It’s difficult to feel happy if you are not satisfied with our self-worth. Maximizing your impact is possibly the most efficient way to maximize your self-worth. What determines your self-worth? I don’t mean generally. I mean you. What is it in your life that you think determines your own self-worth? Take a moment to answer this question and keep the answer in mind as you read the subsequent paragraphs below.
What makes you worthy of anything? Why should anybody care about you? Finding a good answer to this question is critical. It permeates everything you do. In extremely simple terms, do you feel good about yourself and why or why not?
If humans feel bad about themselves it is usually related to a situation where we feel like we let somebody (or many people) down. We are hardwired to not want to let our fellow humans down – especially the human’s whose opinions and respect matter most to us.
Should people automatically care about you or is the care of other people something that you have to earn? Humans are born with an intrinsic need to be accepted by other humans and belong in a community. We don’t want to just belong to any community, we want to belong to a community made up of people whose opinions matter to us. We often consciously or subconsciously act in a way that is designed to generate the respect of those particular community members. If we can achieve this we feel like we have passed some kind of test and deserve our place in the community. We want to be respected, we want to be loved, we want to feel like we are important to other people – we want to feel like other people need us. In summary, humans measure some of their worthiness by measuring the extent to which they are important to other humans. The more you feel like people that are important to you need you the more worthy you feel because there is an implication that you are doing something or providing something that can only be provided from you and not from others. You have a reason to exist.
At an evolutionary level, this phenomena causes people to act in a way that is in the best interests of the community – doing things that generate the respective the community are, by definition, in the best interest of the community – or, maximizing your impact on the community.
Love & Self Worth
Most people understand that there are different kinds of love. There is love among siblings and close friends. There is the love we feel towards other living things such as pets and non-living things like oceans. There are also many nuances.
Within human relationships we can categorize love into conditional and unconditional love. Unconditional love is what we receive from our parents. This love is not (usually) dependent on what we achieve or what we can do for our parents. Conditional love, on the other hand, is something that is offered to another person as long as that person continues to do something to deserve it.
Conditional Love creates a mental state of mind that psychologists call Conditions of Worth (your idea of self worthiness). Perceptions of worthiness can motivate people to elevate their performance and achieve more success than they otherwise would have achieved. This exchange of conditional love for performance at an acceptable level permeates through society. Examples include close working relationships where a manager provides some form of love toward a subordinate that performs at a high level and the subordinate feels perfectly happy about the internal dynamics of the relationship. There is an argument that such relationships are perfectly normal and are in fact required in order for society to advance.
However, these relationships can become complicated when they replace unconditional love. For example, this occurs when a parent forces a child to learn to play the piano at a very young age and then continue improving until the child is capable of extreme levels of performance and, along the way, only loves their child when the child advances along the improvement line. Another common example is only offering love to a child in the event that the child has achieved academic excellence. In these situations the child is being mentally conditioned to believe that their own self-worth is entirely dependent on the judgment of other people around them.
Humans need a combination of unconditional and conditional love but this situation is robbing these children (future adults) of unconditional love. The conditional and unconditional love that you give to others can have an enormous impact on them and the conditional and unconditional love that you get from others can have an enormous impact on you. The natural dynamics of society seem to do a reasonable job of allocating and distributing conditional love. However, when it comes to unconditional love, we all need to set aside time and think very carefully about who is (or should be) giving us unconditional love and who we are giving (or should be giving) unconditional love. We all need to know that there is at least one person that loves us unconditionally, regardless of whether we achieve anything.
People that are not satisfied with their self worth often feel compelled to pursue activities that meet other people’s criteria for success as opposed to doing things that they are uniquely positioned to do or want to do. This is why a gifted writer might end up being a doctor or a gifted artist might end up being a lawyer. The production lines of industry are full of people that have significant intellect, creative gifts and a natural talent for innovation. This is not just a waste of talent. There is also an enormous emotional price to pay.
Carl R. Rogers , a Clinical Psychologist and one of the most influential developers of modern psychology, developed the basics for Conditions of Worth. In summary, when people end up in situations where they would ask themselves, “What should I do to be considered worthy?” Most people provided answers like:
- I have to do what I’m told.
- I will work hard at anything that I can find.
- I will strive to be the best.
- I will never show any weakness.
The disturbing trend in many of the answers is the absence of a willingness to think for one’s self, determine what course of action to take independent of other people’s view and having the courage to do it. In the end, your self-worth is partly determined by your own objective view (to the extent that you can have an objective view) of your yourself and to the way that you have acted in any given situation or lived your life generally. However, the views of people that are important to you also impact your self-worth. It can be very helpful to analyze the things that contribute to each of these two categories.
Ultimately you need to take responsibility for your own self-worth. It is one of a small number of things in life that are mostly under your own control. The bigger the positive impact you have on the people that are important to you (and humanity and the world in general) the more self worth you will feel. The question you have to answer is, which people and what part of the ultimate system do you want to help most and will cause you to feel the most elevated sense of self worth? Only you can answer this question.
Next article in this series: “Empathy. Our Loved Ones Are An Extension Of Us”