For most of my 20s and 30s, my eyes and heart were tightly closed to the truth – the truth that I had spent most of my life distancing myself from myself, not really knowing who I was and not really knowing what I wanted. As I went through life accompanied by a lingering feeling of ‘’stuckness’’ – living a life that didn’t really make me happy, I never once considered or entertained the thought that this feeling was coming from a lack of self-worth. Nope! I honestly thought that if I could control what was going on in my outside world, I would fix my painful inner world. And believe me… I gave it my best shot!
Having spent my teens, twenties and thirties not knowing what my own needs were, I did the best I could to be as happy as possible with the limited self-awareness I had at the time, yet I was haunted by the thought “this can’t be it.” In all my relationships, (both personal and professional) I realise now that my needs were neither valued nor met. How could they be if I didn’t value myself? How could they be if I didn’t even know what setting boundaries was?
As I navigated through life, I appeared ok on the outside and to have it all on the surface, but hidden deep within the core of my very being, I felt stuck and realised I had set myself a low bar when it came to happiness. Playing small, outstaying relationships, chasing people’s approval, wondering if people liked me and self-sabotaging every single attempt at having my own business – all of which protected me from confirming my biggest fear: I am not enough.
Today however is a different story. Today I’m not afraid to make decisions. I don’t worry about sharing my opinion. Today, I walk away from toxic situations and people – I’m not scared to let go of anything that doesn’t serve my highest good and I take steps in and risks which move me toward the directions of my dreams – Yes, today I experience a level of happiness I didn’t even know was possible.
So how did I change this? How did I go from being an expert in numbing my emotions and ignoring my inner turmoil to experiencing inner peace and happiness?
I have to admit, I tried everything. I mean I tried everything I thought would make me happy – getting more qualifications, working out, retail therapy, travelling abroad, starting a new life in a different country, going after every promotion possible. But over time, I learnt that these things will never give you the kind of happiness you desire in and of themselves – unless they coincide with you knowing your worth.
Realising my worth did not happen overnight. What awakened my dormant low self-worth was my experience of intimate partner abuse. It was this experience and the end of that relationship which exposed me to feelings that I had subconsciously managed to cover up for a huge part of my life. This, coupled with years of reading self-help literature, therapy, coaching, and listening to any trainings I had access to, helped me understand why I was pulled towards people who didn’t value my worth.
You see, when you grow up in a critical, judgemental environment, an environment where your needs are never acknowledged, where your feelings are either invalidated or ignored, an environment in which you don’t feel protected, you adopt coping strategies to feel safe. To the outside world I pretended life was fine, and that pretence, that ability to cover up my internal battle became one of my greatest weapons in hiding my true self to others. Becoming increasingly curious about my life and my relationship with myself, I started to show myself compassion. It was liberating to reflect on my life and identify patterns that not only drained me but stood in the way of me being me. Today, I know that shining a light on those patterns helped me during my hardest times.
Common Signs that your Hidden Low Self-Worth is Holding You Back
- You resist change in all its forms
Maybe you really want to make a change in your life or you wish to try something new, but you are crippled by fear. Fear of failing. Fear of being judged by others. So, you play small and remain firmly in your comfort zone.
- You people-please
You say yes when you mean no and prioritise other people’s needs over your own. People pleasing behaviours can often include doing everything possible to avoid conflict and doing things you really don’t want to do just to avoid being judged or criticised by others. If, deep down, you believe you aren’t ‘enough’- good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, the list is endless – you’ll do everything you can to make sure you’re liked – often at the expense of your own wellbeing. Being kind is great but remember to extend that same kindness towards yourself.
- You settle for less than you deserve
Both in your personal and professional life. You might feel a constant longing for more, more love, more fun, more understanding, a higher salary, but settle in your decisions that what you have is good enough and leave it at that.
- You allow others to mistreat you.
You may find yourself surrounded by people who say and do things that make you feel completely unappreciated, undervalued and not heard. That’s not to say that at times you may try to stand up for yourself, but at other times, to keep the peace and avoid conflict, you pretend you don’t notice. You make excuses for their behaviour, or you accept their excuses for how they treat you.
Despite secretly wishing people would show you more respect, you allow them to walk all over you, cheat on you, put you second, dismiss your ideas – the list can go on and on and on… Remember, other people can’t mistreat you without your permission. In other words, others treat you how you allow them to. When you treat yourself poorly, you show others that it’s ok for them to do the same.
- You do things you don’t want to do.
Often, your actions are not aligned with your values and with who you really are. You agree to go to places you don’t enjoy, see people you don’t really like, do things you really don’t want to do. You hide your real interests and may even be dishonest about what you want. Sometimes you’re aware that you’re doing this, but in many cases you’re not even aware that you’re doing something you really don’t want to – all you know is that you come away from situations and certain people feeling like you’ve had all your joy sucked out of you. You see, when you don’t appreciate yourself, the idea that others will like you even when you have different interests, is alien.
- You worry about things you’ve said and done
You waste a lot of time going over what you said in a conversation and question whether you’ve offended anyone. This often results in either seeking reassurance from others or misinterpreting their words and actions – making them mean (in your own mind) they are upset with you.
You become obsessive with this type of thinking and convince yourself that something you said puts people off and/or no longer like you. The sad truth is when you don’t love yourself, you struggle to believe anyone else does, so you subconsciously hold onto the fear that they will leave you.
- You avoid letting people get too close
You may look for and see the worst in people and assume they will leave you once they get to know you. So you easily block people out if they say something you don’t like, or you draw up a list all the things you don’t like about them and then decide that you’re not really compatible. This classic self-sabotaging behaviour is a protection mechanism. You don’t value yourself, so you subconsciously assume that others won’t either. Rather than risk rejection or criticism, you simply don’t let them in.
Looking back, many of these patterns were very prominent in my life; they were a natural part of my day-to-day existence, but being unaware of them, I never gave them the attention they deserved. As I gradually came to know my true worth, I witnessed incredibly positive shifts and the more I did things that made me feel good, the more attuned I became to the things and people that didn’t. It’s amazing how a single, slight change can have a powerful ripple effect across all areas of your life.
If you’re serious about living a happy life surrounded by healthy relationships with others, then the first thing to do is look at yourself. While relationship difficulties are inevitable, having a healthy dose of self-worth means you can build relationships knowing that no one person is more important than the other and your needs deserve to be met just as much as the other person.
I honestly believe that one of the most important things I’ve ever spent time on is working on the relationship I have with myself. I’ve learned to get to know myself, accept myself, value myself and love myself. Yes, it’s certainly been a bumpy road with many trips and falls along the way but let me reassure you that that’s just the way it works.
So, if you’ve got to the point whereby you’re fed up with playing small and not feeling good enough, now is the perfect time to take notice. You don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom, you don’t have to wait another ten years. Start now, you deserve it.
Make 2022 the year in which you make a commitment to work on the most important relationship you will ever have – the one with yourself.
I invite you to download my free PDF guide Powerful Tools & Practices to Boost Your Self-Worth so you can begin the new year with practical strategies which you can implement on a daily basis to help you stop playing small and step into the greatness of you!
I would love to hear your thoughts or any questions this post has raised, so please leave a comment below and I’ll personally respond to any questions.
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