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  ChildKnockingAtDoor

                                       “It’s Just Me.”

  

That’s what I heard when I asked, “Who is it?” Here’s what happened. One morning years ago I was in my bathroom in the midst of shaving when I heard a knock on the bathroom door. Without opening the door I asked rather loudly, “Who is it?” From the other side of the door a small voice responded, “It’s just me.” Libby, my four-year-old daughter, apparently needed something. Her self-description triggered in my mind a thought about some work I had been doing in regard to building self-worth. With that thought in mind I opened the door and knelt down in front of my preschool daughter. Cupping my hands around her little cheeks I looked her straight in her eyes and said, “Libby, you’re not ‘just me.’ You are someone special!” She smiled and ran off toward her bedroom, forgetting for the moment her original mission. I closed the door and resumed the shaving process, only to hear a few moments later another knock on the door. Libby was back. Again I inquired “Who is it?” The same little voice said, “It’s just me.” There was a short pause, followed by the statement, “No, it’s not just me. I’m someone special!” Needless to say, I quickly opened the door and gave my precious daughter a huge hug.

 

Libby is no longer a four-year-old girl. Now called Elizabeth, she is a grown-up lady with her own family, consisting of her husband and three marvelous children. Although thirty-three years have passed since that childhood event Elizabeth has not lost her specialness. In fact, if asked about her worth she would still respond in a similar manner: “No, it’s not just me. I’m someone special!”

How I wish that every child—and every adult—would be able to affirm “I’m someone special!” in an appropriate, healthy manner. Sadly, such is not the case in our current culture. Many children and adults struggle with and suffer from issues of self-worth. Some suffer from an unhealthy inflation of self-worth while others struggle with an unhealthy deflation of self-worth. Either extreme is detrimental to an individual’s health and happiness. Our challenge is to discern the meaning of self-worth and to develop a level of self-worth that promotes health and happiness. Let’s explore that challenge by taking a brief look at three important issues: the significance of possessing self-worth, the sources for pursuing self-worth, and the strategies for preserving self-worth.

 

The Significance of Possessing Self-worth

 

The significance of possessing self-worth cannot be overstated. A healthy level of self-worth is essential to survival and success in our individual lives and also in our personal relationships. By definition “self-worth” is the sense of worth we place on ourselves when we complete a self-appraisal. I consider the term to be synonymous with “self-esteem.” In the appraisal process an individual forms a mental picture of who and what he is, based upon how he sees himself plus how he perceives that other people see him. That picture becomes his self-concept.  Then he looks at the picture and determines the worth of what he sees. Based on how he interprets the picture he assigns a high, moderate, or low level of worth to himself. That personal assignment determines his sense of self-worth. For many people the appraisal and assignment process is highly subjective and often relies more upon emotionality than upon logical thought processes.  

Let’s consider self-worth as a continuum with two unhealthy extremes and a healthy approach located somewhere in the midrange of the continuum. We find on the left end of theSelfworthContinuum continuum the extreme of self-deflation. The individual on this end is likely to say “It’s just me; I’m nothing special.” The opposite extreme is self-inflation, and the likely message is “It’s all about me; I’m totally special!’ The midrange area is self-discernment, and the person’s affirmation is “It’s not just me; I’m someone special!” The two extremes represent inappropriate deflation and inflation of self-worth; the central area represents healthy self-worth.

When we consider the consequences of the three basic areas of the self-worth continuum we will quickly determine that the midrange point is the preferred choice. An inadequate level of self-worth hinders growth, limits service opportunities, and feeds the formation of depression and anxiety. An exaggerated level is unhealthy in that it hinders personal growth and feeds narcissistic behavior. Personal and family relationships are threatened when self-worth is out-of-balance—that is, when there is too much or too little. The deflation and the inflation of self-worth often lead to behavioral problems and addiction issues. For example, I recall one young adult who had suffered a great deal from alcohol abuse. Even though she was rather pretty and quite intelligent she was still lonely, depressed, and suicidal. As she explored her situation she struggled to understand why she had developed her dependence upon alcohol. After she was able to stop the alcohol abuse she shared with me a portion of her journaling work. With her permission I want to share part of her story with you.

