“Self-worth comes from one thing – thinking that you are worthy”
- Wayne Dyer, philosopher, self-help author, and motivational speaker
My client, let’s call him *Tom, had once had it all. Successful in business, happily married with three children and living the high life of glamorous holidays, first class tickets and an assistant to take care of the day to day.
Despite all of his success though, none of it was a match for the alcohol, and year after year his life eroded around him. In the end, alcohol stole it all; his business partnership, his marriage, his home and his family’s trust. He sat in my office, rock-bottom and void of any self-worth or self-esteem.
“I’m a terrible person” he told me.
“I’m lazy. Even as I sit here at the lowest I’ve ever been, I still expect people to take care of things for me; to do the things that I don’t want to do”.
This was quite an insight, I thought to myself, and I could see that he was really ready to do the work to improve himself and get his life back on track.
Tom spoke about how he realised that he wasn’t being the person that he wanted to be during his recent time in a stay at a rehab, where he would do whatever he could to avoid helping out with chores or anything he didn’t want to do. This attitude was also spilling over in to his health as he had started to put on weight. However, time after time he kept taking ‘short-cuts’ in his diet and exercise which were making him feel even worse. He wasn’t giving himself the time or self-care that he needed and he was suffering for it.
The truth was that Tom was not a terrible or a lazy person, but he had become accustomed to being able to buy the things that he wanted or needed; material things, experiences, services and even people’s affections. Over further discussion, we came to see how this was in some ways a learned behaviour from childhood. He’d gotten used to operating his life in such a way that he was always looking for these ‘short-cuts’. Over time, he had used money virtually as his sole currency and this had eroded his sense of self and self-esteem, for without money he felt he had no worth.
His predicament got me thinking about the forms of currency that we use in life and the impact that it has on our self-worth and self-esteem. We have currency in the form of money, but we also have currency in the form of the time, attention and energy we give to others, ourselves and the things that matter. In personal as well as professional relationships, this is often the type of currency that is worth more than its weight in gold, so to speak.
With Tom’s story and all of this in mind, I will leave you with these few thoughts.
Reflect on what your values are; who do you want to be? Are you someone who would pride yourself on being kind, caring and empathetic? Perhaps resilient, reliable and strong? Maybe conscientious, brave or altruistic? What actually matters to you as your end goal; your relationships, your career, your health? Write these values down as they come to you…you want to have a firm vision of who you want to be.
Start doing the things that you don’t want to do which push you out of your comfort zone and closer towards these values.
Practice one act per day where you are in service to yourself, another person or cause; giving your time, attention or energy. You might consider an act of self-care (see article written on this topic), volunteering, calling a loved one to ask how they are (and really taking the time to listen to the response), or even just picking up a piece of litter that you might normally walk straight past and pretend to not notice.
See what this does for your self-esteem and your self-worth when you start pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Make note of your goals and how you feel as you achieve these goal.
I would love to hear how this goes for you over time.
As for Tom?
I saw him again just recently after a break from therapy for the past few months. He had taken our discussion seriously and had decided to start directing himself towards the things which he actually valued in life, which meant making himself uncomfortable at times. He had taken a gardening job, working for someone else – a massive ‘step-down’ you might say from his previous work, but he was enjoying being in nature and interacting with the clients. He had also begun to repair relationships with some of his family and he seemed to be in higher spirits than he had been in a long time. Tom still might have a way to go with improving his self-worth, but I suspect that he is definitely on his way.