When you lack self-worth, it’s as though the ground beneath you has been ripped away.
You may feel insecure, unstable, and a constant sense of underlying anxiety that taints everything like poison.
Lacking self-worth is like being a tree without roots.
When the winds of existence come along in the form of people, relationships, and tough situations, you flounder, bend, and fall.
No matter where you go or what you do, you feel demoralized, debilitated, and insubstantial.
While others appear to be healthy, confident, and robust, you’re like the plant that has had all its leaves ripped off. You may try to put on a mask, a tough facade to try and fool others. But deep down, you know it’s all a lie.
Do you feel unworthy of love, happiness, and success?
If you struggle to feel good about yourself, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and it’s a horrible way to live. In this article, I’ll share with you my no bullshit tips for how to unconditionally boost your self-worth.
Table of contents
What is Self-Worth? (Definition)
Self-worth means believing that you’re fundamentally worthy as a person. It’s often used interchangeably with words such as self-esteem and self-respect – but self-worth is much more rudimentary. When we lack self-worth, an innate sense of dignity is missing.
The Cambridge dictionary elaborates and defines self-worth as “the value you give to your life and achievements.”
Yes, There’s a Big Difference Between Self-Worth and Self-Esteem
Although these two words are used synonymously, they’re not the same.
There’s actually a hierarchy of importance here. Self-worth comes before self-esteem. Self-worth is the foundation – it’s like the trunk and roots, and self-esteem’s like the branches.
Without self-worth, self-esteem is shallow and unstable. Can you imagine what a tree would be like without its trunk and roots? Yes, that’s right: a tree would be reduced to a pitiful pile of leaves and branches. And that’s what happens when we don’t have the foundation of self-worth.
Self-worth is believing that you’re fundamentally worthy, whereas self-esteem is feeling good, or confident, about yourself.
Can you have self-esteem without self-worth? Yes. Just look at narcissists. They exude self-esteem (or self-confidence) so much so that it’s toxic to other people. But the issue here is that they don’t possess self-worth. Their narcissism is a mask or defense mechanism against the tremendous feelings of unworthiness that they carry inside. (In psychology, this is called reaction-formation.)
So, you see, self-worth is something we need to learn and strengthen, for without it, we become like doormats or narcissists.
As Dr. Christina Hibbert explains:
Self-esteem is what we think and feel and believe about ourselves. Self-worth is recognizing ‘I am greater than all of those things.’ It is a deep knowing that I am of value, that I am loveable, necessary to this life, and of incomprehensible worth.
But how do you know if you’re suffering from low self-worth? We’ll explore that next …
15 Signs You’re Experiencing Low Self-Worth
Look out for the following:
- You struggle to set strong personal boundaries
- You suffer from constant self-doubt
- You’re cynical about the value of what you do
- You struggle to believe that anyone could really love you
- You can’t accept compliments without feeling embarrassed/skeptical
- You always put other’s needs above your own (i.e., you have a martyr complex)
- You settle for less in relationships and jobs thinking it’s ‘the best you can do’
- You value other people’s opinions above your own
- You always feel a sense of anxiety and tension around others
- You are scared of sharing your authentic self with the world
- You let others walk over or mistreat you
- Instead of feeling like the King or Queen of your life, you feel like a beggar always needing help or victim always being hurt
- You struggle to speak up and be assertive about your needs
- You don’t know what your true needs are
- You feel more depressed than happy
Tell me in the comments, how many of these signs can you relate to?
What Determines Self-Worth?
So, WHY do we develop low self-worth?
Well, you know that low self-worth is really a way of protecting yourself from being vulnerable, right?
We develop low self-worth for two reasons:
- Due to our childhood traumas and core wounds
- To protect ourselves against what we fear
In a nutshell, low self-worth is a product of fear and a fundamental misunderstanding about who we are.
I’ll break this down in the next two parts:
Reason #1: Childhood Traumas and Core Wounds
A childhood trauma is a deeply distressing event that happened when we were children. We’ve all experienced traumas, and they form the basis of the core wounds we carry.
