Mental Health Matters: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

As promised, I’m shifting the focus of Mental Health Matters to discuss ways I’ve learned to be a less codependent version of myself. This week, I’ll discuss one of the characteristics of being codependent: having low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is defined as the manner in which we evaluate ourselves. For example, I’ve always believed myself to be a pretty and intelligent person, thus creating high self-esteem.

However, self-worth is the belief that you are loveable and valuable regardless of how you evaluate your traits. Your self-worth is directly related to your childhood. For example, because I was abandoned as a baby and then later as an adolescent, I believed I was literally worthless. Underneath my highly rated self-esteem was a very low self-worth. I truly believed I didn’t deserve love.

But over time, I’ve developed a higher sense of self-worth with these three practices:

Remove Personal Value from Abandonment. As a person who was abandoned by her birth and adoptive parents, I constantly wondered why? Why was I left? What was wrong with me? Because I’m analytical, the conclusion that made sense was…I guess they didn’t love me. To establish a higher self-worth, I had to separate my parents’ actions with how much they valued or loved me. Like all adults, each of my parents had their own reasons for how they lived life. And although their actions negatively impacted me in some ways, it had nothing to do with my worthiness but, rather, everything to do with their own issues and rationales. There is no reason for me to take any of my parent’s choices personally and there is definitely no reason to assign my value to their decisions.

Enact Self-Love. The other day, I was listening to Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Loosely paraphrased, she suggested that if four basic needs weren’t met by aged two, then you’re not going to receive them unless you give them to yourself. My experience tells me she’s right. Once I realized I had low self-worth, I knew one thing I had to do was love my own self. So, six years ago, I visualized myself as a five-month-old abandoned baby. Being a mother, I knew a baby needed physical contact, food, and security. In my imagination, I picked up baby kg, hugged myself, and told myself: I love you. You matter. Just last month, I learned that you can also give yourself a hug as a way to show yourself love. This month, I’ve continued my self-love work practice by reading and enacting Louise Hay’s mirror work. Self-love, for someone who hasn’t had it, can be ongoing work. But it’s worth it. I mean, who else is better equipped to remind myself that I’m worthy of love than me?

I AM Statements. A therapist once pointed out that I used the phrase I’m not important a lot. Whenever a family member or friend didn’t do something I’d asked, then I concluded it was because I wasn’t important. The therapist suggested a homework assignment: Write I am important, repeatedly. I’d already been keeping a gratitude journal, so I began writing it there. After I realized I had to love myself, I added I am love to the list. I also write I am adequate as a way to remind myself that I am fine just the way I am…today…in this moment. Whether I have achievements, people, or neither…I am adequate being who I am. I’ve written these statements at least four times a week for almost ten years.

So, what does this have to do with codependence? Although Beattie only mentions self-esteem, I firmly believe that low self-worth can also lead to unhealthy, codependent attachments. For me, each relationship, including my marriage, served to prove that I was lovable and worthy of love, that I mattered.

These three strategies have helped me to know my worth, and consequently, have made me less likely to develop relationships to prove my value. 

If necessary, I hope what I’ve shared works for you, too. And if you have more suggestions to add, please feel free to do so in the comments.

***

Here is more information about the difference between self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, and self-knowledge.

How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

No More People Pleasing!

68 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

  1. Great read. Question though…my ex (Mr. C) is in a relationship now and his new girlfriend is having issues with us being friends and talking on the phone. She’s asked to see photos of me and to meet me and know every time he talks with me or a few other of his female friends. She doesn’t believe men and women can just be friends. Is it self-esteem or self-worth?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 😀 I know someone (my furloughed boss, he’s still furloughed because he is an *sshole!) Who has VERY high self esteem, he hasn’t and most definitely an unattractive also unhealthy way to regard yourself.

    I would suggest to be in a position to consider yourself as high worth you have to be in a happy and yes fulfilling sexual relationship, then again the two go hand in hand. How else can you say you have high self worth if no one else thinks you have? I’d say that’s lol delusional.

