Why do we keep doubting our own intrinsic value while obsessively worrying about what other people think about us, rather than asking what is it we think about ourselves? Where is our self-value gone?
Everyday working as an anxiety specialist I encounter clients who struggle with not valuing themselves. They try to read others minds and guess what others think of them.
This goes far beyond anxiety about socializing. Clients and people in general often report worrying about how others see them at every level: professionally, physically, as a parent, as a good enough person, etc…
I find that the thing they all share is NOT that they associate with judgmental people, but that they carry a negative self-image or self-value of themselves.
Having low self-value means that every person we meet is a buyer, and we are a seller.
When we have an insecurity, we project this out into the minds of others. We also seek our value from others rather then being able to evaluate this for ourselves.
Who decides our value:
Human beings by virtue of being born have Intrinsic value. However, many of us are not communicated this while we are young.
We learn that we are not enough, or that we are only good when we are providing something to others.
This means we live as if we are only as good as our last impression. We please people and when it works we breathe a sigh of relief, “phew, close call”, but when we don’t go down so well it confirms our bottom line of low self-value.
This way, believe it or not, it is still us who is deciding our value – when it is set in stone within us, we simply bounce this off other people and play it out with every new situation.
But doing this we make a catastrophic undervaluation of the most valuable thing we will ever possess – ourselves.
Think about what makes something someone’s most valuable possession?
It could be our wedding ring or our parents’ rings, a special achievement, a precious memory, a photograph… Typically it is something rare, irreplaceable that means the world to us.
Now think of how special it is to be alive! Of all the odds to be born and we were! Although life can be tough, it is a mystery and a marvel that we get a ticket to live at all.
But who is this me that gets a ticket? The thing is that even though our self-image and self-value change because of our experiences, the same us who was born is here now.
Our bodies, thoughts, beliefs, achievements and hang-ups have evolved over time, but the “we” that started the journey is still here.
Our true selves are our longest and dearest possession and yet we do not act like it. When something is precious and irreplaceable someone could offer us €0.10c for it and we would laugh at their valuation.
Likewise, someone could offer us €10,000,000.00 for it and we would say “thanks, but no thanks. Life isn’t worth living without this irreplaceable thing”.
However, when we don’t see ourselves as valuable, we sweat on how much the bidder is going to offer of the currency of approval. If we please them and they offer us a kind price, then we feel our value is high, if they offer us nothing, our value is nothing.
If they bid high, our self-image is temporarily high, if they bid low, we feel our self-image plummets.
We put ourselves up for auction not knowing what we are worth, giving others the power to decide that for us. Sadly, with anxiety most of the time it is based on speculation anyway because we Mind Read and try to guess other people’s views and speculate on our own worth based on that.
Capitalist society maybe has something to do with this, it even infiltrates our language: “our stock is either rising or falling”.
But for the individual human being, saying that the whole of the self’s worth is tied another human being’s reaction to us is false. Even if people think badly of us what they think says way more about them than us anyway.
They’ve put us in a reductive category or label and ceased trying to understand us, that’s their problem.
Realizing our own value:
So, if our worries about how other people see us is really far more indicative of how we see ourselves – then it is infinitely more important to understand what we think about ourselves when we have those thoughts.
Our thoughts about how others see us are the symptom, not the cause of that uneasy feeling!
We must question: before I started having all these thoughts/anxiety has my self-confidence or liking of myself fallen or dipped?
So, to get a handle on this we must really investigate and read our own meter by asking how am I feeling about me right now?
Why is it with some people we might feel confident and with others not so much? Is it that we can read some people’s minds and not others?
No of course not, it’s that with certain people or certain situations our feelings about ourselves are less kind, less supportive, or we are less sure of ourselves – the meter dips – the thoughts are simply a manifestation of this.
To overcome this what is needed is a change in how WE feel about ourselves, forget trying to predict the minds and moods of others.
A simple exercise can be finding a visual image for ourselves: a favourite one of mine would be to pick a gem stone to represent your true self.
Maybe a diamond, an emerald, a ruby, it could be anything we think is valuable once we feel a personal connection to it (Car, plane, china doll, golden medallion etc.)
Do it first on a day when good feelings are high, and when feeling insecure check back if the image is less flattering than it was before (maybe that diamond is now a lump of coal), noting the difference then imagine transforming it back by giving this precious image a rub or a clean.
Reminding ourselves that we are an irreplaceable gift to ourselves and that no one else can value us the way we can. Others can live without us, we can’t live without ourselves.
An example of brushing up the image could be if we see ourselves as a car, take it to the carwash! If we see a china doll that now seems tattered, take it for repairs and hold that image in mind and feel it warm the heart when it’s shining again.
Stepping back and seeing that everything precious is complicated and can be viewed as imperfect, we can try to muster up as much love as we can for ourselves.
Remember what makes us imperfect is what makes us human. It’s messy but can also be taken lightly and enjoyed wherever possible.
