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Defining Self-Worth

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

This article explores the difference between defining your self-worth externally or internally.

Who and What Defines Your Worth and Lovability?

Do you define your worth externally, through others’ approval of your looks and performance? Does your weight, your hair, your money, your job, your car, your clothes, your house, your mate, or the people you know define your worth?

The wounded self is the part of us that is externally defined. When we are operating from our wounded self, we are constantly trying to look right and perform right, in order to get others to like us, love us or approve of us. The wounded part of us feels worthy only when receiving validation from others.

This creates much anxiety. We feel unsafe when our whole sense of worth hinges upon having control over getting others’ approval. We may even feel panicked when we fear making mistakes and running the risk of disapproval and rejection. We may find ourselves judging ourselves in our effort to get ourselves to look “right” or do things “right”.

The wounded self believes we can have control over how others see us and feel about us. Therefore, according to the wounded self, if someone doesn’t like us, it must be our fault: “Did I say something wrong?” “What did I do wrong?” Believing it is our fault gives the wounded self a sense of power and control: “If it is my fault that someone doesn’t like me or rejects me, then I just have to figure out how to do it right, and then I can have control over how others feel about me.”

Core Shame

Core shame comes from the false belief that there is something intrinsically wrong with you – that you are inherently bad, wrong, defective, flawed, unimportant, unworthy, inadequate. As small children, if we didn’t get the love we needed, we may have concluded that it was our fault, rather than recognize our parents’ inability to love us in the way we needed to be loved. If we had recognized our parents’ woundedness and limitations, we would have felt crushingly helpless over getting the love we needed. Instead, most of us chose to try to have control over getting the love we needed, and over avoiding the rejection (or abuse) we feared. The only way we could feel this sense of control, was to believe that their behavior was our fault.

We concluded that, since their lack of love was our fault, we must have been somehow defective. Accordingly, we needed to believe in our own inherent defectiveness, in order to feel a sense of control over our parents’ behavior.

The problem is, we forgot that we actually chose to believe in our core shame; many of us now operate out of our core shame as if it is who we are. When we believe we are inherently defective, we then have to hide our real self, our essence, and try to become what we think we need to be, to be acceptable. The wounded self takes over and loses touch with our core Self – who we really are. We are stuck defining ourselves through our looks and performance, and we are stuck suffering the anxiety that comes from being so vulnerable to others’ disapproval.

Defining Self Through the Eyes of Spirit

When we move into the intent to learn, one of the things we need to learn about is who we really are. However, we can’t know this through our mind’s eyes – the eyes of our wounded self who is filled with false beliefs. We can know who we truly are only through the eyes of Truth, the eyes of Spirit.

When we look at ourselves through the eyes of Truth, we can begin to move beyond defining our worth externally, and learn to see who we are internally.

Think for a moment about what you really value in others. Do you value a fancy car over kindness and caring? If you had a choice between two friends – one who was good looking, wealthy, closed and sometimes mean, and the other, who was plainer, not as rich, but open, loving and kind – who would you pick? Whenever I’ve asked people this question, no one has ever said, “Oh, I would pick the meaner one.” In others, we often value honesty, kindness, generosity, compassion, understanding, empathy, vitality, humor, acceptance and so on. Yet many of us rarely define our own worth by these qualities.

Defining yourself internally means opening to learning about your core Self. Try to imagine who you were before your wounded self took over. Were you loving, caring, fun, alive, creative, sensitive, passionate? If you had you as a child, what would you value in that child? Would the child be worthy in your eyes only if he or she performed right or looked right, or would you see inside to who this child really is?

In relationships, when we make another responsible for defining our worth, we will then try to control how that person feels about us. This creates many problems in relationships, since we are trying to get love, rather than share love. Only when we accept the responsibility of defining our own worth and learn to be loving to ourselves, will we have love to share with others.



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