The absolute hardest part of self-worth is not only truly believing it, but also practicing it. This isn’t some final destination you reach. In the beginning of my self-worth journey, my therapist at the time recommended positive affirmations. She wanted me to say them to myself several times a day. That was nice. How often do we really compliment ourselves, especially on a deep, compassionate level? Our brains will believe what we tell them. We tell ourselves we’re worthy, our brains will start to believe us. I needed more, though. Something was just missing for me. We know that self-worth is complex and deep-rooted; it isn’t simply a belief about ourselves, but a way of life. Gaining self-worth must be multi-dimensional, as well. That journey HAS to go beyond changing our view of self to include implementation, and can’t always be pretty – it looks like setting boundaries, compassionately holding yourself accountable, valuing yourself enough to make tough choices, and telling yourself you’re worthy with radical acceptance. Those things aren’t always easy. Imagine what’s on the other side of it, though.
I once had a friend that walked all over me. Every time I let her, I felt a little worse about myself. It created a strange dynamic where I eventually felt like I was somehow beneath her. I didn’t feel like my feelings, needs, time, space, energy mattered. I didn’t feel like I mattered. My sense of worth felt nonexistent. I wanted to be a good friend, and I essentially thought that meant being a people-pleaser. I didn’t know how I could possibly be a good friend and also state my needs. It felt confrontational and wrong. It took a lot of courage for me to stand up to her. When I finally did, she exited the friendship. After a while, I felt relieved, but in the beginning, I felt punished for valuing myself. It took me a long time to recover from that. I vowed to never let myself live beneath someone ever again, which was easier said than done.
Self-worth can’t exist without boundary setting. Implementing healthy boundaries tells people that your time, mental/physical/emotional space, your reality, and your energy are valuable and need to be respected. We’re not taught boundary setting growing up. We’re taught to obey, obey, obey – to please, please, please. We’re taught to hold our tongues and smile and nod. Because of this, assertiveness is tough. We can see people move from passive to aggressive when they finally can’t take it anymore because they have no idea how to engage in direct, healthy communication. On the other side of that, we can see people viewing healthy, assertive communication as aggressive because they have no idea what direct communication actually looks like. Pushing our needs down implies that we’re lesser than. Implementing boundaries for ourselves means owning our worth. Respecting the boundaries of others means upholding their worth, as well. It’s an equal balance that requires communication that can only come from valuing yourself and valuing others. Good boundaries require self-awareness, calm and direct communication, prioritizing yourself, and respecting the needs of others. The more you set healthy boundaries for yourself, the more you tell your brain that you are worthy.
Compassionately holding yourself accountable
I have spent way too many nights staring at the ceiling, replaying awkward situations in my mind, kicking myself for things that I’m sure nobody else remembers. I have also spent way too much time kicking myself for things I truly did do wrong. The little things that truly didn’t matter took my energy away from actually working on the things that I needed to as an imperfect human. Simply kicking myself for what I did wrong also took my energy away from improving on myself as an imperfect human. I was my worst critic, and I was stagnant. Here’s how to stop “should-ing” on yourself.
I started growing when I granted myself grace. I noticed how I spoke to my clients, and wondered why I didn’t speak to myself in the same way. Acknowledging that it was okay to mess up wasn’t easy for me, but when I did, I was able to move forward. I allowed myself to learn from what I could, and acknowledge that I had to own all pieces of myself, including the parts that I previously wished didn’t exist. It meant wholeheartedly apologizing and being honest with myself and those around me when I messed up, and not letting it detract from my view of self. It meant acknowledging that messing up and owning those times actually makes me more relatable. Self-love doesn’t mean making excuses for yourself. We have to acknowledge when we’re wrong, but we do it from a place of love. We can strive to improve ourselves without harsh criticism being present. Kicking yourself invokes shame, and shame is not where we grow. Being honest and graceful with yourself invokes vulnerability – THIS is where we grow, and this is how we respect our worth while having hard conversations with ourselves.
Valuing yourself enough to make tough choices
My first full time job was an absolute nightmare. I loved my coworkers, I enjoyed the work, and I made pretty good money…but my boss treated me horribly. I had planned to stay for years for a lot of obvious reasons that ended up not being worth it. For a long time, I prayed for a “justified reason” to step away so it would be an easy choice. When it came down to it, I left simply because I wanted to. I left a hefty, steady paycheck, amazing coworkers, and what I initially thought was my dream job all because the stress my boss induced was draining me of my resources. It wasn’t an easy choice to make. It kept me up many many nights, debating in my head if I should sacrifice all of the benefits that job gave me just because I was miserable. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find those things anywhere else. My mental health was much more important than any of those pros, and I had to tell myself that that was reason enough. Unfortunately, it took me months to come to that conclusion.
I’m not suggesting that you up and quit your job or stop being friends with someone if there’s simply a potential sign of trouble. I’m suggesting that you value yourself enough for your well-being to be reason enough to make that tough decision. In my experience, tough decisions typically involve change and loss. They’re tough for a reason. In the midst of the change, imagine what you’re gaining. Remember – YOU are the priority. You are worth it.
Telling ourselves we’re worthy with radical acceptance
When I look up positive affirmations, I am flooded with toxic positivity. Positive affirmations don’t have to be rainbows and sunshine like “Everything that is happening now is happening for my ultimate good. I am a powerhouse; I am indestructible”. That isn’t realistic. Realistically telling yourself that you’re worthy should be grounded in radical acceptance – acknowledging the not so great things and shifting your focus to the good stuff – “I am tired today, but all I can do is my best”; “I feel embarrassed, and I will go to that social event anyway”; “what’s happening around me sucks, and I will persevere through it”.
Again, self-worth is a never-ending journey, but it’s one that you’re capable of walking.