For as long as I can remember, the people in my life (both at work and personally) always commented on how confident I appeared. And maybe on the surface I did come across as self-confident, but deep down, I believed I just wasn’t as good as other people. You see, on the surface, I seemed to have a relatively good life. I loved school and did pretty well, I was good at sports, I went to university, had a whole line-up of educational and professional qualifications under my belt, have always had a decent career, first in media, then in education – but I always felt like I wasn’t as good as others and constantly doubted my abilities. I always pushed myself to try new things, but nothing seemed to work. I certainly suffered from imposter syndrome in everything I did.
After years of trying to work out if there was something inherently wrong with me and after thousands of hours spent reading tons of books on how changing my thoughts about myself would make me feel more confident, I finally understood that you can appear confident, but still have low self-worth. Self-confidence and self-worth are certainly worlds apart.
In simple terms, self-worth lies at the core of our being. Self-worth is recognising that you matter, that you are a valuable human being, that you deserve to be treated with respect and that you are worthy of love. Essentially, self-worth is how you view yourself, what you think about yourself and what you believe about yourself. It’s about the opinion you have of yourself regardless what anyone else says or thinks.
On the flip side, self-confidence is tied to your capability to do something successfully and how much you trust yourself and your ability to deal with challenges, solve problems, and engage successfully with the world.
Low self-confidence versus low self-worth
Low confidence stems from challenges, either past or present. For example, maybe you didn’t get the job you wanted because you didn’t yet have the right skillset for it. Or perhaps you messed up at work in delivering a presentation and you’re worried that you’ll mess up again. But here’s the secret I’ve only recently discovered: low self-confidence is rational and therefore you can find rational ways to navigate it. Referring again to the examples above, you can receive mentoring on how to deliver a presentation or in the case of the unsuccessful job application, you can get specific training to develop your professional skillset.
Low self-worth on the other hand, is not rational. You can have the most amazing job, be blessed with good health, an abundance of money and still feel worthless (and let me tell you, it’s not based on challenges).
Low self-worth has its origins in unresolved past experiences and emotions.
You see, rather than being a simple thought, low-self worth is a belief – a belief that was formed from past experiences which lead to negative beliefs about yourself and the world.
And do you want to know the biggest emotion that triggers and drives low self-worth? Shame.
Main Causes of Low Self-Worth
- Childhood Abuse
Childhood physical and/or sexual abuse is one of the most common reasons for low self-worth. In an attempt to understand what is happening, a child blames herself/himself.
- Childhood Trauma
Anything that affected your sense of identity or safety as a child falls into the trauma bucket. Anything from experiencing parental loss through death or abandonment, to being bullied at home or at school can constitute trauma.
- Adverse Childhood Experiences
This includes difficult experiences children live through like neglect, growing up with an alcoholic or sick parent, witnessing angry and violent behaviour in the home, growing up in poverty, or parents divorcing.
- Poor Parenting
Parents often do the best they can, but what I’m referring to here is frequent punishments and criticisms, ridiculously high standards, not being given enough affection, attention and/or acknowledgment. This type of poor parenting is undoubtedly connected to low self-esteem.
- Poor Attachment
To grow up to be an adult who can have healthy, trusting relationships, ‘attachment theory’ suggests that you need a parent/caregiver in your early years who you can trust to always be there for you and accept you just as you are.
- A Negative Core Belief System
Negative core beliefs, created by experiences like the ones above, sound like:
‘’I am unlovable’’
‘’Everyone else is better than me’’
‘’I’m not smart enough’’
‘’I’m not good enough’’
The one that really got me and the one that I hear from the many women I have coached is:
‘I was very confident until that narcissist stripped me of everything’
Do these resonate with you?
I’ve learnt that this way of thinking is very typical in people with low self-worth, but the truth is that it wasn’t a toxic relationship that stripped me of everything. The abusive relationship was the icing on the cake. The truth is that I had a long history of inner pain and struggled to feel good most of my life. The toxic relationship brought to light something I needed to know about myself. I finally realised that deep down, I didn’t really like myself.
Through my own experience and healing journey, I can honestly put my hand on my heart and reveal that until you deal with your past head-on (however painful that may be) you will always be running from yourself, creating the same pattern over and over again and then wondering why you experience difficulties with intimacy and relationships, both personal and professional. Positive thinking alone, pushing yourself harder, ignoring how you feel and hoping it will just go away won’t help.
The good news is there are several different practices you can do to work through what is hiding behind your low self-worth. Low self-worth has deep roots and like weeds deeply rooted in the earth, it requires committed digging.
If you’re serious about moving forward and discovering new ways of relating and being that gently raise your self-worth, start by downloading my free PDF guide Powerful Tools to Boost Your Self-Worth
I would love to hear your thoughts or any questions this blog has raised, so please leave a comment below and I’ll personally respond to any questions.