How did they develop? Well, the core wounds that derived from our childhood traumas were a natural part of growing up. As young children, there was a point where we began to understand our powerlessness and limitations and the power that our elders (parents, older siblings, caretakers, etc.) had over us. That itself was traumatizing.
We learned very quickly that we were punished when we did something “bad” according to these more-powerful-elders and rewarded when we did something “good.” As a result, we learned to adopt a mask or external persona that would protect us and keep us in the good favor of others.
Unfortunately, if we had parents who weren’t mentally or emotionally mature, we may have adopted beliefs about ourselves as young, vulnerable children that served to destroy our basic sense of self-worth.
For example, our parents may have said things like “No! You’re being bad!” and smacked us. Or we may have been compared to another sibling, had a family member constantly criticize us or even sexually assault us. We may have been neglected by overly-busy parents, humiliated by our siblings, or generally looked down upon by one or both parents.
All of these situations served to teach us the flawed belief that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us.
Core wounds are the fundamental underlying beliefs that we carry about ourselves. Examples include, “I am stupid,” “I am ugly,” and “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
In the context of low self-worth, the main core wounds we carry sound like the following:
- I am bad
- I am unlovable
- I am unworthy
As psychologist P. T. Mistlberger:
There may be said to be two fundamental lies that form the basis of the personal self and its faulty self-image (which creates our overall sense of personal limitation). These are 1. ‘I am a flawed, bad person’ and 2. ‘I must change or fix myself to correct this problem’. These two premises form the basis of the ‘core wound’.
Of course, to our conscious minds, these core wounds may sound silly. After all, most of us don’t go around consciously telling ourselves these things.
But we do unconsciously.
In fact, core wounds are like broken records that keep skipping at the same place ad nauseam, within our unconscious minds. These vampiric little slugs that feed off our fear are ancient: they were formed at a very young age and continue to be fed throughout our lives.
Unfortunately, at some point, we actually seek out ways to feed these core beliefs and reinforce our faulty ideas about ourselves because it provides us with a sense of safety.
This sounds absurd, right?
Well, there is a strange logic to it. I’ll explain that next …
Reason #2: Protecting Ourselves Against What We Fear
The second reason why we develop low self-worth is to protect ourselves against what we fear – or what we’ve been conditioned to fear.
What do we fear?
Well, primarily, we fear the following:
- Rejection and abandonment from others (and therefore = death)
- Our own power
The first one is a no-brainer.
When we possess low self-worth, we’re constantly trying to please and appease others. We become people-pleasers who are invested in gaining approval because that’s how we think we’ll survive. In a sense, we are regressing to our infant fears of being rejected (and therefore susceptible to literally dying), not realizing on an unconscious that we’re adults now.
When we do gain the temporary approval (or “love”) of others, we feel safe. We no longer feel the horrific looming fear within us of being rejected or abandoned. On an unconscious level, we’ve escaped death. But those feelings are fleeting. Unfortunately, because we lack a fundamental sense of self-worth, we must continue seeking approval from others – and the cycle goes on and on.
The second fear is a little bizarre …
Fearing our own power … what the hell does that even mean?
You’d think power would make us feel safe and strong, right? Wrong. We are scared of our power because we’ve been conditioned to fear it. We’ve been conditioned to suppress it, to reject it, to demonize it.
Our “power” symbolizes who we truly are on an authentic level beyond all the masks.
But because we were punished for being authentic as young children, we equate our true selves with suffering. We equate it with the rejection of our primary caretakers. We equate it with the fear of death.
As Marianne Williamson famously put it:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We develop low self-worth as a way of protecting ourselves from our own power – the very power that caused us to be rejected as young children.
But we aren’t children any longer. It’s time to update the internal hard drive and “download some updates” to put it in a geeky way.
Low Self-Worth and the “Original Sin”
Consider this a short addendum to the above discussion:
low self-worth can actually be inherited.
