Extensive research by Brené Brown PhD and others on shame and vulnerability has led to valuable insights including the importance of a cultivating a strong sense of self-worth.
These findings are true in my own work as a Breathwork Therapist. When I ask new clients ‘What is your most negative thought about yourself?’ by far the most common response is ‘I am not worthy’ or a variation of this.
Why is this such a common response and where does it come from?
In short, it comes from our upbringing, including our family of origin, caregivers, school, our peers - and can continue throughout our life through our workplace and other groups we may be a part of…. Until we choose to stop allowing it.
Typically life conditioning starts with our family of origin, often innocently, with no malice intended. What may seem like a harmless comment or joke to an adult can be seen as a fact to a child. For example, an adult may say to a child something intended as an innocent throw-away comment such as ‘People won’t like you if you do …..’ or ‘You can’t draw a purple dog’, the child does not understand the intent of the comment.
In these examples, the child often only hears and understands the first part – ‘People won’t like you’ or ‘You can’t draw’ , both of which can undermine their self-confidence. They then start to interpret ‘People won’t like you’ as ‘People won’t love me, therefore I am not worthy of love’, or, ‘You can’t draw’ to become ‘I can’t do things well, so I am not worthy of praise/encouragement for trying’.
It is not a single event that may cause the damaging train of thought, however, if the same and similar comments are heard over and over, they will begin to believe them as fact. Why wouldn’t they? They learn from adults, so if an adult tells them that, then it must be true. Why would they believe anything different? If similar comments are heard from multiple adult sources, it only reinforces those negative thoughts about their worthiness.
This can continue to be reinforced throughout their life – overtly by things like through school bullying or work harassment or covertly trough cynical comments and “put-down” humour. Is it any wonder we have an epidemic of depression, anxiety and lack of positive connection in our society?
What can be done about it?
Like most things we want to change in our life, the first step is realising that you are the one responsible for changing it! Often it’s when we feel we’ve ‘had enough’ and decide to make positive change. In other words, you make a decision to change!
This doesn’t mean you have to do it alone - you can seek help from a qualified person to assist you in the process. Someone to help you :
a) Find the source/s of the issue
b) Assist you to find your own realisations about the issue
c) Guide you through the changes required to take you where you intend to be.
Here are 5 Steps to assist you in cultivating your Self-Worth…
1. Start by being good to yourself first
The first thing to acknowledge that you have control over yourself! You cannot control what other people think, say or do to you but you can control what you think, say and do to yourself!
Whilst you may have accepted anything and everything that others have say to/about you in the past, today is when you do as Eleanor Roosevelt said and start your new mantra : ‘What other people think of me is none of my business’.
There are many ways you can begin to be good to yourself first :-
Physically - eat healthy, exercise regularly, breathe deeply
Emotionally - allow yourself to feel your emotions – you can’t have a wrong emotion!
Mentally - read and watch positive and uplifting movies/shows/books – reduce intake of daily news
Spiritually - meditate daily/regularly, practice gratitude, write affirmations, acknowledge your faith/spirituality, spend time in nature
2. Don’t believe everything you hear - or think!
There is truth in the statement ‘If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.’ (Nazi, Joseph Goebbels). This works at the personal level too. If you constantly hear negative things about you, you start to believe it. Additionally, don’t believe everything that you think, especially negative, self-deprecative thoughts!
As you become more skilled in this practice, you can critically assess each thought – is it true? Is it really true? Is it fact, simply their opinion, or are they just being mean?
3. Learn to accept compliments
For someone not used to receiving them, accepting a compliment can be an uncomfortable exercise! However, the ability to accept a compliment graciously and humbly whilst acknowledging and accepting our own pride in what we are being complimented on, is a superpower!
Simply say ‘Thank you’. You may feel self-conscious, maybe a little embarrassed, however, a simple ‘Thank you’ can be enough. Never diminish the compliment by countering with a ‘It was nothing’, or other statement that takes away the generosity of the compliment.
Accepting a compliment is an exercise in building self-confidence. Smile, feel proud, and enjoy it!
4. Build Positive relationships
This will be covered in more detail in my next blog, as it's a BIG subject! However, in short :
Positive relationships include a positive relationship with ourselves, our environment, and includes what we put into our body, and what we put into our head.
Building positive relationships includes establishing boundaries.
People : Surround yourself with people who are positive towards you and who don’t put you down. Do what you can to get ‘negative’ people out of your life or at least, distance them from your life – including family members.
Environment : Having a positive relationship with your environment is not just about Nature. It includes your work and home environments. Make sure your home and workplace are colourful, uncluttered and vibrant living spaces, as these affect you mentally and physiologically.
Body : This includes what we put into it and how we use it. i.e. eating healthy and doing some physical exercise. Even making small changes will have a positive effect on our feeling of self-worth.
Mind : Watch what you read, watch and listen to as these all have a powerful impact how and what you think!
5. You ARE worthy! (and repeat!)
I love the Brené Brown quote -
‘There are no prerequisites for worthiness’
because it’s true!
Worthiness is about YOU. Only YOU can determine your worthiness - and you are entitled to feel worthy. There are no rules or conditions that determine our worthiness, unless we create them. There is no list of things you must be/do/have to be ‘worthy’, because it is YOUR worth, not others’ idea of your worth.
Right now is the time you can start to building your self-worth to lead a happier and more fulfilling life! Follow these 5 steps and remember, you don’t have to do it alone.
Contact me on 0434 878 712 and let’s develop a plan to boost your self-worth!
David Reed is a Breathwork Therapist and Trainer based in Adelaide, Australia.