Are You Worth It?
Do you deserve to wear that beautiful scarf? Do you deserve to get your way?
Most people know what self-esteem is. Merriam-Webster defines it as: “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities; a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.”
I often hear the terms self-esteem and self-worth used interchangeably. In fact, if you look up “self-worth” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it defines it simply as “self-esteem,” as if they mean the exact same thing.
It may seem wrong for a psychologist to claim to know more about a word definition than the world’s foremost expert on word defining, but I think there is a helpful and important distinction between these two terms.
Here’s how I define self-worth: Your sense of your value as a human being.
Self-esteem says something about how good you feel you are at particular skills and inherent abilities, such as your intelligence, athletic ability, relationships. How are you doing in life, and how do you feel about it?
In contrast, self-worth goes more to your value as a human being: what you feel you have to offer the world, and what you deserve to get from the world.
It is possible to have low self-esteem but good self-worth. But if you have poor self-worth, you will almost certainly also have low self-esteem.
In my work with scores of people over two decades, I have seen that people are able to recognize their low self-esteem and talk about it much more easily than they can their low self-worth. After all, self-esteem is about qualities that are visible to others. When you continually get feedback from all around you that is inconsistent with your own perceptions, you are likely to catch glimpses that your self-esteem is too low. For example, you may surprise yourself by continually making A’s in college when you don’t see yourself as particularly bright. This may lead you to look more closely at yourself, and see the gap between your own self-esteem and reality.
In contrast, self-worth is buried deep within you. It’s difficult to perceive, and hard to put into words. But a healthy sense of self-worth is vital to happiness and success. It is the springboard from which to take risks, ask for what you need, and take on challenges. You can’t just feel confident that you can do something (self-esteem). You have to also believe that you deserve the opportunity to do it (self-worth).
While reading this, have you been thinking about your own self-worth? Do you feel that it is high, low, or somewhere in-between? Here are some basic aspects of self-worth to think about and use as a guide:
1. Self-worth is typically determined by your experience in childhood. Did your parents treat you as worthy? Did they act as if you deserved love, care, admiration, happiness, and the other good things that life has to offer?
2. Self-worth can be damaged by a painful or harmful experience in your adult life. A scathing divorce, emotional abuse, or making a big mistake that leaves you feeling a heavy burden of guilt. All of these are examples of life events that can leave you feeling less worthy, undeserving, or of lower value.
3. In reality, no one person’s value or rights as a human being is higher or lower than any other’s. As a human being, you have an inherent value. You bring your own gifts and challenges to the world, and you have the same rights as every other person to take chances, make mistakes, find success, overcome failure, and enjoy yourself.
Self-esteem and self-worth are both important. But please do not confuse the two. It is vital to have healthy levels of both if you are to live a happy and satisfying life. So take a look at yourself and pay attention to what you see. Remind yourself every day of your value and quality as a deserving person. After all, if you are able to see your own value, it will show on your face. People will look into your eyes and it will be reflected there. And then they will see it too.