Borrowing the term “original sin” from the Christians, low self-worth is a shadow self issue that can be passed from generation to generation unchecked.
If the members of one generation haven’t done their own inner work, they are likely to unconsciously pass on their feelings of shame and guilt (“original sin”) to their children, who then mirror their parents.
So if you’re wanting to work through your low self-worth, be proud.
You might be grappling with an ancestral shadow. And finally, you have the unique opportunity to nip it in the bud and prevent future generations from suffering.
The Spiritual Cause of Low Self-Worth
Above I’ve mentioned that one of the reasons why we develop low self-worth is due to being afraid of our own power.
But what’s at the root of that?
In two words: soul loss.
Why are we conditioned to fear our own power in the first place by our parents? Well, it’s not only because they may have been mentally/emotionally immature – it’s also because they’re spiritually disconnected. In other words, they’ve lost touch with their own souls.
Soul loss is a worldwide phenomenon. It’s the result of living in a scientific-reductionist and materialistic society that rejects anything sacred or mysterious.
If you’d like to read more about this (and why it may be at the root of your low self-worth), check out our soul loss article.
Why is Self-Worth Important?
There are a number of crucial reasons why self-worth is essential for health and happiness – some include the following:
- it helps you to love and respect yourself
- it helps you to make wise decisions
- it helps you to create personal boundaries
- it enables you to be confident
- it enables you to be authentic
- it supports you in finding your meaning in life
- it helps you to remove toxic people and habits from your life
- it inspires you to find loving friends and partners
- it improves the overall quality of your life
The list goes on.
5 Ways to Cultivate Unconditional Self-Worth (That Actually Work)
Now that we’ve covered why low self-worth occurs, and why it’s so important, how do we get it?
While I can’t guarantee that all of the practices below will always work for you, I can guarantee that if you practice any of these paths persistently and sincerely, you will experience an increasing level of self-worth. And eventually, your self-worth will become so second-nature that it will become unconditional:
1. Rewrite your core beliefs through a mantra
Mantras are statements that are repeated over and over again. In the West, mantras are often referred to as ‘affirmations.’
To discover your core beliefs, I encourage you to pay attention to the little voice in your head. What does it chatter about during the day? What fears emerge? What unhealthy patterns of behavior do you keep repeating? Write your observations down in a journal. Eventually, you’ll notice certain themes and insecurities arising.
Once you’ve pinpointed the core beliefs you have about yourself (e.g., “I’m a loser,” “I always hurt people,” “I deserve to be punished,” “I’m boring” etc.), you can then counteract them through a mantra.
Try choosing or creating a mantra that is the exact opposite of your core wound. For example, if you discover that one of your core beliefs is “I am worthless,” you may like to deprogram that belief and replace it with “I am worthy and I love who I am.”
At first, you’ll feel a bit cheesy or skeptical of this mantra, but that’s only because your mind has been conditioned to believe the opposite. After a while (I’m talking about three months or so), you’ll start to see significant changes arise in your thinking patterns, behaviors, and feelings.
Alternatively, you could search for some affirmations on the internet or in your favorite self-help book. Choose one that gives you goosebumps (in a good way) or which makes you feel a hint of empowerment. Stick with that mantra and repeat it every day.
Try this practice every day for at least ten minutes (ideally during a meditation practice – but even better all throughout the day) for three months. Try to infuse your mantra with as much heartfelt sincerity as possible because the unconscious mind pays more attention to emotion than words (and the unconscious mind is where all the magic happens).
2. Reclaim what has been repressed (aka. your power)
As philosopher and scholar, Ken Wilber writes:
Maslow called the fear of our own greatness “the Jonah complex,” and many of us have some degree of that—so give yourself permission to discover, re-own, and step into, your own authentic greatness!
How can we possibly feel good or worthy when we’re living a version of ourselves that is not real or authentic?
