the key to increasing it
• I have had the privilege in my life of knowing a few people with a deep sense of self-worth and what I saw was they all had something in common, in their relationship to others and themselves – a sincere and genuine kindness, a readiness to be of service and a lack of negative judgments.
This led me to really ponder where self-worth comes from and how we get it. What I have concluded is that self-worth is acquired by how we treat others, what we do for them and how we do it. Let me explain.
Originally, we develop our self-worth as a child from the messages we receive from our parents – “You are important to us, you matter to us, we have confidence in you” – or by their actions: a smile, a look of admiration, a gentle touch of affection and special attention to our needs for help or our desire for recognition. All of these foster a secure and positive sense of attachment. On the other hand, regular criticism – “Why can’t you be like your brother, what’s wrong with you? – a label of some kind of disorder, broken promises, a look of disgust, disappointment or exasperation may create a lack of security about our own acceptability, desirability and, therefore, our worth as a person.
Similarly, as adults, we also get our self-worth from relationships, however, now it’s not from what we get from others, but more from what we give to others. As adults, no matter how much people tell us how loveable or desirable we are, it won’t matter much. What will matter more is what we tell ourselves and what we believe about ourselves.
The degree to which we are able to receive any positive, loving messages from others as adults is based on our ability to receive them from ourselves. If you are someone who sometimes wonders why your spouse married you or why they love you, no amount of them telling you they love you will actually reassure you. That reassurance needs to come from yourself. You need to believe that you are worthy of his/her love. But how?
This is where our conscience and the universal rules of moral behaviour that we find in all the great religions of the world come into play. To have self-worth, we must live by these rules of morality because these prescriptions honour our worth and our divinity.
These prescriptions include not harming others through our words or actions, being loyal, refraining from gossip, not judging, stealing or telling lies, having pure, positive and kind thoughts, being content with one’s circumstances, being self-disciplined and being calm, forgiving and respectful. Note your own reactions upon reading this. A part of you intuitively knows that yes, this is the right way to live. Your soul recognizes this truth because goodness is part of our inherent nature as human beings. Each of these spiritual rules is a portal, an opening to deepening our sense of self-worth.
When people feel guilty, I invite them to deeply investigate whether there may be some legitimacy to this feeling. Regardless of what anyone else says or thinks or any justifications they themselves may have for their actions, do they feel at peace with what they said or did? Did they act from a place of purity and kindness? If the same thing was said or done to them, would they feel okay?
And one’s duty doesn’t stop there. It is said that actions speak louder than words, but intentions speak louder than actions. If we perform a good deed or a compassionate act, but our mind is filled with envy, criticism, resentment or jealousy or if we are doing things conditionally so others will think we are great and approve of us, or we do it to get others to take care of us, the action has very little value. Ultimately, the action will leave us feeling depleted rather than rejuvenated because it’s the intention behind the action that impacts us and others.
We may be able to fool others, but we can’t fool our conscience. Conscience is part of every human being’s inner wisdom informed by our soul. Intentions, therefore, must be pure, unconditional and selfless, without expectations. I realize this is hard to do, but this is precisely what we must examine in ourselves in order to gain self-worth. Our conscience knows when our intentions are impure and this leaves us feeling dissatisfied and uneasy.
Let’s face it; the world is a mess and people feel terrible about themselves too much of the time. This is not because of some random act of God. It’s because of how we act. Our greed, prejudice and unkindness have led us to stray from doing what is healthy and good for ourselves and for others. We are born to be good; here’s some evidence. In 2007, Yale University conducted a study published in the journal Nature. They took over 200 10-month-old toddlers who could not yet speak and showed each of them a simple puppet show that featured three characters. In it, puppet number one attempts to climb up an incline, but can’t get to the top and falls down. Puppet number two, the “Good Samaritan” comes along and helps puppet number one up the incline. Then the third puppet, “Mean Jack” appears and pushes puppet number one back down.
The researchers then take the three puppets, which are all the same colour, just slightly different in shape, and present them to each toddler in turn. Eighty-five percent of the toddlers reach out and grab a puppet. Ninety percent of those who grab a puppet pick the Good Samaritan! The conclusion is that there is an innate delight and tendency within humans towards acts of kindness and goodness.
In a recent documentary entitled Babies: Born to be Good? David Suzuki shows us how children as early as nine months old seem able to make moral choices that were never thought possible. So given the fact that our past environment may not have been able to encourage and help preserve this goodness, here are two suggestions to help us reclaim our self worth as adults.
First, we need to take an honest look at our intentions and behave in ways that are in line with our conscience and soul nature so we may feel good about ourselves. Secondly, we need to cultivate some kind of meditation practice because in this silence and stillness we get to experience peace and calmness. Peace is the first sign that we are in contact with our soul. By interiorizing our attention, we are able to access this innate goodness and capacity to love. This, in my opinion, is one of the most convincing pieces of evidence of our self-worth.
And so the journey towards self-worth is really a journey of purification. Purifying our thoughts, our intentions and our actions. It’s a spiritual journey that forces us to abide by the rules of moral conduct, which in turn allows us to feel whole and joyful while nurturing our inherent goodness.
Claire Maisonneuve is the director of the Alpine Anxiety & