3 Approaches To Liberating Your Self-Worth From Bondage

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Self

You may not be physically bound with ropes, but you're tied up by your self-worth.

I found my self-worth tied up in my hair earlier this week. I had two big networking events to attend and wanted to feel confident. I looked in the mirror and decided that my hair looked funny. As I pushed it this way and that, I felt my energy dropping.

Thoughts kept creeping in like, "Oh no, who's going to be inspired by me when I don't look good? How can I be outgoing and confident when I don't look good? It's going to be one of those days." Then I caught myself. I realized that I was setting myself up to be disappointed with my entire day. All because of my hair. Because I was collapsing my worth with my looks, which undermined my confidence.

Here's another example from a mother of two: "I walked into the kitchen, saw all the dirty dishes and thought, 'Gee, what a loser I am. I can't keep it together. Dirty dishes in the middle of the day.'"

Have you ever thought something like that about yourself? Maybe it was the poor grade, the extra pounds or not getting a job that you were going after. There's an underlying attitude that we have to prove our worth by what we accomplish, how we look or if we have a partner.

What's going on here?

In our culture, though not exclusively, we collapse personal value with external markers — money, nice clothes, good grades, a clean house or fame. These are viewed as good and positive. When we have them or accomplish them, we assign worth to ourselves. When we challenge what we consider good, then we judge ourselves as worthless.

Sounds harsh and it is. Here we are with variable and fluctuating self-worth, a rising and falling of valuing ourselves. This extends to how we judge others as well. You got the job, I see you as worthy. I ate the pie, I am worthless. We tend to become myopic, overly focused on judging one action or aspect, and forget the bigger picture. We undermine our own confidence. We become more vulnerable to the brain's preexisting negativity bias. This, with prolonged bondage, can lead to depression and acting out our shaky self worth through destructive behaviors — eating disorders, isolating or playing small.

What's the shift?

What if we adopt the attitude that human worth is intrinsic and unchanging? This means that nothing we do increases our worth and nothing we do decreases our worth.

The mother in the story above tried this shift. Now she responds differently to her dishes thinking, "Wow, lots of dishes. It makes sense with the busy and full lives of my family." She now sees the larger perspective (activities with her family). No blame, but rather observations. No guilt. No self worth in bondage. A clean house does not equal worth, nor does a dirty house compromise worth.

Personally, recognizing that my self worth is innate and unchanging allows me to act from joy instead of fear. I am motivated to make the best decisions I can because it feels good to succeed. Not because I am scared that I'm secretly a loser or that I have to prove my worth.

That proving attitude is what kept me in an emotionally abusive relationship for nine years. He told me that if I left him, I was a selfish American. If I left him, I was disloyal. My self-worth was in bondage to these proclamations because I internalized them. If I had recognized my self worth as innate and unvarying regardless of his displeasure, I would have left much sooner.

Three ways to break the bonds that bind:

1) Adopt the perspective that your worth is intrinsic and unchanging.

  • Create a calendar reminder with the question, "Where am I assigning my self worth at this moment?"
  • Use notes posted on your computer, bathroom mirror and front door to remind you that "Human worth, my worth, is intrinsic and unchanging."
  • Investigate for yourself where you are acting like or believe your worth is dependent on a behavior, outcome or pleasing others. 
  • What becomes possible when your worth is not tied to anything external?

2) Appreciate Others.

  • As you encounter people throughout your day, practice thinking and saying to yourself, "What a beautiful human." Make this your first thought.
  • Notice how this changes your experience of others, as well as your attitude about yourself.

3) Try A History Scan.

  • Spend 15 minutes thinking about your personal history. Focus on times when you have made choices that did not serve you or uplift you. What do you see about where you were collapsing your self-worth?
  • Forgive your younger self for not knowing better.
  • Notice where you can apply your insight about your personal pattern of externalizing your worth to current situations, challenges and goals.
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