Our interactions, our feelings about ourselves, indeed, our very lives will always feel false when we are hiding behind the fearful masks that we’ve adopted as children.
In order to reclaim what you have repressed, you’ll need to practice inner child work and shadow work. Both of these forms of inner work are ideal ways to dig up what has been repressed and shut away within you.
One of the most powerful methods I’ve found for practicing both inner child and shadow work is something known as mirror work. I recommend hopping over to that article and learning how to practice mirror work so that you can get started on reclaiming your power and authenticity.
3. Replace people-pleasing with self-care
It’s impossible to just stop people-pleasing cold turkey. That pattern, most likely, has been ingrained in you for a very long time.
But it is possible to slowly channel that energy to new means: self-care. Does that sound selfish? It might. But the reality is that by learning how to care for yourself, you will learn how to genuinely care for others. Your care won’t be tainted by unconscious needy motives (e.g., the need to be validated), instead, it will be fuelled by the genuine desire to help others.
Every time your mold yourself to be a certain way around someone, do one thing for yourself and only yourself. That might mean making yourself a hot cup of tea, taking a mindful breathing break, eating something nourishing, or spending some time alone to rejuvenate your energy.
4. Journal (and answer these questions)
Journaling is a wonderful, refreshing form of catharsis. Not only will it help you to emotionally feel better, but it will help you to gain mental clarity surrounding your low self-worth.
I recommend journaling every day for at least five minutes and doing some introspection. How did your day go, what made you happy or sad, what did you notice about yourself?
For exploring your self-worth, I recommend journaling about the following questions:
- What is something that no one could ever take away from me?
- Who am I and who am I not?
- What kind of person do others expect me to be?
- What does self-worth mean to me?
- What false ideas have I been taught about myself?
- What external things don’t define my self-worth?
- If I lost everything in my life, what would I still have that would be of value?
You may like to revisit your answers in the future and see if they shift and change. If anything, you’ll get an interesting glimpse into your mind and thought processes after journaling about these questions. If you’d like more prompts like those above to deepen your self-worth, check out our self-love journal.
Journaling boosts your self-worth by empowering you with self-understanding and self-knowledge. And as they say, knowledge is power.
Learn more about how to journal.
5. Work with an archetype
Archetypes are universal patterns or types of energy – and they have existed since the dawn of time.
We can see archetypes present in all cultures of the world. Some examples include:
- The Orphan
- The Warrior
- The Caregiver
- The Seeker
- The Lover
- The Destroyer
- The Creator
- The Ruler
- The Magician
- The Sage
- The Joker
- The Mother
- The Father
- The Saint
We all possess numerous archetypes within our personality structures (take our free enneagram test to find yours). However, sometimes certain archetypes within us are missing. Why? Usually, they’ve been repressed in childhood because they were deemed inappropriate or ‘bad’ by our parents and caretakers.
In the case of low self-worth, the dominant archetypes that are missing within us are the Boss, the Rebel, the King, the Queen, and the Lover.
I recommend searching for figures in history who you admire that match any one of the above archetypes. By consciously working to bring in the energy of an archetype you lack that is related to self-worth, you will find the power you need to break through the negative core wounds within you.
See our archetypes guide to learn how to work with the archetypes more in-depth.
6. (Bonus) Self-worth is an inside job
It’s not dependant on what kind of job you have, whether you’re single or married, whether you’re ugly or attractive, or whether you’re living off food stamps or a 500K income.
Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.
Your value doesn’t decrease based on what you do or don’t do, have or don’t have.
Your value is innate. You are amazing just as you are.
I hope you take this to heart and truly sink your teeth into it because it’s true.
I hope you now have a deeper understanding of why you’re suffering from low self-worth and how to empower yourself.
You don’t have to be a slave of your conditioning. You don’t have to remain shackled to people-pleasing and demoralizing ways of living. At your core, you are wild and free, and now you have the tools to reclaim your raw and real self.
What is your relationship with your self-worth like? I’d love to hear any amazing insights you’ve had below.