• Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD

Measuring Self-Worth

Many people base their self-worth on how they are perceived by others, or at least how they imagine that others perceive them. There are all kinds of measuring sticks against which they rate themselves. For women, physical appearance is a very prominent measuring stick in our society. Everybody seems to be measured against that, whether they be politicians, actresses, celebrities, scientists, and just average people. For men, other attributes seem to be more important, such as athletic prowess, earning power, intelligence, and aggressiveness. I realize that these might be generalized statements and therefore somewhat inaccurate, yet I have not seen anyone escape the critical lens of media, news outlets, and our cultural emphasis on these attributes.

measuring tape
How do you measure your self-worth?

Insecurity makes the world go around

Some people are fortunate enough to fit the mold that society once them to fit. However, even people who are close to the ideal still suffer from insecurity. If we are fortunate enough, we can build our own internal standards for who we want to be. However, most of us cannot escape the very critical lens through which we see ourselves. As a result, some people feel anxious, insecure, frustrated, discouraged, and worse. The relentless pursuit of perfection by someone else’s standards is one of the unhealthiest things that we do to ourselves in American society. Yet many people feel that they cannot stop. To get off of this ride would be to commit career or social suicide, in their opinions. I would argue that the opposite is true — to stay on this ride is hell on earth.

A lot of advertising depends on our caring what other people think of us. We have to wear the right clothes, be on the right diets, weigh the right amount, have the right amount of muscle tone, know the right people, belong to the right groups, and so on. It’s exhausting how much we need to do to be considered acceptable by someone else. It definitely takes a toll on our self-worth. The devilish thing is that the standards shift and change all the time. Just when you think you’re wearing the right clothes, there’s a new trend. Then you have to dump your last season’s wardrobe and by all new attire. If we were satisfied with how we looked, smelled, and with our bodies, the advertising and personal products industries would go broke. Or at least that’s what they want as to believe!

Internal versus external measures of self-worth

I will set aside for a moment my nonexistent concerns about their industries doing well. Instead, I propose that we as human beings need to find a new way to evaluate ourselves. As Kristin Neff proposes in her book, Self Compassion, we are valuable just for being alive. This is a radical concept and may take time to accept emotionally, but I think it is lifesaving and important. What if our new standards for ourselves were that we are kind, compassionate, wise, judicious, restrained, circumspect, giving, or loving? Let us measure ourselves by what we value most and not what we think will gain us acceptance and approval from other people. I think it is an experiment worth trying, don’t you? The best place to start is with deciding what’s important to you and what you want to do with this precious life that you have.

If you have difficulty finding your own internal standards against which to measure yourself, I suggest that you call me. There is no reason for your self-worth to suffer any longer. Together we can explore and develop your new roadmap for what matters most to you. How will you show your self-respect? How will you respect others? How do you want to move through this world? What do you consider successful? Is that defined by you or somebody else? We had so much to do together. Let's get started now!

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