“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
– Lao Tzu
Self-worth relates to the perspective we have of our own value or worth. Low self-worth is rarely a presenting condition in hypnotherapy, yet can be a contributing factor to a client’s present experience (such as anxiety or depression) and can be a barrier to effective change. Although low self-worth can often have its foundations in childhood, particularly where there has been a dysfunctional environment during the early years, it can also arise in relation to stressful life events (e.g. relationship, financial or career issues). A key area where clients can disturb themselves is by comparing themselves to others. This can have a diminishing effect on how they value themselves, reducing their ‘self-worth’. Such a comparison can be focused around inward or outward influences.
Outward appearances are often success-focused, such as material possessions, wealth, physical appearance, career, and relationship status. These are easier for people to measure against, yet harder for success to be achieved. There will always be someone wealthier, prettier/more handsome, in a better career, with a more doting partner and so on. Clients basing their own self-worth on outward appearances can be focused on what they don’t have (e.g. not enough money, not a good enough car). With the Law of Concentrated Attention (see our blog: Laws of Suggestion), when an idea is focused upon it becomes magnified. The client’s focus is on ‘not enough’ rather than focusing on what they actually want. This also connects to the Rules of the Mind (same blog) with ‘what we think, we create’ and ‘what you expect, happens’. The more a client disturbs themselves by focusing on what they don’t have, the less reward they can find from what they do have.
Each negative or ‘falling short’ measurement can build a client’s insecurity and there can be a disproportionate perception of their inadequacy. This can lead to a range of ‘cognitive distortions’ and even ‘cognitive dissonance’. Furthermore, such measurement against others is self-limiting and sets a client up for a failure to ever achieve the ultimate measurement of success (as there will always be someone with more).
Someone highly focused on outward expressions of success may not consider their personal values and attributes, such as integrity, honesty, compassion, balance and emotional intelligence. Yet these are the very attributes that can help them achieve whatever they desire, if they focus on their goals and utilise their personal values.
Such outward comparisons can arise from habits learned early in childhood development, including comparisons from parents (especially between siblings), in school (hierarchy in class), and amongst their peers (such as sporting achievements). This habitual behaviour continues into adulthood, with a change of focus to personal relationships, careers and even hobbies. However, a behavioural hypnotherapy approach can be undertaken to develop more positive and beneficial habitual responses and these can be practised in and out of hypnotherapy with future pacing and mental rehearsal.
As well as having a behavioural component, poor self-worth can have a cognitive perspective, with a ‘critical inner voice’. This inner voice can be destructive in its comments, providing a negative self-view. Often having origins in childhood, this critical inner voice can be challenged (REBT is useful for this). This can be particularly effective for clients who indicate awareness of self-sabotage. Dramatic changes may not occur instantly, as clients learn to develop new self-care strategies, including taking a more compassionate and accepting perspective about themselves. Initially it can be challenging for clients to consider themselves kindly, imperfections and all.
When finding out about a client’s self-worth, it can be good to explore a number of areas of self-perception. Areas to explore include,
What do they think about themselves?
- How do they feel about themselves on a day to day basis (e.g. great, good, OK, ambivalent, bad)?
- Do they consider themselves a valuable asset as a relationship partner?
- When they complete a challenging task, how much does it make them feel good about themselves?
- How often do they find themselves having negative self-thoughts e.g. “I look awful”?
- How would they think differently if they knew they were 100% worthy all the time?
- How would they feel differently if they knew they were 100% worthy all the time?
- How would they behave differently if they knew they were 100% worthy all the time?
What do they think about others?
- How attractive do they feel in comparison to other people?
- How interesting do they feel in comparison to other people?
- How intelligent and capable do they feel in comparison to other people?
- How worthy do they consider themselves in comparison to others?
What do others think about them?
- How much of what they feel about themselves comes from what others think of them?
- How easy or difficult it is for them to understand why someone would be attracted to them romantically or sexually?
What do they think about what others think of them?
- How surprised are they by other people’s positive perspectives of them (e.g. how others see them as more attractive, intelligent, interesting than they consider themselves to be)?
By focusing on development of self-worth, the client learns how to value their inner qualities, appreciate their own outward appearances, without measurement against others, and build their own definitions of value and success. Without having to waste mental energy focusing on what they don’t have, they are better placed to focus on what they wish to achieve.
Useful self-care tasks (homework) for clients include,
- Learn a new skill or hobby
- Do whatever you do, no matter how significant or minor (e.g. clean kitchen floor) to the best of your ability
- At the end of each day, think of something you feel positive about from your day
- Learn to say ‘yes thank-you’ (to opportunities) and ‘no thank-you’ (tactfully and without offending) and recognise that you have choices
- Do something for your own benefit every day
- Be totally honest with yourself
- Create your own statement of success, redefining success into a more helpful measurement for success (this will be all about them, their qualities, attributes and actions, rather than about others)
- Listen to yourself and if your inner voice is being critical, stop it and redirect it to a positive way of talking. Instead of ‘I can’t do that’, change it to ‘I will have a go at that’. By facing your doubts and fears and conquering them, you will naturally increase your self-worth
By addressing a client’s self-worth, you are empowering them to develop not just within the immediate focus of the therapy session, but in all aspects of their experience of their daily life. By addressing the psychological elements and adverse symptoms, such as anxiety, physical health can also benefit.
We hope that this blog on self-worth has been helpful to you. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks