Compromised Feelings of Self-Worth

“Though the reflection in the pool often swims before our eyes: know the image. Only in the dual realm do voices become eternal and mild.”  
~ Thomas Moore


Inherent vs Performance-Based Self-Worth

Self-worth is one of the most important concepts in mental health.  Having value for yourself is critical to developing healthy living, and lack of it is a significant cause of depression.

There are two ways to look at self worth. Inherent self worth comes from inside of ourselves when we understand that we are unique and valuable. Performance-based self-worth comes from outside ourselves when we rely on others to define our value. This type of self-worth is usually based on what we have accomplished.

Both inherent and performance-based self-worth are important, but if you do not have inherent self-worth it seems that no amount of accomplishment will compensate for that lack.  We will primarily discuss inherent self-worth, as it is the main way to healthy living and a path out of some of the debilitating feelings of depression.

Inherent Self-Worth

Inherent self worth comes from inside of ourselves when we understand that we are unique and valuable.

Performance Based Self-Worth

Performance-based self-worth comes from outside ourselves when we rely on others to define our value. This type of self-worth is usually based on what we have accomplished.

Where does inherent self-worth come from?

It relates a great deal to childhood experiences and beliefs that develop early in life.  We are born whole and complete with everything we need to develop, however, our view of our self can be directly linked to our perceptions of how others view us.

father and son

Parents can help foster a strong sense of self-worth in their children.  However, despite our best efforts many of us will need to face our compromised feelings of self-woth stemming from our childhood.  

If everyone had kind, loving parents who honored their journey, more people would definitely have a higher view of their own self-worth or self-value.  But, as we all know, there are no perfect parents.  Though many parents try to help their children to feel good about themselves, low self-esteem or self-worth is very common in our society today.  Therefore, most everyone has work to do on self-worth.

You may marvel at friends or people you know that seem to have a great sense of self-worth and seem to be able to love themselves.  Still other people you know may seem to have an inflated sense of self worth (ego), and you recognize that they are masking low self-esteem by putting on a good show.

You may also recognize that they have high performance-based self-esteem, but they are compensating for feelings of low inherent self-worth.


Here are some ways to identify if you have low self worth:

1. An inability to accept compliments.

2. Saying negative things about self, self-disparaging comments such as I am worthless, stupid, a loser, a burden, I am not important, and taking blame for things that are not your fault.

3. Avoiding contact with others such as family members, friends, peers, or those who try to make healthy contact.

4. Trying too hard to please everyone or receive attention and praise from others.

5. Unable to accept the reality of positive characteristics or talents.

6. An unhealthy fear of being rejected by others.

7. Attention-seeking behaviors that can be negative or seen as unhealthy.

8. Having a hard time saying no to others or excessive fear of not being liked by others.

9. Feelings of jealousy for others, their accomplishments, their looks, or what they have accumulated in material possessions.

10. A belief that you never measure up or fit in with others.

These are just a few of the behaviors that can help identify low self-esteem.  If you recognize some of these in yourself, don’t beat yourself up but realize there is help and you can learn to have healthy inherent self-worth and develop skills that consistently maintain it.


Mindfulness, Present-Centered Awareness, and Meditation

Mindfulness is a way of living and understanding our inherent self-worth.  The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness which may be associated with living life with negative, cynical views of the world and of our self.  We feel we have no control of the world or who we are and give our power to others to define us.

In her book Mindfulness, Helen Langer states, “Mindlessness limits our control by preventing us from making intelligent choices.”  We also can easily accept labels others put on us when we mindlessly accept their views of us.

Again Langer reminds us, “Even people who have achieved a strong sense of competence can find it eroded by mindlessly accepted labels.”

I worked with a client we will call Bill.  Bill believed he would never be married.  When I questioned him on this, he said that his mother continually reminded him growing up and even now told him that he was a slob and no woman would ever pick up after him like she did.

He mindlessly wore the label she gave him and created a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Bill is actually a good example of what Langer states about self worth.  “Mindlessness, as it diminishes our self-image, narrows our choices, and weds us to single-minded attitudes, has a lot to do with . . . wasted potential.”

Bill always wanted to be a motivational speaker, but had relegated himself to working one day a week at a movie theater, never marrying, and still living with his parents.  Indeed, our views of our self can be shaped by mindless people making mindless comments and our mindless acceptance of those comments.

“Mindlessness limits our control by preventing us from making intelligent choices.” 
~ Helen Langer

We can become mindful and learn new attitudes about who we are and what we can accomplish.  The strategies in Empowered Life Solutions such as the guided imageries and affirmations, as well as the articles on healthy living and happiness, are designed to help us become more mindful, willing to accept changes in our views of the world and improve our self worth.

In the quote at the beginning of this article, the dual realm is mentioned.  This is the concept of mindfulness as we learn to be the observer and the observed.

Take a moment and close your eyes.

What do you see, feel, think, hear, and smell?

Who is taking in this information?  

It is you the observer.  The observer or true self is that part of you that is much deeper than the observed.


You are far more than the thoughts that go through your head.  You are the observer of those thoughts.  You are the authentic self.   

The observed can be anything that is taken in by the senses including our body but the observer goes beyond the senses.  In the act of meditation, which is also a recommended strategy for mindfulness, the goal is to let thoughts ebb and become quiet.  The floating leaf guided imagery (see Floating Leaf Guided Imagery in ELS materials) helps you allow thoughts to just float by, and helps you understand that you are more than your thoughts.  Since this is true, we must be something beyond the labels we have come to accept and believe as reality.


Your Expectations vs the Expectations of Others

It is helpful to separate your expectations of yourself from the beliefs and expectations of others.

Here is an interesting experiment.  Get an apple and put it in front of you.  Notice all of its qualities such as its shape or color.  It might be a beautiful red color or a yellow-green.  It may be ripe or it may have spots or blemishes.  You may anticipate its taste as sour, sweet, or tart.  Study it for a full minute.

You have now defined the apple as you have seen it and experienced it.  Your perception.

But is this definition you have assigned to the apple, the words, thoughts, and beliefs about the apple, really the apple?

Not in the least.  The apple is still the same apple.  It has never changed nor has its qualities been diminished or added to by anything you have thought or verbalized about it.

This is the same with the observer.  No thought, word, or belief can change its value, its quality, its uniqueness, or its awareness.  It is the essence of you–conscious awareness–deep within you, waiting to be acknowledged, to help you, to enable you to be mindful, loving, valued, and of great worth.

Even the label describing the apple is arbitrary.  The word is not the thing.  Ponder this concept deeply and you will see that inherently you are of great worth and that no one’s words, beliefs, or thoughts can define you or assign your true value.

Even if you don’t believe in your own inherent value your are still inherently valuable.  Others can help give you feedback, but inherent self-worth comes from listening deeply within yourself.  No one else can ever really be the judge of your value.



A brief mention of self-talk is important here as what your say to yourself on a daily basis is one of the greatest predictors of how you feel about yourself.  Many people have had very negative experiences with shaming, blaming, or guilt-laden messages from parents, teachers, or friends.


Too often we carry false beliefs from our childhood into our adulthood.  Often times these false beliefs are healed unconcsciously and surface in how we intrepret our self-worth.

We take this information in when we are very young and, due to our tender hearts and desire to please others, believe what we hear even though we inherently know it is not true. T o be sure, we all make mistakes, but those mistakes do not reflect who we really are.

The problem is that even when we grow up, these false beliefs that are held unconsciously come up in our daily dialogue with ourselves.

I worked with a woman that constantly ran herself down with self talk like, “I am not worthy. No one really cares.  It’s all my fault, etc.”  She could see after we processed through her childhood, that these were the things her parents said to her on a regular basis as they used guilt and shame to get her to comply with their wishes.  She finally had to face those beliefs and consciously catch herself and reframe those statements into affirmations of positive self-worth.

For example:

  • I am of great value and worthy of respect and love.  
  • There are many people who care for me.  
  • I am not to blame for everything.  
  • I occasionally make mistakes just like everybody does.

