“Self-worth comes from one thing — thinking that you are worthy.”
— Wayne Dyer, American self-help author and motivational speaker
“She’s perfect,” I said, more to myself than anyone in particular. “So beautiful.”
I gently passed my newborn grandchild back to my daughter. It was a precious and perfect moment. Life’s grand adventure had just begun to unfold for this perfect little person.
As I pondered what delights and challenges life would hold in store for this tiny being, I thought about my own children as babies and reflected on the people they had grown up to become. Aware of the many battles and victories each had experienced, I wondered about the affect my parenting had on each of their lives. I had wanted only the best for them. And though I had always struggled with poor self-esteem, I tried to instill in each of them a sense of worthiness and deservability. I will admit that it was hard to teach what I had yet to learn.
I think that, of all the factors that shape our lives, a sense of self-worth is probably the determining factor when it comes to the amount of joy and success we allow ourselves. When we doubt our value, we undermine every aspect of our life experience from love to abundance.
It wasn’t until I began to question my self-worth (or lack thereof) that I was able to gain any serious insights into how I could improve my self-esteem. In the process, I came to a realization: I was the only one who could improve my sense of self-worth. Sure, other people could encourage and support my efforts, but I had to do the work. I had to own my life and choices.
It’s true that we don’t always get what we deserve out of life. It’s hard to admit but sometimes, for better or for worse, we get what we believe we deserve. Many of us have lost touch with our personal value and allowed our worth to be obscured by a thousand perceived failures and transgressions. The problem is therefore not our actual value but our perceived worth.
In a workshop years ago, the facilitator asked us how deserving we felt. He asked us to score our deservability on a scale of 1 to 100. He encouraged us to be completely honest and choose a rating that felt right and true for us. I chose 20. I wanted to choose a higher number as I felt my score should be higher but it wasn’t so I stuck with the initial assessment. With few exceptions, most people in the room chose a similar score and, sadly, some scores were even lower.
The facilitator explained that our unconscious mind had been rating us since childhood. As with many deep-seated beliefs and perceptions, self-worth is an unconscious assessment of personal value and deservability. It happens below the level of conscious awareness. Now that our score had been brought to light, we could begin to see how our self-worth had shaped our choices and experiences. It was an uncomfortable yet deeply insightful realization.
Self-worth assessments begin in our formative years starting with the value judgements and treatment provided by our caregivers. For better or worse, these judgments are internalized and form the basis of every self-assessment that follows. It doesn’t mean that we’re bound forever by these early assessments but transcending them will likely take a dedicated effort.
Awareness is always the first step in shifting any negative way of thinking or being. You can start now by taking an honest look at your life and determining if you’ve been throwing roadblocks up in the way of your success and happiness. Have you ever wondered why you did or said certain things even when you were advised against it by friends, family or good sense? Success in life (as with anything else) involves effort, devotion and dedication. It requires a willingness to receive new information, insights and opportunities. In many ways, we only allow ourselves to receive experiences, people and lessons that are in keeping with our sense of worth.
That is to say, we only allow ourselves to receive people or experiences that we believe we deserve.
Learning to appreciate your innate worth has nothing to do with the ego — so if you’re feeling as though you’re better than others or more entitled, you’ve missed the point. It has to do with realizing that a deep sense of self-worth does not need to be earned — it was always be there. It belongs to you just like it did when you were that tiny, beautiful, perfect infant.
“Each of us is a HIT,” wrote Dan Millman, American best-selling author and lecturer in the field of self-help. “A human-in-training. It’s time you recognize that you’ve done the best you could each day of your life, taking into account your own baggage, information, limitations, wounds, and struggles. You made the best choices you could see at the time. And now the time has come to appreciate your innate worth and choose the higher roads of life.”
We may have free will but the freedom to choose the best available option is often limited by our perceived value. When we doubt our value, we undermine our success. When we embrace our value, we underpin our success. Think about how your self-worth has shaped your life to this point. Consider how much or how little joy and success you’ve allowed into your life.
When I gazed into the wide eyes of my granddaughter, I scored her 100 on the deservability scale. And I hoped that she would grow up knowing that she was deserving of all the good things life had to offer. And as her grandfather, I vowed to teach her what I had learned.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.