So many of us think we’re unworthy or worthless or not good enough. We might feel this way because of our past or mistakes we’ve made. We might feel this way because some people repeatedly told us we’re unworthy. Or because we haven’t accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. Or because we haven’t fulfilled a number of expectations we had for our lives.
If you feel this way, take heart: Whatever the reason, you can learn to accept, appreciate and even love yourself. You can build a strong self-worth.
In her valuable book Who Am I Without You? 52 Ways to Rebuild Self-Esteem After A Breakup, clinical psychologist Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, writes about a method she developed for experiencing and feeling our true self-worth. She calls it the “Pyramid of Self-Worth.”
According to Hibbert, “The basic premise is that, instead of creating our sense of self by what we think, or how we look, or what we do — self-esteem — we must first build our sense of self-worth by going deep inside, into our soul.”
The pyramid consists of these components:
- Self-awareness: seeing ourselves exactly as we are, including our strengths and weaknesses.
- Self-acceptance: accepting all these parts of ourselves.
- Self-love: learning to appreciate ourselves as we are today and as we grow. This includes self-compassion, self-care and giving and receiving love.
- Self-worth: by practicing the parts above, we start to feel our true worth. Self-worth is a lifelong process.
Below are exercises and insights from Who Am I Without You? to help you cultivate your self-worth.
Explore who and how you are. Explore your traits and behaviors. Get honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.
In fact, Hibbert suggests compiling a list of each. Because uncovering our weaknesses, she writes, helps us understand ourselves. “It’s good to expose your weaknesses, to get them onto paper and see that they’re nothing more than a word or trait or emotions that you can either continue to fight with, accept, or change.”
Hibbert defines a strength as any “trait we use in particularly helpful ways.” That’s because a positive trait can become negative depending on the circumstances. Traits are neutral, according to Hibbert. It’s what we do with them that deems them strengths or weaknesses. Then “choose one strength to strengthen and one weakness to improve.” Start small.
According to Hibbert, self-acceptance is unconditional. Ironically, it’s unconditional self-acceptance that leads to growth. Self-acceptance is a process, which happens day by day and moment by moment. It requires work.
Go back to your lists of strengths and weaknesses. Say each one out loud, and consider how it feels. Traits that are easy to say and own are the ones you’ve already accepted. Anything that feels hard, naturally, is not. As you move about your days, be mindful of the traits you’ve yet to accept.
“When an unwanted weakness rears its ugly head, take a deep breath and repeat, ‘I see this, and I accept that it is.‘” Do the same with your strengths.
Hibbert includes this beautiful quote on self-love from Alan Cohen: “To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now.”
Again, taking good care of ourselves is part of self-love. Hibbert separates self-love into five parts: physical self-love; emotional self-love; mental and intellectual self-love; social self-love; and spiritual self-love. She suggests seeing what your needs are in each area and writing them down.
Next, pick the top three needs you think will contribute to your optimal well-being. Then pick one to work on today. And then keep working on the others.
For instance, your physical self-love might include eating foods that give you energy, moving your body in ways you enjoy and treating any physical or mental health conditions. Emotional self-love might include seeing a therapist and journaling about your experiences and emotions.
Mental and intellectual self-love might include reading, trying new things and learning something. Social self-love might include going to dinner with a good friend, joining a club and signing up for an activity or class.
According to Hibbert, “getting in touch or reconnecting with your spirit is one of the best things you can do for your physical, emotional, mental and social health…” Spiritual self-love might include praying, meditating, listening to music, being out in nature and reading sacred texts.
This last part of the pyramid focuses on growth. As Hibbert writes, it’s all about “letting yourself feel and embrace your worth as you widen your focus to see your potential.” Here, she suggests creating a “To Be” list to figure out the things you’d like to be. This might be everything from becoming hopeful to developing a natural talent to overcoming a specific challenge.
Learning to like and love ourselves takes time, work and practice. But it’s fulfilling work. It’s work we’ll never regret.