One of my favourite quotes that showcases this enjoyment is attributed to George Bernard Shaw: when Shaw was at a cocktail party someone is reported to have asked him: “Well Bernard are you enjoying yourself?”, Shaw quipped, “yes, but that’s the only thing I’m enjoying!”
Releasing others from their role as valuators:
When we control our own value and image: boundaries and self-sufficiency become the new frontier. Those who were enjoying us not having any boundaries or abandoning ourselves to desperately get their positive feedback may not enjoy our sudden self-sufficiency.
But if they cared for us, they will in time adjust and be happy for us. Our pre-existing relationships can be one of the scariest places to test out newfound self-value and high self-image. It is common to fear people will not like it if we believe we can have value without their approval.
But again, invariably the good ones will move with us, but the ones who were getting their fix through our powerlessness will not. It can be hard, but we must grieve these relationships in many cases, but most, with time, will adjust and see the sparkle in our eye as a good thing.
Furthermore, it is not only others who need to shift. With people we must release them from the roles we have assigned them of telling us if we are worthy or unworthy. We place a mighty responsibility on their shoulders which they carry for us whether they know it or not.
To release them is to liberate both parties from unconscious dynamics and entanglements. To not need their approval allows us to experience them and ourselves as we truly are and to enjoy the essence of a relationship fully.
Again here, if we let them go but they come back to us they are ours to keep. If we keep them trapped in the role of approver, we stay tied to them and we omit seeing them clearly.
This I need to say is good for us, but also for them; because when we need something from someone how can we love them unconditionally?
Final thoughts on raising how we value ourselves:
To value ourselves we must know ourselves. What is it that I value? Most of us have false ideas of ourselves in our heads because of past experiences. We omit seeing our strengths and our good points.
Working on clarifying and living by our core values can be helpful. Realising and swearing by our principles whatever they may be. This also makes it easier when it comes to worrying about what others think about us or pleasing others as we can ask if worrying about this stuff really fits into our core values?
For example: if honesty or integrity are our values, can we really be said to be living the values if we people please? Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to give.
Next, I always ask clients to bear in mind what I call the Three Cs. The three Cs help in general as a way to practice relating to ourselves and can help specifically when remembered and worked through in the moment of a difficult situation where our self-value feels low.
Most of us are living in the first C which is Condemnation. Condemnation of ourselves, intolerance, self-dislike, unworthiness, not enough-ness and low self-value.
Condemnation is widespread and very apparent in many people with anxiety. This can cover anything from frustration or self-pity to downright self-hatred! Ironically, this is normally born from a desire to be and feel better, but overtime condemnation turns sour and keeps our self-value and self-image low.
From this place we must get to the second C which stands for Curiosity! What would it be like if we got curious about ourselves: The way we think, they way we feel, the way we behave, the way our self-value and self-image rise and fall as well as our needs and drives, our wants and our fears?
Open minded curiosity is the platform for change. Without it, things stay the same! Curiosity allows us to really look at ourselves again with fresh eyes. To slow down our reactions and develop self-awareness.
Maybe it gives us some answers or insights into why we hurt. Even if our pain or reactions don’t make sense, when we are curious about them, we can move into the third C that of compassion.
Compassion is bandied around a lot these days and it doesn’t mean looking for excuses or poor me. It means radically taking responsibility for the way we are ourselves and changing that– not victimhood or running away.
Compassion stemming from curiosity says: “yes I know this is hard, our self-value has dipped because we’re with a ‘different crowd’, but we’re good enough, happily imperfect and no worse than anyone else and if we remember that we can do it”.
It says: “I see how scary this is to say no to them, but what is going to serve our and their greater good?”. It says “I know we don’t like this bit, but honey, no one screws us over like this, it’s time to act!”.
It might be strange how these self compassionate voice examples could seem like talking to ourselves, but when we beat ourselves up what are we doing? So, relate to the self with curiosity and compassion, it’s far more effective in the long run!
As Edith Eger, the Psychologist, author and holocaust survivor says we must break the habit of abandoning ourselves! This requires an act of will and an act of love.
To begin at first, sometimes we need to act ‘as if’ to create the habits of self-compassion, self-value and high self-image that will make our lives truly priceless. If these seem too much right now then stick with the curiosity and just cut out the condemnation!
By staying open in this way we can embrace our imperfection and play the next moment, win the next battle. The past is done, we can only move forward. The best psychologists and sports people will tell us that, if we stay stuck on the past, we are dead.
If we play the game of life like our self-value is on the line every moment then we are done, frozen by the weight of expectation. Embrace humanity – “So what I’m wrong, if only they knew me, they would see how often I’m wrong!”
If someone got this far then thanks for reading to the end. Anxiety Ireland provides Psychotherapy services all over Ireland to anyone who might be struggling with Anxiety, low self-value or any kind of psychological ailment.
Founder and Psychotherapist
Anxiety is like a merry-go-round, going nowhere, it’s time to step off.