4 ways to recover your self-worth
Data from my well-being survey recently revealed that positive self-views (or the general belief that we are good, worthwhile human beings) was the best predictor of happiness – even more so than 19 other happiness skills including gratitude and strong personal relationships.
Why are positive self-views so essential to happiness? Because these views not only affect how we feel; they also affect our thoughts and behaviors. When we feel bad about ourselves, we unconsciously act in ways that end up confirming our beliefs. For example, if we feel like we are not good enough for a good relationship, a good job, or financial stability, we stop pursuing these goals with the intensity required to reach them, or we sabotage ourselves along the way.
So how do we break out of the negative cycle? Below I highlight four ways that you can start to promote positive self-views and begin to change the patterns of your life.
1. Figure out your needs
When we don’t feel good about ourselves, it’s easy to think that there’s something fundamentally wrong with us; it feels deeply rooted and unchangeable. In reality, though, we may have failed to clarify (and then pursue) exactly what would make us feel like a person that we could love.
People tend to feel badly about themselves when they feel powerless to get their needs met – so you can start this process by figuring out what your needs are. But be careful: It’s important that we don’t start demanding that the people in our lives fulfill our every want. Rather, clarify for yourself what you need. What people, places, or experiences are must-haves to live a fulfilling life? What aspects of your life – if removed – would leave you without a sense of purpose? Really think carefully about this and try not to consider others’ needs right now.
Now, every person has different needs. For example, many people feel that they need to have children; this is one of those things that they need to do in this life to feel whole. Other people need to travel. I personally need to love what I do for a living. Without this, my life would feel meaningless to me. But everyone is different.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out your needs, just reflect on times in your life when you weren’t thriving. What was missing?
2. Live authentically
You figured out your needs already, right? If your needs are being met, this step is easy. Just keep them in mind, and don’t stray too far from living a life that is authentically yours.
But what if your needs aren’t being met? You have to start thinking about how you will communicate your needs, how you will start creating a life that meets your needs, and what you will do if people in your life can’t meet those needs.
This step was really hard for me. I discovered that some of my core needs were not being met. It was easier in many ways to just go with the flow than to be more direct about exactly what I needed and exactly what would happen in the future if those needs weren’t met. I drew some scary lines in the sand and clarified for myself exactly what my deal breakers were—deal breakers for my friendships, my marriage, and my work life. At the same time, I discovered that I had been pushing to get my wants met, even though they were not so important. I prioritized, focused, and communicated my needs with brutal honesty, and I let everything else go.
It’s funny how standing up for yourself and living a life that is authentically yours generates positive self-views. I now have more positive views of myself because I pushed for what matters to me. It was terrifying to put myself first, but it was worth it.
3. Forgive yourself
Now that you understand your needs and have a plan for getting them met, you are on your way to feeling that sense of self-assuredness that comes from having control over your own life. You’re moving in the right direction. But what about those past mistakes? You know, those things you’re not so proud of? Almost everyone has said something hurtful, forgotten an important event, or betrayed someone they love.
We have to remember that our mistakes do not define us. They do not make us good people or bad people. If we learn and grow from them, then they make us better people. To develop positive self-views, you must keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself, and give yourself credit for trying not to make the same mistakes again.
4. Celebrate your quirks
Each of us is one of a kind. When we cherish our eccentricities and celebrate our flaws, we begin to develop a deep love for ourselves just as we are. Instead of focusing on all the things wrong with us, self-celebration enables us to derive deep satisfaction from being uniquely us. Practice self-celebration by enjoying your awkward laugh or poking fun at your inability to remember people’s names. Or you can do as I do, and smile big for pictures to show off your buck tooth.
While celebrating your quirks, don’t forget to keep growing. Keep your eyes and ears open to the people you trust. Listen when they tell you that you have work to do on yourself. It doesn’t make you bad, just human. People you care about will be the ones that help you distinguish between flaws that need acceptance and flaws that need fixing. (Remember, you want others to get their needs met, too.) This part is crucial, and it keeps us from sliding out of self-love and into complacency.
In sum, feeling positively about ourselves takes effort. But by changing our views, we can change our lives.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.