The Search For Self-Worth In A World of External Validation

For many people, one of the biggest challenges in life is the search for self-worth. Self-worth is what we value in ourselves, an appraisal of what we have to offer to this world. Having legitimate, healthy, positive self-worth is necessary to thrive in our world, but it can be a bit of a catch-22; while it is essential for our opinion of ourselves to come from within, it also is strengthened when reinforced by affirmation from others. 

We can have appropriate awareness, and justly judge our worth, but our self-evaluation has more clout when confirmed by others. We enjoy having a second (third, fourth . . . ) opinion to affirm our appraisal of ourselves. Indeed, it is essential we have those around us that have the ability to see our strengths, and be accurate with their appraisals. For many of us, this means looking to family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, etc.

But what happens when other opinions don’t match what we see in ourselves? Or if we get opinions that match, but we are skeptical of the source? What if we believe it, but we begin to need more of it, almost to the point of depending on it? When we come to depend on external affirmation more than our internal beliefs and we don’t receive enough of it, we start questioning whether our self-evaluation is legitimate. 

 Affirmation from others should be a supplement to our self-worth, not the basis for it. When the opinions of others hold too much power in our lives, it can be a scary time. Our worth and self-image becomes dependent on how others perceive us. If we don’t receive enough positive feedback, we end up creating invalid, negative beliefs of ourselves.       

So, what should we do about this? Unfortunately, there is no easy fix. There are many ways to go about returning your self-worth to a place that focuses on, well, self.

Part of it includes the ongoing process of critically examining your automatic thoughts - the ones that spring to mind first, to start hearing what you are telling yourself about yourself. Thoughts such as “I’m not successful enough” or “I’m not a good parent” are often focused on certain instances that indicate failure without accounting for all sorts of other instances. We may feel like failures as parents if we don’t cook all of our children’s meals from scratch. However, if we consider why we might not be able to cook from scratch (we are in careers that provide value to society and a healthy income for our family, etc.), we can recognize that our worth comes through in other ways. Then, we can affirm our value with thoughts like, “I’m not the best at feeding my kids homemade meals, but I do ensure they have a good life in other ways. I am still a good parent.”  

We can also consider our ideas around other people’s validation. Are these people the best judge of our worthiness? Do they have some internal barriers (jealousy, exhaustion, lack of awareness, lack of self worth themselves) that don’t allow them to offer up validation? Are they people whose lifestyles and choices fit with our own? Are they people we value? It could be helpful to consider shifting or widening your circle, or even create a new one. In order to do that, you will have to look internally as well, to clarify your own value system and your own intentions for your life, to go back to within yourself and explore what your self-worth actually is.

Getting external affirmation of your self-worth is important for you to help you live by your values and purpose, but the work of self-worth has to come from you. If you need help sorting out your values and intentions, and understanding the role others play in your self-worth, consider talking to someone about it who can help you better understand yourself and clarify your value. While the work has to come from you, you don’t have to do it alone.