What if I was to tell you that your sense of your self-worth is directly proportional to your happiness in life? Have you ever pondered what on earth self-worth is?The dictionary defines self-worth as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.” But how do we get to value ourselves? Well, one thing is for sure: None of us are born with it.
Here are the two ways we can get a healthy dose of self-worth:
1. Learn it from responsive primary caregivers in our early life, or
2. Cultivate it through dedicated “self-work” as an adult.
Origin of self-worth
Believe it or not, the value we place on ourselves in the world begins forming in our mother’s womb alongside the development of our nervous system as early as twenty-eight days after our conception! As an infant, our worth is shaped by how we are perceived by our first attachment figures—our parents. Our brain gets sculpted by the information it actually processes, so a nurturing environment ideally will form the blueprint of how we should expect life to go for us, which is directly related to our perception of our place in this world. Imagine our brain as a network of freeways taking us to different destinations.
When we feel a need like hunger, as a baby, we do not yet know what that leads to. If the response from our mother comes in the form of a feeding, that builds a “freeway” in our brain’s neural circuitry, which takes us to a place where we feel reflected and seen. Therefore, a positive implicit memory forms about our place in the world. (Implicit is a memory that cannot be recalled consciously.)
Of course what I call “a freeway” is basically a connection between our neurons (synapses). These connections represent the main channels of information flow and storage in our brain.
In early childhood, hundreds of synapses are formed per second. It is within these connections and not in plain sight, where how much we value ourselves forms.
Later, as children, we process more data from the outside world, creating more pathways of being, while in the background; we chisel away parts of ourselves that are not reflected by the outside world. Sadly, storing away what the external environment, does not reward, can lead to us having a diminished sense of self-worth over time without even realizing it.
The delightful Dr. Brene Brown has pretty much proven in over fifteen years of grounded theory research (generation of theory from systematic research), that our issues with self-worth are universal!
That means that although we may not want to admit it or be consciously aware of it, we could all improve our experience of life (even just a tad) by investing some of our attention in uncovering areas of improvement in how much we truly value ourselves.
Here is a list of behaviors that give away that one has a wounded sense of self-worth. If you identify with any of the items below, be happy, because addressing these issues is also the “to-do list” to get on the pathway to living the most beautiful experience of life ever imaginable.
-We look for approval in external sources, although we do not like to admit it!
-We are not that good at setting boundaries. We have a hard time saying no, although that makes us very frustrated on the inside.
-Although we are very good at playing the role of a good relationship partner in the beginning of a relationship, deep down, we have a fear of dependency, so we will often sabotage our relationships— even the ones that are truly wonderful.
-We have a hard time taking responsibility for our own actions and prefer to blame others when things do not work out in life.
-Although we are very smart and eloquent, we often contradict ourselves. What we think, what we say, and what we do are not in harmony. (Based on Mahatma Gandhi’s definition, that is the opposite of happiness.)
-We are not comfortable expressing our own feelings and needs, so instead we take the stance that we don’t have needs, going against our primary force in life— the need for human connection! When we are not satisfied with another person, we give them the silent treatment.
-We have the propensity to take things personally.
-Although we may create a really beautiful exterior, our deep, hidden, fragile sense of self, may lead us to seek to have power over another in order to elevate our sense of self. This can range from mild passive- aggressive behaviors all the way to different types of abuse.
In extreme cases when someone’s damaged sense of self-worth is the result of a traumatic experience like sexual abuse in childhood, one can completely “kill off” the real self in exchange for a false self, which can lead not only to maladaptive behaviors, but also to a wide range of personality disorders that can greatly impact ones’ odds of being able to successfully navigate through life.
A healthy sense of self-worth holds riches beyond comprehension that are directly related to all noble human pursuits. Understanding our own neurobiology and our selves, can be a gateway to the incredible freedom of personal transformation. We don’t actually have to be a scientist to take advantage of the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of neuroplasticity— the process by which our brain can be changed and re-wired throughout the course of our life by environmental interventions.
We can change the pathways that have been created in our brain from our past experience and re-write the narrative of our story.
And we can start by the simple practice of bringing to our awareness the narrative of our thoughts. Anything outside of our awareness is also outside of our control to change!
Then we have to be ready to cut the lifeline to excuses. But that is a whole different story that I will tell you another time!
Self Worth matters was first published on RecoveryView.com, an Online journal on March 8, 2018.