“Sometimes I feel like no one understands my drinking problem or the fears I have in overcoming my dependency upon alcohol. For me, alcohol was a tool I used to alter my personality and values, so I could do the things that peer pressure demanded. Alcohol was a crutch I used to overcome feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and failure. I hated the person I was before I started drinking. I despised the person I was when I was drinking. I was so overcome with feelings of guilt and repulsion at what I did when I was drunk that I would have to drink to numb my mind so I could sleep. Alcohol, to me, was an escape route from my own internal conflicts. It’s funny that we drink to forget our problems, but they never really go away. I was never aware of how unhappy I was until one night while drinking I tried to run in front of a car. My dad, the next morning, asked me how I had cut my arm. I told him I had fallen (not in the road); his response was ‘why are you trying to destroy yourself?’ Too bad he didn’t stick around for my answer. I realize now that when I stopped drinking I was 95% to the way of self-destruction, a very slow form of suicide.” 

Notice her self-description of “inferiority, insecurity, and failure”—three words that expressed her struggles with self-worth. In a similar way most individuals who label themselves as “worthless” have a tough time looking at life as a worthwhile journey. Like the young lady they are likely to believe that “I’m a worthless person. I no longer deserve to live. So it really does not matter what I do or don’t do in life. Frankly, nothing matters.” 

In contrast, a midrange approach to self-worth reinforces personal health and promotes healthy relationships. The ability to affirm “I’m someone special!” encourages positive attitudes in general which in turn increase joy and meaning in everyday living. It is clearly to our benefit to possess this healthy level of self-worth. It is a significant component to a healthy lifestyle.

 

The Sources for Pursuing Self-worth

 

Self-worth is a treasure desired and sought by every individual who wants to survive and succeed in life. Unfortunately, in our search for self-worth we often pursue activities that yield little or nothing for our efforts. In looking for sources we travel down roads in life that turn out to be dead-ends or circles that get us nowhere. So, what is the best source of healthy self-worth?

Our search for sources begins with the understanding that self-worth involves two basic human needs:  being loved and being valued. When these two needs are fulfilled the individual feels a sense of self-worth. When they are not fulfilled he does not feel worthwhile. Our search for self-worth, therefore, becomes a search for love and value. In regard to those two components we have only three sources available to us. The first two sources are the ones used by the majority of people; the third source offers a solution unknown or unused by most people.

To help us in our exploration of sources allow me to share a possible therapy scenario, one that is admittedly simplified yet one with a conclusion that is typical of many therapy experiences. Bob* (a pretend person) entered therapy with Dr. Jack (a pretend person) specifically to gain self-worth. His therapy goal was to find a level of self-worth that would help Selfworth2Sourceshim overcome his depression and to live a happier, healthier lifestyle. Dr. Jack listened to Bob’s goal for therapy and agreed to help him in his search for self-worth. Working from a humanistic and naturalistic orientation Dr. Jack decided to use an “inward source approach” in which the individual looks inward to search for love and value upon which to build a sense of self-worth. Potential items could include things like mental intelligence, physical beauty, athletic skills, special talents, and personal accomplishments. He handed Bob a sheet of paper on which Bob’s name was written, followed by a heading: “Things I Like about Me.” He gave Bob the assignment to consider his inner personal traits, qualities, and accomplishments that were positive. Bob was to write the items down on a piece of paper and bring the list to the next session. Two weeks later Bob returned and handed the therapist an empty list along with the explanation, “I searched inside myself for a long time—and found nothing that’s positive that I like.” Taking Bob’s explanation at face value Dr. Jack moved to a second assignment based upon an “outward source approach” in which the individual looks to other people for love and value.  He gave Bob a sheet of paper with the heading “The Things that Other People Like about Me.” “Bob, I want you to talk to your family members and the people you know. Ask them to tell you the positive qualities they see in you, things that they like about you. Write those items down on this paper.” Bob agreed to tackle the homework. Two weeks later he returned and handed Dr. Jack the sheet of paper—with nothing identified in the list. “No one could think of anything,” Bob sadly reported, “so that must mean that there’s nothing positive in me. I don’t have any self-worth. What do I do next?” Taking Bob’s findings at face value Dr. Jack sighed, believing that he had used the only two sources available to Bob. With regret he told Bob, “I appreciate your efforts. You’ve explored the inward source of self-worth; you’ve looked inside yourself. You’ve examined the outward source of self-worth; you’ve determined what other people think about you. Both sources have not yielded anything upon which you can build additional self-worth. Since those two sources are the only ones that are available to you the best we can do now is to figure out how you can survive in life with the level of self-worth you have at this moment. That’s all I know that you can do.” Needless to say, Bob left Dr. Jack’s office feeling disappointed and doomed to a lifestyle deficient of self-worth.

In terms of reaction is Bob very different from other individuals who struggle with self-worth issues? No doubt they would share in his disappointment. The self-worth that depends upon the inward source is often limited or shallow, based upon the person’s subjective self-assessment. The self-worth that depends upon the outward source is often transient and changeable, based upon external perceptions and circumstances that fluctuate over time. Their acceptance and approval bring the individual a perceived sense of self-worth; their rejection and disapproval result in a perceived loss of self-worth. Some people see themselves as having some self-worth because their inward and outward sources provide some positive information. Unfortunately, other folks, like Bob, examine both sources and come up with few if any good results. Based upon the lack of positive information from these two sources they conclude that they have little or no self-worth. What do people do if these two sources do not provide self-worth? That question merits additional attention, so let’s dig a little deeper. 

Let’s follow Bob a little further. Three months after talking with Dr. Jack he decided to consult with another therapist, still searching for a solution for his self-worth struggle. He explained his situation to Dr. Joe (a pretend name for the new therapist) and summarized his experience with the prior therapist. Unlike the first therapist Dr. Joe believed that the involvement of spiritualty is a key component to treating the whole person.  His approach to therapy allowed him to include a client’s spirituality in the therapy process, at least to the extent that the client desired. Listening closely to Bob’s story, Dr. Joe asked him about his spiritual faith. Bob replied that he was a Christian but had not felt close to God in a long time. “It’s on my ‘to do’ list,” Bob said, “but I guess I’ve just been focusing on other issues.”  Dr. Joe encouraged Bob to consider a third source for self-worth—an upward source. “Bob, because of your faith as a Christian you could choose to assess your self-worth in view of what God thinks of you. With your permission we could explore that possibility together, as long as you agree that any final conclusions or choices will be left totally up to you.” Bob quickly agreed and granted permission for Dr. Joe to continue.Selfworth3Sources

Over the next few minutes Dr. Joe asked Bob several questions regarding his beliefs about God. Bob affirmed that he believed that God exists and that God has revealed himself to mankind through the Scriptures, the Bible. He believed that every human being has been designed and created by God, and that man’s purpose in life is to know God and to have fellowship with God based upon the Scriptures. After learning about Bob’s spiritual beliefs Dr. Joe asked him two specific questions: “Bob, first of all, do you believe that God loves you? Secondly, do you believe that God values you?” Bob quickly responded in the affirmative. Dr. Joe continued, “Furthermore, do you believe that God’s love for you and the value he places upon you are conditional, that is, based upon your performance and behavior?” “No,” Bob replied, “God loves me and values me because of who he is, not because of what I do. I guess that means it’s unconditional.” “Okay, Bob,” Dr. Joe asked, “is there anything you can do or other people can do to prevent or stop God from loving and valuing you?” “No, I suppose not,” Bob stated thoughtfully, “God loves me and values me regardless of what I think of me or what other people think about me. I suppose I can ignore or reject his love, but he continues to love me no matter what.” Dr. Joe posed another question for Bob:  “So if you really believe that to be true, then you have another source for self-worth: an upward source—God! In terms of your belief system your basic self-worth is grounded in God’s nature and in how he sees you, and your self-worth is constant and secure, as long as your faith is maintained. That approach to self-worth gives you something more than what was available from the inward and outward sources. What do you think about that conclusion?”