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      1. Hmm 🙄perhaps my comment appeared a little negative, yes I would suggest someone cannot have high self esteem and low self worth……… For example relationships are tricky if you think to yourself ‘she could find someone better than me’, I would say high self worth is more important than how high self esteem, so much better that someone thinks we’ll of you than yourself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sooo, of course I disagree because I’ve lived this experience. I definitely felt high of myself in terms of looks and smarts, but I literally didn’t think (although I had/have a husband and daughters) that I deserved to have them. In fact, before I knew these terms existed, I’d said the words out loud, “I don’t deserve this,” without knowing why.

        I also think both (all of these) are equally important to have a whole experience.

        I appreciate your comment Andrew 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Your distinction between self-esteem and self-worth is very helpful. I’d never separated them that way. I think my self-esteem is fine. It is with self-worth that I struggle. I’d not realized the difference.

    Your situation is sad, but you are so strong in learning and moving forward. You are okay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for saying this. It was helpful for me as well because a lot of times I would read things and think, “this isn’t me” and it wasn’t. It’s important to delve deeper into these ideas. Thank you also for your kind words at the end ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So many life lessons in this post Dr. G! You have a way of writing and sharing that empowers your readers and you. You open up with so much curiosity and quest for the higher truth. (I have many family stories that relate to what you are sharing. I also love how specific and prescriptive your reflections are. All three are wonderful. Yet, the one that stands out for me the most is: “Remove Personal Value from Abandonment”. Thank you for this ^ and all that you do as a writer and human being. Your learning teaches us all. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Dr. D! I like that one as well because we personalize so much. I mean it’s hard not to because we’re all connected, and especially with family stuff, we’ve come to believe that everything a parent/child does it some personal action. That’s just not true.

      Anywho, thank you for stopping by! I always appreciate it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Visualizing your former self and changing your dynamics that way is very interesting. It’s a mental/spiritual journey. I know for myself I play a lot of previous scenarios/mistakes in my head constantly. Perhaps that technique can work if one needs to forgive themselves as well.

    This is a good and honest post. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was. The book I’m reading now takes it even further. You take yourself back through each stage of development (baby, toddler, adolescent, etc.) and then eventually go forward in time to your oldest self…it was very emotional for me. Ironically, that book also talks about the need to forgive others and YOURSELF! Here’s the link if you’re interested: https://www.amazon.com/Mirror-Work-Days-Heal-Your/dp/1401949827/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1LI3VFDEXJULZ&dchild=1&keywords=mirror+work+louise+hay&qid=1600285475&sprefix=mirror+work%2Caps%2C214&sr=8-1

      Thank you for reading/commenting. I appreciate it. I try to be as authentic as I can on this blog ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the power of ‘I am’ statements. Ruben meditates before sleep each night he’s with me and one of the guided meditations he does is an ‘I am’ meditation at the end of which he states 3 qualities himself. As for the rest, yup, same here and on an ongoing journey of self love 💛.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love how you share what has worked for you so that others can benefit. I think that people helping others in the same situation, no matter what the situation, is so important and so helpful. Learning how to let go of a negative self-image and exchange it for a more positive one is no easy thing, especially when some family members seem threatened by that change. (At least in my experience.) But the struggle is worth it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is absolutely no easy thing, so thanks for this encouragement Ann. I think my family wants to see me happy, but I also know they didn’t realize I was as unhappy as I was. But I will second that part about people feeling threatened by how we change; many would rather people stay the same, I think because it benefits them in some way to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for all of this, Kathy. All this time I didn’t know that self-esteem and self-worth were two distinct things! I have not used affirmations consistently but they have helped to interrupt a lot of negative self-talk and anxiety. 🙏🏾💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leslie, I miss your blog so much! …and you’re welcome. I actually didn’t realize it either, so I was kind of surprised to learn of these differences too. The other terms at the end, like self-confidence are completely new to me, but it makes sense to differentiate them in this way. It’s the reason so many would look at me and not realize I was unhappy at all…self-esteem tells you you can do anything (like attain a PhD lol), but like me…once I did all of the things, I was like hmmmI still feel pretty awful about myself and I gotta figure out why.