Slowly, this became a habit and she could consciously stop the flow of negative self-talk.  Her self-esteem improved dramatically.  For more information see Depression: “Depressive Thought Patterns.”

Be Kind to Yourself

There are several different things you can do to help develop your self-worth.  One way is by self-nurturing.

When you take care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, you are sending yourself the message that you matter.  Make a self-nurturing kit and supply it with things that help you to remember who you are and what makes you feel good.

Here is a simple self-nurturing kit that you can put together using the five senses:

Touch: Get something you like to touch–a piece of fur, soft material, etc.  You can also get something to snuggle with or have a favorite chair or spot with comfortable surroundings.

Smell: Get a favorite fragrance, incense, potpourri, or bath oil.

Sound: Find a favorite piece of music, inspirational poem, or a book on tape that cheers you up.

Taste: Have some favorite foods or treats that fit into your diet, and that you can use for relaxing and experiencing the sensations of taste.

Sight: Find a photo of a favorite person, place, or thing, or sit by a favorite painting or piece of sculpture that gives you a positive feeling.

Prioritizing and enjoying moments of pleasure is also a way to be good to yourself. Think about activities in your life that help you to feel good about yourself. Here are just a few examples:

1. Time in the outdoors (gardening, walking, visiting, hiking, camping).

2. Laughing and enjoying humor in daily living, the arts, or our associations with others.

3. Association with people who are uplifting, creative, positive, stimulating, and whom you enjoy being with.

4. Spending time alone in creative, mind-expanding, growth-producing activities.

5. Spending time alone in quiet pensive, introspective activities.

6. Enjoying time with your spouse partner, children, grandchildren, or extended family.

7. Volunteering and/or being of service to others.

8. Pursuing a hobby, sport, recreational activity, special interest, or new talent.

9. Accepting and completing a challenging and rewarding career assignment or task at home.

You can also do a personal survey by asking trusted people or children what their impressions of you are.  This must be done with only trusted people as they are the ones who know you best and you trust will give you honest positive feedback.  (Do not ask for a critique as this defeats the purpose of the exercise).

These are just a few examples of things you can do to nurture yourself.

Be creative and explore other options, personalizing your kit to suit your needs.  If you take care of yourself, you will feel better about yourself.

Mindfulness exercises can also help you to develop a sense of self.  Thich Nhat Hanh suggests washing the dishes to wash the dishes.

creating pottery

Connecting to the present moment is a conscious decision you can make no matter what you are doing.  Take time to be present and focus on what you are doing.  

This is the concept of living in the present and enjoying whatever it is you are doing.  Take the time to lovingly wash (or rinse before putting it in the dishwasher) each dish.  Take the time to be present and focus on what you are doing.

You can do this wherever you are–the grocery store, your office, hiking, gardening, or virtually any other activity such as those mentioned above.  We tend to ignore the everyday moments that nurture us and help us to have joy in the journey.

We can also meditate.

Meditation as advocated by many clinicians begins with deep breathing.  While sitting or lying down in a comfortable position, close your eyes, gently stretch (if helpful), and attain a relaxed state throughout your body.  Block out feelings or thoughts by gently returning to a concentrated state of breathing.

When your attention wavers, focus again on the breathing.  Refrain from making any judgements about what is happening.  Just breath and relax.

According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Meditation,. . .is the process of perceiving directly the right inward measure of one’s own being through careful, non-judgmental self observation.”  Other mindfulness exercises are available using the videos on this web site


“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breaths away.”
~ Author Unknown



Join Empowered Life Solutions Today!

Larry Krause, LCSW, RPT-S; Lead Writer at Empowered Life Solutions

“Every life has a purpose our mission is to help you find yours.”

Related Reading:

Mindfulness by Ellen Langer

Care Of The Soul by Thomas Moore

Taming the Tiger Within by Thich Nhat Hanhh

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn



Hanh, Thich Nhat. (2004). Taming the Tiger Within: Meditation on Transforming Difficult Emotions.

Kabak-Zinn. Jon. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.

Langer, Ellen. (1989). Mindfulness.

Moore, Thomas. (1992). Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life.

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