After a few moments of meditative silence Bob responded, “You know, I’ve never thought of God that way before. The solution was right in front of me all the time and I just ignored it. If I look to God for my basic self-worth I’ll have something that human circumstances or uncooperative people cannot take from me. I’d like to give some more thought to this idea.” Dr. Joe smiled and said, “Fine, Bob. Give it lots of thought. Perhaps you can use your spiritual faith for the solution you’ve been seeking. I have one final question for today. What would be the benefit to you if you went home and did a search of the Bible for specific Scriptures that deal with the love and value that God extends toward you?” Bob agreed with the homework: “Thanks, Doc. I think that’s a great idea—something I should have done long ago.” After scheduling a follow-up appointment Bob left Dr. Joe’s office with hope in his heart that perhaps now he had discovered a solution that would work for him.**

After arriving home that evening Bob continued to consider the concept of using the upward source for secure self-worth. In his ponderings he thought of an illustration that became very useful to him. As a Christian Bob believed that God promised to provide for him his basic needs in life, but he also knew that God had never promised to provide all of his wants in life. In exploring hiSelfworthReservoirs beliefs about needs and wants Bob pictured an inner reservoir of self-worth, with a vertical measuring line running from bottom to top numbered 0 to10. At the 7 mark he pictured a horizontal line labeled as “Critical Level.” The amount of self-worth below the Critical Level he identified as “What I Need,” and he put God as the upward source. This amount of self-worth was critical to his well-being and survival as a person. Then Bob identified the area above the Critical Level as “What I Want” and labeled it as inward and outward sources, that is, what he would get from his own inner self plus what was provided by external circumstances and other people. This portion of self-worth was desirable but not necessary for personal survival, since it was a want and not a need.

As he pondered the reservoir concept Bob had an additional insight. He pictured the “Need” area as a “cakSelfworthCakee” and the “Want” area as “icing on the cake.” Bob thought, “I need to look to God for my cake which is where the real nutrition is located. I can think of icing as the feedback I get from other people or what I can accomplish myself. That approach will allow me to safeguard my cake so that I will always have enough self-worth for my survival. The most that people can give me or take from me is icing. I like icing, but, if necessary, I can live without it. When I get a compliment I’ll think ‘That’s just icing.’ When I get criticized I’ll remember ‘It’s just icing.’ When I get an award for some accomplishment I’ll remember “It’s just more icing.” My cake will remain secure because it’s between God and me, and other people can’t get their fingers in it to mess it up.” Bob’s insight into the “cake and icing” analogy of self-worth resulted in welcomed feelings of relief and optimism.

If you share Bob’s faith your spirituality opens a door to a third source of self-worth. To use his language you can apply your spirituality and look to God as the upward source for your “cake”—that portion of self-worth that you need for your personal survival in life. Furthermore, you can think of the inward and outward sources as “icing”—that portion of self-worth you might want but without which you certainly could survive in life. It’s okay to pursue more “icing” as long as you remember that it is “just icing” and, as such, does not provide the core part of your self-worth. The “cake” symbolizes the value and love that you believe God extends to you unconditionally, and that “cake” is never at stake in regard to people or circumstances. This spiritual perspective allows you to maintain at least a survival level of self-worth, regardless of personal failures, unwelcomed circumstances, or uncooperative people. The most that you could lose from failures, circumstances, and people is just someSelfworthDNA “icing”—and, although you like icing, you can survive without it!

