How to Increase Your Self Worth

What is self-worth?

According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”

Let’s break that down for a second.

You might ask yourself, “well who would not think they deserve to be treated with respect?”

And, what does it actually mean to deserve respect?

A lot of people who are socially anxious fail this litmus test.

The story usually goes like this:

You believe that everyone else in the world is more deserving of respect than you.

Say, for example, you accomplish something really great. Maybe you get a good grade in school or are hired for a new job.

At this point, is when you start to downplay anything about yourself that may have contributed to that outcome.

Oh, well it was easy to get good grades. Anyone could have done it.

Or, that job, they just hired me because they needed someone. It’s not that there was anything special about me that got me hired.

The pattern goes..

Achievement – seeing it as not reflective of you in any way – lowered self-worth.

Or..

Anything positive about yourself – seeing it as nothing special – lowered self-worth.

What would you think/say/do if someone else accomplished the same?

Would you attribute that good grade to hard work, determination, goal setting? Or the job offer to a stellar interview, great background, or strong work ethic?

More importantly, what are you getting out of denying your self-worth?

Because, be honest, there’s a reason why you are doing it. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of people expecting more from you? Afraid that people will discover you are not really that great (like something along the lines of Imposter Syndrome)?

What is holding you back from accepting your own worth?

While it may not seem that relevant to social anxiety, it’s actually a key part of the puzzle. Somewhere along the way you lost the ability to view yourself and others from the same objective lens. Do you know when that point was? Can you pick it out from your past?

Perhaps there was some event where you let yourself down.

That speech in fourth grade where everyone laughed. The time you did not get the job and you did make a fool of yourself in the interview.

But do you have to keep telling yourself you are that person?

I don’t think so.

So that’s the first reason. Reason #1. Fear.

What’s the second reason you might be denying your own self-worth?

Because of a need to be your authentic self.

Reason #2. Needing to be your real self.

Somehow along the way your social anxiety became entwined with your view of yourself. The need to escape the spotlight became part of a whole strategy of down-playing yourself, achievements and all. There goes that respect along with your self-worth.

I’ve talked a lot about assertiveness. But I’ve never talked about its relationship to self-worth.

You see, when you ask for the respect of others, you are actually showing them respect too.

When you say “no” because you don’t have time to do something, you are allowing the other person the chance to find someone else to do the job.

When you tell someone how you are feeling (or how they’ve hurt you), you are giving them a roadmap of how to make you happy in the future.

In essence, the cycle looks something like this:

self-worth = respect for self = respect from others = assertiveness = respect for others.

So, working on your self-worth is a proposition that helps everyone.

Let’s go back to that fear + needing to be your real self.

How can we work past these blocks?

Fear = being afraid of what it means to command respect.

Needing to be your real self = well, it’s the same definition as above.

What we are really talking about here is that you don’t feel like you deserve that respect. That piece of you, the self-worth piece, isn’t there, and it feels weird when you try to insert it. It’s not you. It feels wrong.

So like with anything, we need to take those baby steps.

Step 1. Every morning, write down three good things about yourself. Continue to do this throughout the rest of the steps.

Step 2. Make a list of things that would make you feel better about yourself. This can be anything, from as small as making your bed every morning or buying a new outfit, to as big as getting a new job or buying a house.

Step 3. Order that list from smallest to biggest. Each day, do one little thing that moves you closer to achieving the smallest item on the list. Once you’ve achieved an item, cross it off and move on to the next.

Step 4. Write down three problems in your life. They might be about social anxiety or something more general. Now, pretend you are a good friend offering advice. Tell yourself what you think you should do to solve the problem. Notice how you speak differently to yourself as a friend.

Step 5. Write down every bad thing you say to yourself in your head. Keep it in a password-protected Word doc or a note on your phone. Get tired of making this list. Make it easier on yourself by not saying bad things to yourself so that you have less to write on the list.

Get out there. Your value isn’t determined by anyone else but you.

Do You Believe in Yourself?

It’s easy to not believe in yourself when you have mental health struggles. It’s that voice in your head that says you are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough—whatever enough—to be deserving of the recognition of others.

If you have social anxiety you might believe

… others will never like you

… you will always be a misfit in social situations

… you could never succeed in a job where you have to give talks

… people will never value your opinion

…. you are basically invisible

The common theme here is a lack of belief in yourself.

You might be saying, well heck no I don’t believe in myself. Every time I have a chance to prove myself I screw up! Just other day I was having lunch and I spilled my drink in my lap. I gave a speech and panicked in the middle of it. I run away when the doorbell rings.

How can I believe in myself when I don’t believe anything good about myself?

Well, let’s stop for a second. Sure, a therapist would have you break down those thoughts along the lines of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT):

Is it really true others will never like you?

Are there times you did not feel like a misfit?

Do you have to be perfect when you give a talk?

Do you really think others’ don’t value your opinion?

Sure, you are not invisible?

C’mon now, be more realistic in your thinking. Let’s work through this, get you some more rationale thoughts, and you’ll be on your way to believing in yourself.

(disclaimer: I am not knocking CBT. It’s a scientifically validated treatment for social anxiety disorder that everyone can benefit from. If you haven’t had it, and need it, run… don’t walk… to your doctor, and ask for it. Seriously. What can it hurt? I know, there’s the cost… there’s that. Well, that’s for another post).

Back up a moment.

What if, just imagine if, you are so down on yourself, so low, that you can’t possibly grasp these more “realistic” thoughts. Or, what if gosh darn it they are actually true? What if you truly have stood out as a misfit your whole life and people treated you like you were invisible?

Here is where the mindshift needs to happen. Before you work on changing yourself, maybe think a bit about accepting yourself.

Nobody likes you. So what? Do you like you? Is there anything about yourself that you actually do like? Surely there is something you can grab a hold of as a starting point.

For example,

Maybe you have a skill or ability that makes you unique. Draw on that as your source of strength.

Believe in yourself because of that trait, ability, whatever you want to call it.

The next time you find yourself in a conversation circle being invisible and feeling down on yourself, think about that one thing you are good at. That thing you might even be better at than most people.

You see, that’s your point of strength. If all you ever do is try to fix your weaknesses, you never get to feel good about yourself.

It’s like that old saying about asking a fish to climb a tree.

Of course you are going to feel bad about yourself if your life revolves around how bad you are at everything. Why not get out there and do what you are good at?

Let’s take me for an example.

Once upon a time, I worked as a teaching assistant.

The class was Introductory Statistics.

The students clearly did not want to be there, and I’m not sure I did either.

On random occasions (which was quite odd, looking back on it now) I was asked to actually teach the class. Usually, the prof who was supposed to teach would call me at 7:30 am to tell me I had to teach the 9:00 am class, he was not well. Thanks.

You see, I’m not the greatest in front of an audience. (That’s for another post).

But, guess what?

I was actually quite good at statistics. And good at planning classes. Good at helping students after class.

So, I believed in my ability to do the job based on my strengths, despite my silent war with not wanting to be in front of that class of students.

Is there anything about yourself that makes you unique?

What, in a conversation, could you contribute that would be uniquely you?

Or what aspect of your personality is a strength that you could use to your advantage?

Are you…

Smart? Kind? Funny? Detail-oriented?

It can be anything really. Just pick something, and base your belief in yourself on that.

Then build from there.

See, we are not talking about changing your social anxiety here, we’re talking about changing your mindset.

The social anxiety is for another day.

I just want you to believe in yourself.

How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life

Does it ever strike you as odd that social anxiety disorder (or SAD, as I will refer to it sometimes on this blog) is among the top three most common mental health conditions (yes, up there with depression and alcoholism), there are science-backed treatments for it that we know work, and yet around a third of people with social anxiety experience symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help. Wait, what?