      I stand by affirmations wholeheartedly!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So interesting that self-esteem enables you to pursue and achieve goals without rewarding you with greater self-worth! This post is a great clarifier!
        And Kathy, thank you for saying that you miss my blog – I miss it too and have been consider re-launching it sometime in the near future. 💞

        Liked by 1 person

  9. You have done a remarkable job, Katherin. You childhood and formative years held challenges that most people couldn’t imagine and look at you now. You’ve come such a distance from where you started. I am glad you have been able to find insight and lessons from your coping strategies. The harder part is wishing you could impart more lessons for your daughter, who I remember you writing – “has struggles.” I understand!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for hearing/listening to me Judy. I stray away from speaking specifically about both of my daughters’ “issues” for a myriad of reasons you probably understand, but yes…a lot of what I write about is directly linked to also helping/understanding them, which is no easy feat. (That was along sentence).

      This is also why I’ve thought it best to just focus on me. In healing myself, I’m able to vibrate differently and kind of indirectly love and honor them differently.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I had a long relationship (most of my 20s) in which I worked and worked to prove my worth — and it wasn’t even the case that I didn’t believe in my worth. Somehow I created a codependent scene anyhow, believing and insisting to myself that this person would see me in my true light at some point. It wasn’t possible. I am so thankful we didn’t get married, but after 25 years I still struggle to understand why I believed he was the one who ought to validate my beliefs about myself. Of course, there are lots of reasons. It feels strange to still be puzzling over it, but that’s the way it is for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand exactly what you’re saying Fran. When I first began a journey of self-healing, it felt really weird to be pondering things when I was in my 40s :-/ especially when these are things from childhood, but the reality is unless we actually sit and think on it for a minute, they’ll always resurface, like the question you posed.

      I’m not saying YOU have to ponder anything…just this is what I’ve learned about myself, so I understand the sentiment ❤

      Thanks also for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. “If four basic needs weren’t met by age two, then you’re not going to receive them unless you give them to yourself.” Something in that statement connected with me, with something I was thinking a few days ago. In Erikson’s model of psychosocial development, each stage is built on the prior one(s). Lots of us reach middle age striving for self-actualization, not realizing it is an impossible goal if you haven’t achieved the foundational steps. If your childhood was a mess of mistrust, shame, and doubt, you will spend the rest of your life trying to “fake it until you make it” where making it is impossible. You can’t turn back the clock, so how do you fix it? Finally, the answer. Meet those needs yourself. I always wondered why I gravitated toward crayons, Legos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cuddling with my dog. Now I know. I was feeding the hungry child within, giving myself what had been missing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This is EXACTLY it Joan. Some of us are just little children trying to attain what we missed in childhood. That Shefali quote was rather sad to me, but like Erickson’s stages of development, it makes perfect sense. How are we ever going to grow, if we replace doughnuts with the hug we really needed lol (laughing but this is true for many). Replace doughnut with literally anything.

      I’m going to talk about cuddles (with dogs and others) a little later. Turns out that’s important, too.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Good points, although for me, affirmations have never worked well. I tend to focus on what I have managed to accomplish, and how my behavior and work has affected the world or people around me, to feel better about myself. Only really works partially, though, I’ll admit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you!

      What you’ve described is actually a recommendation to remove addictions Shira. They say something like replace the thing you’re addicted to with doing something positive for society and focus on that (kind of similar). I think many of these strategies only work partially for a lot of reasons…too many reasons to outline here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting: I’ve had at least one therapist accuse me of staying busy just to cover up/not deal with childhood stuff. And you’re right, most strategies only work partly, which is why we need lots of them in our toolboxes. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So let me clarify. If you’re doing something else INSTEAD of dealing with the root cause, then the therapist is right. But if you’re dealing with root causes AND replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms with what you e described, then it’s okay (from what I’ve read).

        Liked by 1 person

  13. The abandonment thing. I have a friend who did open adoption. The kid never new bio father. Bio mother came to see him for scheduled visits once a year for first five years and then she dropped off the face of the earth. One of the adoptive fathers died when kid was in third grade. Other father tried, but guy has a job he lives, and two other kids, one with severe special needs. To say the kid hasn’t handled it well is an understatement. I don’t know what you do

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This sounds like quite a story. I think, kind of like I learned, that person is going to have to one day realize that none of these adults have anything to do with how important/how loved/how whatever he is. It’s something that only he can come to grips with, if he wants to. You know?

      Liked by 2 people

  14. “I firmly believe that low self-worth can also lead to unhealthy, codependent attachments.” I strongly agree with this. The lack of self-esteem leads to a negative, self-fulfilling destiny. Excellent post!

    Liked by 3 people

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