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Self-esteem or self-worth? A few thoughts.

A few years ago I was complaining to my cousin about how much I dislike my hair. I have the type of hair that looks fabulous if I shampoo, condition, use treatment, add frizz retardant, then section carefully  into 5 cm bits, then meticulously blow dry and viola! After about 75 minutes of my time I look ready to face the world (even as I write this my eyes are rolling backwards!). If I just “washed and go” (and no! the Keratin treatment doesn’t really help) it looks like I spent a couple of pleasant evenings sleeping under the stars hosting a large family of birds in my hair. So yeah- I don’t like my hair.

Back to the story… As I was about to hit the ‘bird’s nesting in my hair’ punchline my cousin interrupted me quite assertively and said: “You shouldn’t put yourself down. You should love yourself and think positively about your hair!”. She was very passionate about this point. I was taken aback. First of all because I was just about to deliver the punchline, and secondly because not liking my hair has nothing to do with how much I love and value my self. There are many things I do not like about myself. Some of these qualities are physical and some of these qualities are  personality traits – like not being able to stop at 5 chips or one serving of chocolate mud cake.

Not esteeming myself highly in certain areas doesn’t negate my overall sense of self-worth or value. Why? Because accepting yourself unconditionally means that not only are you aware of your imperfections but that these imperfections do not diminish your innate sense of value.

Self-esteem is what you feel positively about or like about yourself. High self-esteem doesn’t always equate to high self worth. It must feel nice to have many qualities about yourself you like but this type of self acceptance is conditional. It’s conditional on maintaining the qualities you like. What happens, for example if one of these qualities changes or isn’t able to be maintained – your self-approval rating goes down and you then struggle to accept yourself. There is plenty of evidence that shows low self-esteem can lead to depression and anxiety but trying to raise someone’s self esteem doesn’t protect them from feeling negatively either. In fact researchers at the University of Waterloo showed that repeating positive affirmations led to worse feelings over time for those with low self-esteem. I think we should be focusing more on accepting that we all have imperfections – albeit some more than others – and that liking everything about ourselves is not necessary to feel that you are worthy and valuable exactly as you are. Choose to improve the things you don’t like because you would value improvements in that area but not because you believe you lack worth because of them.

Your worth and value are indisputable facts – imagine a group of babies, newly born. Which one deserves more than the others? It’s hard to tell isn’t it? That’s because there is an innate sense of worth in all of them. The skills they will exhibit, their athleticism, intellect, their beauty – none of these are present yet in their full extent and yet… there is an understanding that each of these beings is deserving of all the very best. Each of us was born with this innate sense of worth and value and nothing we have done has increased or diminished that value.

It may be wise to remember this the next time we are down on ourselves.



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