10 or more years? Like, were they locked in their homes or something?

Well, kind of.

Not locked in a house like Paul Sheldon was in Misery.

No, these people with social anxiety are living with some kind of virtual shackle, that stops them from waving at the neighbor, going to work, raising their hand in class, leaving the house, speaking—

You get the picture. And if this is you, that picture confronts you every morning.

So, it’s no wonder that these people don’t, imagine that, pick up the telephone and call their doctor

How would that go anyway?

“Good morning, Dr. X’s office, can you hold for a moment?”

“Uh.” . Click.

You know what? It’s really not their fault. And it’s not your fault. Because, you see, the world is not set up to help people with social anxiety get help. In fact, it’s pretty much stacked against you.

But still, 10 years? Surely you can do better than that. Let’s think about what contributes to that 10 year gap.

#1. You’re not motivated to change.

Okay, okay. Hear me out.

I don’t mean not motivated in the sense that you lay about in your pyjamas all day, eat bon bons, and binge-watch Netflix. Well if you do, kudos. You’ve found a way to earn a living that doesn’t require working, so good on you. Unless, of course, you’re living with people who are supporting you. Not good. Very bad.

No, I mean the type of lack of motivation that stems from fear of making a major life change.

Maybe you’ve settled into your way of life and somehow made it work for you.

Maybe your family doesn’t support you changing.

Maybe you have other mental health issues that make life a struggle in general.

Maybe you think the cost of getting help is out of reach.

Maybe you think there is no help for you, that you were born defective.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

I don’t know you or what reason you might have for not wanting to change.

I do know that if you ever want to get motivated to change there are 3 things you need to do:

  1. Become aware that you have a problem. Most people with social anxiety realize they have a problem, but they might think it is something they have to live with.
  2. Think about making a change sometime in the future. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be.
  3. Start planning to work on your issue in the near future. Something like within the next month.

But what about the why? Why are you doing this if things are ho-hum now. If your family doesn’t support you. If you can’t afford therapy. If you can’t be helped.

Are you happy?

How could your life be better?

The answers to those two key questions will tell you if you can dig deep to find that motivation. Because it will always feel more comfortable to stay the same. And people will often be unsupportive. And you may run into roadblocks getting help (but there are ways around this—a topic for another post). And YOU CAN BE HELPED.

You all can be helped. Don’t believe otherwise.

#2. You don’t have the information to change.

So, if you’ve got the motivation that’s all you need, right? Yeah right. You need tools and information. You can’t do this alone (well, maybe you can—again, another post). But if you think you know it all already, you’re done before you start.

You need expert help to get through this and live well. Whether that comes in the form of medication, therapy, self-help books, online treatment modules, your cat telling you what to do (not advised, cats don’t know social anxiety)—it doesn’t matter. And you know, combining different methods might actually work the best, kind of like the shotgun approach.

#3. You are not putting what you have learned into practice.

Medication aside, overcoming social anxiety involves a lot of mental work. It’s very easy to slip up and return to old ways of thinking.

Perhaps you got better for a while and then went through a stressful time in your life and regressed. We’ve all been there.

Maybe you’ve read all the self-help books, but that’s all you’ve done is read.

Guess

what?

It’s not going to work if you don’t put in the work. Kind of like you can’t spend 4 months exercising like a madman and expect to then keep six-pack abs for the rest of your life.

Why do people expect that from the brain?

“Well geez, I got treatment shouldn’t I be fine now?”

“Well geez, did you dump your gym membership because you saw you were getting in shape?

What I am getting at here is that medication, therapy, and even self-help approaches are often time-limited.

We treat this as a mental health disorder that needs a short term fix. And I do understand that this is partly because it’s just not feasible to continue in therapy or on medication for an extended period.

But. Still.

We need to start envisioning mental wellness instead of focusing on mental illness. Especially for issues like social anxiety.

And we need to focus on maintenance of mental wellness among the healthy.

You can do this. You’ve got this. I believe in you.