The relevance and application of your personal spirituality can provide for you a new perspective about your self-worth—specifically, the extent to which you are loved and valued by God.  If you’re a Christian you believe that you were designed and created; you do not exist by mere chance. You understand that your personal DNA inherently involves the concept “D.N.A.: Designed—No Accident!” As a designed and created person you are therefore loved and valued by your Designer and Creator! The upward source will provide for you a level of self-worth sufficient to satisfy your basic need. As a result your self-worth will no longer feel like a constant roller-coaster ride dependent upon personal success or what people and circumstances bring to your life. Instead, independent of people and circumstances your basic self-worth will now feel constant and secure, dependent only upon your relationship with God as your upward source of self-worth. This upward approach to self-worth is both life-changing and life-sustaining. From a spiritual perspective each person’s self-worth has been decreed by God in the creation of each individual life as an image-bearer, that is, each person bears the image of God (Gen. 1:27). This decree of self-worth is affirmed in a short poem I recently wrote.

                            “Self-worth by Decree”

                    “Oh, it’s just me” I once believed
                    And with that lie I was deceived;
                    Then came the truth “It’s not just me,
                    I’m someone special!”—God’s decree!

                                                    -- Dr. Bill Baker (2013)   

                   

The Strategies for Preserving Self-worth

 SelfworthPreservingStrategies

As stated earlier, healthy self-worth is very significant to our personal health and happiness. Our first challenge is to pursue self-worth; the next challenge is to preserve it. Our sense of self-worth can be lost if we fail to preserve it through daily reinforcement and through assertively protecting it from threats. Let’s explore briefly three specific strategies for the preservation of our self-worth.

Strategy #1:  Use positive self-talk.

The first preservation strategy concerns the question “What do I think?” Our self-talk consists of the messages that we allow to permeate our brain and to dominate our beliefs. Every thought that enters our mind that we accept as true will influence our beliefs about ourselves and our environment. Even if that thought is technically incorrect it becomes true for us if we choose to believe it. For example, the thought “I’m worthless!” comes into our mind. If our “Mental Gatekeeper” stamps that thought as “True!” we will actually believe that we are worthless. However, if we’ve trained our “Mental Gatekeeper” to recognize such thoughts as inherently dangerous, the thought will be stamped “False!” and will be rejected and kicked out. Our Mental Gatekeeper is supposed to look at every thought and determine which thought to “let in” versus which thought to “kick out.” If our gatekeeper is untrained or is not alert he is likely to stamp any thought as true—even the thought “I’m worthless!” At that point the thought, however inaccurate or dangerous, becomes a part of our inner truth. When this process is repeated many times the thought becomes ingrained and therefore has a heavy impact upon our self-evaluation. Thus, it is critically important that we listen to our self-talk and make certain that our self-talk is positive. For example, suppose that someone criticizes you for something and your first reactive thought is “Oh, no! That person just destroyed all of my self-worth.” Your gatekeeper will protect you by responding, “Stop! That’s not true. That person just took some of the icing on your cake, nothing more. You still have all of your cake because it’s between you and God.” Or, suppose that you failed at a task or made a mistake about something, and the thought enters your mind, “Oh, no! I’ve messed up. I must be worthless.” Your gatekeeper will shout, “Stop! That’s not true. So you failed at something or messed up. That’s just icing. Remember, God has your cake—and it’s always safe and secure!” As your Mental Gatekeeper does his job effectively your basic self-worth (that is, the amount that you need) is never in jeopardy from internal mess-ups or from external people and circumstances. The upward source allows you to stay secure and confident in terms of your basic self-worth.

Strategy #2:  Use positive self-evaluation.

