What is Self-Worth and How Do We Increase it?

Self-worth is self-love. It means being on your own team. It means giving yourself the same respect, dignity, and understanding you want for your loved ones.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The consequences of low self-worth can be huge. Depression, risky behaviors, the willingness to tolerate abusive treatment, and a nagging sense of failure to reach your own potential are all signs of it.

Indeed, low self-worth is often the cause — not the effect — of hardships in your life, whether they are financial, relational, physical, and so on.

So, how do we improve it? It starts by changing how we think. In this article, you’re going to learn about ten different thought habits and beliefs that people with a high sense of self-worth consistently demonstrate.

These are simple concepts yet may seem strange, especially if you’ve spent a lifetime struggling with confidence or self-esteem. But consistently working to adopt these beliefs about yourself can pay off big time in virtually all areas of your life. So take a few minutes to read through these ten beliefs and then pick a couple to try on for yourself and see what happens.

What Is the Meaning of Self-Worth and Self-Value?

Self-worth and self-value are two related terms that are often used interchangeably. Having a sense of self-worth means that you value yourself, and having a sense of self-value means that you are worthy. The differences between the two are minimal enough that both terms can be used to describe the same general concept.

However, we’ll provide both definitions so you can see where they differ.

Self-worth is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

“a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”

On the other hand, self-value is “more behavioral than emotional, more about how you act toward what you value, including yourself than how you feel about yourself compared to others” (Stosny, 2014).

Self-Worth versus Self-Esteem

Similarly, there is not a huge difference between self-worth and self-esteem, especially for those who are not professionals in the field of psychology. In fact, the first definition of self-worth on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website is simply “self-esteem.”

Similarly, the World Book Dictionary definition of self-esteem is “thinking well of oneself; self-respect,” while self-worth is defined as “a favorable estimate or opinion of oneself; self-esteem” (Bogee, Jr., 1998).

Clearly, many of these terms are used to talk about the same ideas, but for those deeply immersed in these concepts, there is a slight difference. Dr. Christina Hibbert explains this:

“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.” (2013).

Self-Worth versus Self-Confidence

In the same vein, there are subtle but significant differences between self-worth and self-confidence.

Self-confidence is not an overall evaluation of yourself, but a feeling of confidence and competence in more specific areas. For example, you could have a high amount of self-worth but low self-confidence when it comes to extreme sports, certain subjects in school, or your ability to speak a new language (Roberts, 2012).

It’s not necessary to have a high sense of confidence in every area of your life; there are naturally some things that you will simply not be very good at, and other areas in which you will excel.

The important thing is to have self-confidence in the activities in your life that matter to you and a high sense of self-worth overall.

The Psychology of Self-Worth

In psychology, the concept of self-worth may be a less popular research topic than self-esteem or self-confidence, but that doesn’t mean it’s less important.

Self-worth is at the core of our very selves—our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are intimately tied into how we view our worthiness and value as human beings.

What Is the Self-Worth Theory?

The self-worth theory posits that an individual’s main priority in life is to find self-acceptance and that self-acceptance is often found through achievement (Covington & Beery, 1976). In turn, the achievement is often found through competition with others.

Thus, the logical conclusion is that competing with others can help us feel like we have impressive achievements under our belt, which then makes us feel proud of ourselves and enhances our acceptance of ourselves.

The theory holds that there are four main elements of the self-worth model:

  1. Ability;
  2. Effort;
  3. Performance;
  4. Self-worth.

The first three interact with each other to determine one’s level of self-worth. One’s ability and effort predictably have a big impact on performance, and all three contribute to one’s feeling of worth and value.

While this theory represents a good understanding of self-worth as we tend to experience it, it is unfortunate that we place so much emphasis on our achievements.

Aside from competing and “winning” against others, there are many factors that can contribute to our sense of self-worth.

10 Thoughts and Beliefs of People with High Self-Worth

1. No matter what I’ve done or haven’t done, I’m worthy of love.

A person with a high sense of self-worth takes responsibility for their mistakes but does not degrade themselves for making them. If they goof, they say, “I did a bad thing” instead of “I am bad.” They say sorry when they need to, and they do what they can to make things right.

They do not grieve alone but lean on their loved ones for support. They know that they’re not the only people who’ve experienced this and that by sharing their story with people who have earned the right to hear it, they are taking good care of themselves.

On the other hand, the self-worthy person does not become overly dependent on success, flattery, or adoration. This person is confident and takes pride in their achievements, but they show grace and humility, too. They don’t do things to get love; they do things for the love of them.

This person welcomes both success and failure—both of which are useful, largely subjective, and never a barometer of a person’s worthiness.

2. My “things” do not define me.

You are not the clothes you wear, the car you drive, or the relationship you do or don’t have.

Yes, it is healthy and even fun to enjoy the finer things in life, and a person with solid self-worth is able to do so joyously. But this same person also recognizes the impermanence of everything.

Money comes and goes. Relationships end. Accidents happen. Things lose value, break down, get lost, get old, and die.

