Friday, July 07, 2006

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Worth

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This was yesterday's Daily Om:
Your Innate Value

Though much of who and what we are changes as we journey through life, our inherent worth remains constant. While the term self-worth is often used interchangeably with self-esteem, the two qualities are inherently different. Self-esteem is the measure of how you feel about yourself at a given moment in time. Your worth, however, is not a product of your intelligence, your talent, your looks, your good works, or how much you have accomplished. Rather it is immeasurable and unchanging manifestation of your eternal and infinite oneness with the universe. It represents the cornerstone of the dual foundations of optimism and self-belief. Your worth cannot be taken from you or damaged by life's rigors, yet it can easily be forgotten or even actively ignored. By regularly acknowledging your self-worth, you can ensure that you never forget what an important, beloved, and special part of the universe you are.

You are born worthy-your worth is intertwined with your very being. Your concept of your own self-worth is thus reinforced by your actions. Each time you endeavor to appreciate yourself, treat yourself kindly, define your personal boundaries, be proactive in seeing that your needs are met, and broaden your horizons, you express your recognition of your innate value. During those periods when you have lost sight of your worth, you will likely feel mired in depression, insecurity, and a lack of confidence. You'll pursue a counterfeit worth based on judgment rather than the beauty that resides within. When you feel worthy, however, you will accept yourself without hesitation. It is your worth as an individual who is simultaneously interconnected with all living beings that allows you to be happy, confident, and motivated. Because your conception of your worth is not based on the fulfillment of expectations, you'll see your mistakes and failures as just another part of life's jo! urney.

Human beings are very much like drops of water in an endless ocean. Our worth comes from our role as distinct individuals as well as our role as an integral part of something larger than ourselves. Simply awakening to this concept can help you rediscover the copious and awe-inspiring worth within each and every one of us.
It's easy to get caught up in trying to build self-esteem, and a lof of books have been written on the subject. On any weekend, you can probably find a workshop somewhere promising to help build self-esteem. Many of us have faulty images of our worth (based on external factors), and consequently we suffer from low self-esteem.

The issue seems to be whether or not we seek validation from the exterior, from others (self-esteem), or from the interior, from our inner nature (self-worth).

Yet, this Daily Om is as eloquent as anything else I have seen in demonstrating that self-worth is the true gift we always already possess. Simply tapping into our inherent worth will do more to build self-esteem than any number of books or workshops.

I was raised to assess my worth by things like income, the kind of car I drive, my home, my clothes, and other materialist factors. Our consumer culture does a good job of keeping these values foremost in our consciousness. By all of these standards, I am not a very successful human being, and I'm a lousy excuse for a man.

I still struggle with some of these beliefs. I have subpersonalities who are tied to looking good (which is fine unless self-worth is tied to that feeling), to having nice things (not because I enjoy them, but so that others know I have them), to keeping up with the Joneses, and other idiotic 50's era ways of measuring self-worth. They still have the power -- if I am not observant and mindful -- to makle me feel bad about myself.

Isolating those voices in my head and becoming aware of them through attention and mindfulness has done a lot to reduce their power over me. It's important to remember, however, that those voices developed to protect me from feeling ashamed as a child or young adult, from being made fun of. Those voices do not desire to hurt me, but rather to protect me. It is simply true that they are no longer appropriate in my life. They are self-preservation tools from previous developmental stages.

If I had been taught from the beginning to find my worth in my uniqueness as a person, in my individuality and my connections with other people, those voices may never have been so strong or so central in my psyche.

Maybe as we learn these hard lessons, future generations can avoid this particular pathology in their development.

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Mike said...

"If I had been taught from the beginning to find my worth in my uniqueness as a person, in my individuality and my connections with other people, those voices may never have been so strong or so central in my psyche."

This is a great sentence, and truly sums up what we have a responsibility to give to the next generation.

Thanks Bill!

Anonymous said...

I have always been one to separate self worth from self esteem. I've got a strong sense of my worth but my self esteem is low from outside influences that seem to effect me. Some people don't seem to separate the two: Self-esteem from self-worth. I know that when someone was abusing me for years they wanted to harm me by worked on my self esteem. That was because my self worth was embedded deep within me and not accessible to many outside influences. I tried to explain to family that my self esteem was being destroyed in an abusive relationship but I still had my self worth. No one seemed to understand what I meant but when my life was threatened in this relationship I finally ran because my self worth was tied to living life. I was lucky to be born with understanding the many talents & gifts I was given and they were always cultivated with positive reinforcement by my parents especially my mother.
I am glad to have read this definition online in an explanation of the difference of worth vs. esteem. I have known and worked with strengthening my self esteem for a long time now. Thank you for confirmation of the difference.