The second preservation strategy concerns the question, “What do I extend?” As you evaluate yourself on a day-by-day basis you can extend to yourself either justice or mercy, or both. Justice alone yields a legalistic approach to self-worth that sets up standards that are impossible for anyone to attain or maintain. A positive self-evaluation includes mercy in addition to justice. Justice means that you accept responsibility and accountability for your behavior. Mercy means that you are able to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and mistakes. The extension of mercy allows you to accept yourself even when you’re wrestling with serious stresses and painful problems, and even when you’ve made mistakes and messes in life. Let’s recall Bob for a moment. As a Christian Bob believes that God extends mercy to him when he messes up and repents. He receives from God the grace that he needs even though he doesn’t deserve it. Now Bob’s challenge is to extend that same mercy and grace to himself and to forgive and accept himself. We would do well to imitate Bob’s challenge and practice positive self-evaluation as a vital part of self-worth maintenance.

 Strategy #3:  Use positive self-caring.  

The third preservation strategy concerns the question, “What do I practice?” This strategy involves the use of positive self-caring practices in terms of building ourselves up instead of tearing ourselves down. Unfortunately, we often become our own worst enemy in regard to how we treat ourselves. Through frequent putdowns and negative labels we demolish ourselves and prevent any potential for healthy self-worth. We can even convince ourselves that we’re not worthy of God’s love and value, and thereby we reject the upward source. In contrast, positive self-caring encourages the development and maintenance of self-worth, particularly when the upward source is used as the primary basis for our self-worth. In daily living we practice positive self-caring through appropriate self-nurturing and self-protection. This type of self-caring avoids the two negative extremes of selfishness and self-neglect. Essentially, self-caring is the healthy practice of personal stewardship—“taking good care of me.”  

 

Concluding Thoughts . . .

SelfworthHighway

Self-worth is highly significant to safe and successful travels through life. A positive journey along the Self-worth Highway requires an approach to self-worth that is achievable and workable. We limit our potentials if we look only to inward and outward sources; we expand our potentials if we access the upward source through our personal spirituality. That upward source allows us to maintain a level of self-worth (that is, “our cake”) that will fulfill our basic need for love and value in a secure, consistent pattern. Concurrently, the inward and outward sources can provide additional self-worth (that is, “icing on the cake”) that enriches our lives. The upward source fulfills our needs; the other two sources fulfill our wants. Once found and set in place, our self-worth must be preserved carefully through the strategies of positive self-talk, self-evaluation, and self-caring.    

If you’ve been struggling with self-worth issues the material in this short article is relevant to you. I hope that the information will be of personal benefit and positive encouragement to you. You are one individual, and as one individuaSelfworthStarfishl you are indeed special. The specialness of each person brings to my mind the story about a starfish that was viewed as valuable. According to the story I heard, an old man walked along a beach every morning to pick up starfish that had washed up overnight by the ocean waves. Slowly and carefully, one by one, he threw them back into the ocean where they would be safe. One day a young man approached the old man with a question:  “Why do you throw the starfish back, day after day? There are thousands of them and you’ll never make a difference.” The old man picked up a starfish, threw it back into the ocean, and replied, “It makes a difference to this one.” As a “human starfish” you are inherently worthwhile and what happens to you does make a difference in your life. When you see your inherent self-worth for what it actually is then you will make a difference to other people, and all of your human relationships will be enriched and strengthened. With humility you will affirm and celebrate your secure self-worth, and you will say with confidence, “It’s not just me—I’m someone special!”  

I wish you well in your personal travels along the Self-worth Highway. As always, I also wish you well in all of your relationship journeys.

 

Mental Health Blog #1317

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*Bob:  Bob is not a specific person; instead, he represents all of the men and women who struggle with issues of self-worth.SelfworthDecreePoem

**Follow-up:  Bob continued seeing Dr. Joe for several additional sessions. Through his personal spiritual faith Bob found a new way of thinking about himself in regard to his self-worth that brought inner peace and welcomed contentment. The Scriptures that Bob identified in his study included the following:  Gen. 1:27-31; Psa. 8:4-5; Isa. 40:25-31; Matt. 6:25-26; John 3:16; Rom. 5:8-9; 8:14-17; I Pet. 2:9; I John 3:1. 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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VIDEO:  To see a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Self-Worth:  I'm Someone Special!" please click on the image to the right or you can click here.

 

 

 

 

 


 
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