The person who honors their worthiness knows that they can enjoy external things without attaching their identity to them. 

They appreciate what they have while they have it, and wholeheartedly strive to get what they truly want. But they also know that even without these “things,” they can still look in the mirror and say, “You are enough.”

3. I am allowed to feel whatever I’m feeling.

People who have a sense of self-worth aren’t “always cheerful.” They share all of the same emotions as the rest of us. The difference is that someone who has a strong sense of self-worth makes room for their feelings without feeling bad about it.

They recognize that their emotions are mere aids in paying attention. They are aware of their emotions and allow them to exist in their natural state. When this individual no longer requires those emotions, they just release them.

4. I delight in the joy of missing out.

A self-worthy person is not afraid to be alone. They love hanging out with their closest friends and family, but also cherish solo time.

This person doesn’t go to parties and events simply because they are afraid of being left out. They believe the people who really matter will always welcome them, and even if they don’t, they will still be okay on their own.

This person knows that what other people think about them is none of their business. They create time and space for themselves and honor that by setting firm boundaries. They do not allow people to encroach on their privacy.

They invite people into their lives who have earned the right to be there and recognize that other people have the right to invite them in (or not) as well.

5. It’s not about what happens; it’s about how I respond to what happens.

People who have a high sense of self-worth haven’t had easier lives than people who don’t. They simply remember that they alone are responsible for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. They do not stay stuck in victimhood, and they don’t spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves when things hit the fan.

But it’s not that people with self-worth never feel bad or get down on themselves. They do — we all do. The difference comes in how these feelings are handled.

Rather than getting stuck in what’s “wrong” right now, there is a more powerful way to approach obstacles and the resulting negative feelings. We can choose to acknowledge these feelings, forgive ourselves for whatever we labeled as “wrong,” and move forward with the new information we have gathered because of these experiences.

6. I do what I love, and I love what I do.

What do you value most in life? What do you look forward to doing? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail—or what would you still do even if you knew you could fail?

A self-worthy person puts his own needs first. This doesn’t mean they are selfish — it simply means that they know it is each person’s responsibility to put their own needs first. They inherently know that they can only love and help others to the extent that they love and help themselves, so they make time and set aside energy to invest in the life they want.

The self-worthy person looks for “win-win” situations. They are able to help others by helping themselves. They believe in fair trade and equal exchange. They find joy in doing what they love, and they honor other people’s right to do what they love, too.

7. I see myself in others.

Self-worth requires the belief that the world is like a mirror. If people are judging you, it’s because you are reflecting a part of themselves that they have yet to accept. Sure, their judgment may hurt — but ultimately, it’s about them.

It doesn’t have to become your truth. And their judgment can only hurt you to the extent that you hold that judgment against yourself as well.

The same is true when you judge others. Whatever you see in someone else is something you have in you. To this end, self-worthy people are thankful for the challenging people in their lives because they see them as opportunities to learn more about themselves.

And these people take heart in seeing the positive in others because that means they can see those things in themselves as well.

8. I believe in something greater than myself.

You don’t have to believe in God or subscribe to an organized religion to have self-worth. But having the belief in some “higher power,” some unifying connection between everyone and everything, can be enough to help you keep things in perspective — even that part of humanity that existed before you were born and that you will contribute to and leave behind when you’re gone.

A person with a high sense of self-worth is neither full of themselves nor thinks that the world revolves around them. Instead, this person remembers and is humbled by their small but important role in the grand scheme of things.

Like a singular wave in a great big ocean, they know they are part of something greater, and as such, they are never truly “alone.”

9. Every day, I find things to be grateful for.

Gratitude is a daily practice for people with high self-worth. These people appreciate the small and big gifts of life and express appreciation whenever and however they can.

It’s pretty easy to feel grateful when things seem to be going well. A true challenge is to find things you can say “thank you” for even when you are dealing with one of the greatest challenges of your life. You can only do this if you are willing to detach your sense of worthiness from your achievements and your external circumstances.

10. The story I tell about my life means everything.

The way you think influences the way you live.

If you can believe this statement, and start changing your thoughts based on your belief, expect to experience some serious self-growth, new opportunities, and a deepening and hugely empowering sense of self-love.

So, ask yourself: What kind of life story are you telling yourself? What do you say you “always,” “never,” “should,” or “ought to” do? Are these expectations actually true? Where do they come from?

A person with high self-worth asks these questions. They may write them down in a journal or discuss them with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. They enjoy the process of learning and, at any moment, realize that they have the power to change their own story.

Think Worthy Thoughts, Take Worthy Action: The Self-Worth Checklist

For every empowering and self-loving thought you have, there should also be a complementary action to support it. Run through this Self-Worth Checklist and make a goal to start implementing at least one of these nurturing action steps every week, if not every day:

Got a friend? Share this list with him or her. Utilize the power in numbers and make your journey of self-worth a collaborative one with the people closest to you. The world needs more people operating closer to their fullest potential, and your commitment to improving your self-worth will certainly help with that.

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