Self-Worth Versus Self-Esteem

March marks the one-year mark for the pandemic lockdown. Congratulations for making it through a very difficult time. If you’re old enough to be reading this, you may still be waiting for “normal” to return so that you can return to feeling better about yourself or your situation.

Stop waiting! Feel better about yourself or your situation now.  You are in control of your feelings (even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it). Why not focus on the good things about yourself and your situation? You’re worth it.

First, a couple of definitions.

self-esteem –  thinking well of yourself, especially when you believe others think well of you

Self-Worth – thinking well of yourself because you know you are valuable, capable and loveable

How is your sense of Self-Worth doing? 

The external negative opinions of others can dent your internal self-esteem. So can your inner critic, who compares you to the external world (how you look, who you know, what you do, what you’ve won) and judges you unworthy. Achieving high self-esteem depends on whom you know, and what you compare yourself to.

On the other hand, Self-Worth is based on internally recognizing your own growth, progress, accomplishments, and abilities. Knowing your inherent value keeps you steady in the face of naysayers. You feel worthy and loveable, regardless of how many followers you have, or whether you can physically keep up, or how much money is in your bank account. You are inherently valuable. So are your children.

I came through the school system at a time when the focus was on boosting self-esteem. In addition to recording grades, report cards now recorded participation. Kids were congratulated for their report card results, but not necessarily for obtaining knowledge. The value of progress was lost. Even in sports, every child received a trophy. These are shallow trappings that boost self-esteem, but do nothing for a child’s sense of Self-Worth. Instead, kids privately feel like frauds, and work to make sure they aren’t found out. 

Me and College Grades

I remember getting a 98% on my first college test, all multiple choice questions. I had not adequately prepared. More than half of the questions I guessed, and I wondered why the rest hadn’t been covered in class (Spoiler Alert: they had been). I inferred (erroneously) from that A+ that I didn’t need to study. Yes, that explains why I barely passed the class, dinging my fragile teenage self-esteem in the process. 

Because I was focused solely on the test grade, I never bothered to see which questions I had gotten right, or why they were right. The knowledge didn’t matter, as long as I got a grade that fluffed my self-esteem. 

Fast-forward five years to my last semester. What a difference! Somewhere in there I had finally selected a major (fifth time’s the charm) and a career path as a Science Teacher (cue reverent music). 

Knowing that the following school year I’d be on the other side of the ol’ teacher’s desk, I decided to skip the party trip during my very last College Spring Break, and instead stayed on campus to study for an Anatomy and Physiology lab practical. 

Believe it or not, it was an easy decision. Grades no longer drove me. Acquisition-of-Knowledge was in the driver’s seat… co-piloted by Need-to-Know-More-Than-My-Future-Students. 

I was so proud of what I accomplished that very rigorous week because I felt prepared for my first job as a Science Teacher. My strong sense of Self-Worth stemmed from my view of my personal achievement, and not from comparing myself to the other students. My Self-Worth didn’t need a pat on the back for me to appreciate how far I’d come. 

The Pat on the Back

Don’t get me wrong. I love the pat on the back. It’s part of my personality type. But, too many times, self-doubt creeps in there because that pat comes from some outside person. Since I don’t know how others measure “good,” too often I wonder if the patting person is just being kind. 

For example, when I wrote How To Keep Your Daughter From Slamming the Door, I knew I was providing an important, easy to process resource for parents. Every chapter was created with all the attention and detail I normally put into my lesson plans. There was no question in my mind about the book’s value.  

You would think that glowing reviews would reinforce that, and sometimes they do. However, occasionally, my inner critic needles my self-esteem by questioning why the review was so complimentary. Was the reviewer just being kind? Was the reviewer simply being helpful and encouraging me? 

Once I become aware of this destructive behavior, I recover by revisiting what I already know: 

  • The reviews are so complimentary because the book is so good. 
  • The reviewers were not just being kind because if they write unfounded reviews, readers won’t value their work.
  • Just because I find the review helpful and encouraging doesn’t mean that’s its purpose. The review is not for me. It’s for the parents who are looking for help. 

It’s not all about me. It’s about the book. Once I reorient myself to reality, and stop comparing myself to the outside world, the uncomfortable emotions melt away as my Self-Worth reasserts itself (Yay!). 

When I push all that clutter out of my head, and look at what I’ve accomplished, there is no doubt that I’m kicking butt and taking names. That’s Self-Worth, baby!

If it’s this difficult for us adults to shut off the self-doubting noises, imagine what it’s like for our kids. It’s a good thing that my next post will be on how to boost your kid’s sense of Self-Worth.

Meanwhile, if you are already a Self-Worth Warrior, please share what you do to focus on how far you’ve come in your life. It will help everyone to hear other examples, and reinforce what you’re doing at the same time.


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