we have no idea how. We’re thrust into life without many of the tools for living, and it’s not that those tools don’t exist, but we just have to take the time to find, learn, and use them.

Healthy relationships with others start with an honest, positive relationship with yourself, so here’s what I’ve discovered about self-worth and how to actually start building it.

What in the world is self-worth? Self-esteem vs. Self-worth

Self-esteem and self-worth are often considered interchangeable, but some sources have very different definitions of the two. Honestly, it really depends where you look, but I’m going to give you the two differing definitions I’ve found, and highlight the importance of self-worth in this case. (In other words, do your own research and draw your own conclusions. This is simply my take based on my research and experience, so think critically, as you always should!)

According to some definitions, self-esteem is your perception of yourself based on your accomplishments and what you think others’ perception of you is. Self-worth, on the other hand, is based on your strengths, flaws, and who you truly are at your core when accomplishments, possessions, and acquisitions are stripped away. While it’s fantastic to be proud of your accomplishments and good to be aware of how others perceive you, a sense of self-worth is a vital part of a healthy existence. Your inherent value as a person does not stem from your accomplishments or what others think of you.

What is self-love really?

Self-love isn’t sleeping in till noon or avoiding your responsibilities because they’re difficult. True self-love is doing the hard things like taking care of yourself, facing tough decisions rather than avoiding them, getting to know who you really are, and acknowledging both the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses.

Why we don’t know what self-worth is

There are a number of reasons why we aren’t taught the importance of self-worth. Maybe you lived in the shadow of a seemingly perfect sibling, maybe you’re the black sheep in your family, or maybe you had overly critical or absent parents or an abusive life partner. Growing up, I saw my parents treat each other with disrespect, and watched my mother crumble into an existence of oblivion to her worth as a wife, mother, and woman. How in the world was she supposed to teach her children about self-worth when she doesn’t know her own?

Please understand, knowing your own self-worth is bigger than you. You never know who’s watching or whose lives you may be influencing.

I don’t know your story, but only you have the power to build your sense of self.

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Why should I work on my sense of self-worth anyway?

When you’re insecure, life in general is just harder. Cultivating authentic relationships is difficult because you’re constantly worried about things like what others think of you or whether people might leave you. Accepting constructive criticism is like swallowing gravel because it can feel like an attack on your intelligence or who you are rather than just advice meant to help you. Social anxiety, people pleasing, depression, resentment, perfectionism, self-loathing, lacking confidence, and more run rampant among those with low levels of self-worth. Rather than struggling through life unsure of why you matter and allowing that insecurity to hold you back, wouldn’t you prefer to work toward a purposeful, enjoyable existence?

A mighty fortress isn’t built in a day. A successful company doesn’t pop up in a week. Self-worth won’t come overnight, but with practice and time, it is attainable.

How to Start:

  1. Know yourself.

You won’t know how to value yourself if you don’t have any self-awareness. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Your fears? Your dreams? Write down a list of your weaknesses and your strengths. What are you good at? What do you suck at? What are you best qualities as well as your worst? Maybe you’re super generous but you have a tough time dealing with correction. Perhaps you’re a procrastinator but you’re incredibly loyal. Whatever and whoever you are, take note of the good and the bad, and make peace with who you are right now.

How, you ask? It will depend on you. You may have to forgive yourself for some things, or maybe you need to let go of resentment you hold against another person. Perhaps you just need a little bit of perspective to realize that hey, you’re actually not so bad! You’ve got some pretty darn good qualities! You’re human, so you have some bad ones too. Hi, welcome to humanity. A large part of this process involves practicing self-acceptance while you’re working to better yourself. Sounds like some kind of ridiculous sorcery, I know, but I promise that it’s possible.

Don’t miss out on who you could be by failing to understand who you truly are and instead allowing yourself to slip into an existence in which you hardly recognize yourself.

2. Have compassion with yourself.

Tell that nasty inner critic to shut up. When you start raking yourself over the coals for a mistake, make a conscious effort to stop. Beating yourself up accomplishes nothing, and rarely does doing so ever improve the situation or help you move on. Don’t say anything to yourself you wouldn’t say to someone else.

As one of my favorite social media influencers likes to say, be kind to yourself because you’re always listening!

3. Accept responsibility.

There is an incredible freedom in responsibility. Sure, avoiding responsibility is cozy and comfortable. It’s easier to blame your circumstances, your childhood, and everything bad that has happened to you for the way you are. Make no mistake; the things you go through in life will likely affect your worldview, your view of yourself, and your attitude toward others. Of course the difficult things you go through will hurt. It’s okay to be angry and hurt and confused by life’s struggles; you’re not an emotionless robot. However, remaining in your difficulties rather than working through them and learning from them and maybe even growing from them will not help you move forward. The decisions you make in response to what happens to you are completely, 100% on you.

You have two choices. Get offended and ignore responsibility because no one else really understands what you went through, and there’s no way any possible growth or good could come from it.

Or, you can be free. You can choose to find the good that can emerge from your broken life. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

The key word here is choice. Choice is a beautiful thing, but it’s also terrifying. You have the power to change your life, but you also have the power to stagnate. Whether the power to choose brings you freedom or drives you away is up to you.

So what’ll it be? The heartache of being stuck or growing pains?

4. Stop neglecting your self-care.

When self-worth is low, we often neglect our self-care in various of ways. Maybe you live on junk food that doesn’t nourish your body. Perhaps you’ve stopped exercising or you never wash your face. Whatever it is, you know what the things you neglect. Wash your face. Put on a little bit of makeup or style your hair. Throw on an outfit you feel good in. Doing these things won’t magically build your self-worth, but these small actions are powerful subconscious reminders that you’re worth taking care of.

This is kind of gross, but in the name of authenticity here, I’ll tell you one of the things I neglect. Daily flossing! I hate flossing for some reason, but ever since I’ve made myself floss before bed even when I’m tired or don’t feel like it, I feel kind of accomplished.

The little things matter. With every small step you take toward improving your self-care, you prove to yourself that you matter.

5. Assess the role of social media in your life.

Social media can be a powerful tool for good, but it can also be incredibly harmful. Whether you’re using social media to seek validation in the form of likes and positive comments, or you tend to compare yourself to those online, thinking they have perfect lives free of hardship, you may want to consider a break from social media or at least reassessing how it makes you feel.

Here’s the truth. You’ll never be fulfilled by the number of likes and followers you get, and Instagram models’ lives are not perfect. Social media is a world of Photoshop and Facetune and filters, and it’s simply not real life. If you find yourself pining after the looks and lives of those on social media, or you depend on social media for acceptance, consider taking a break from it until you’re able to understand detach the internet world from reality.

Any thoughts or stories you’d like to share? Leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! Thanks for reading. <3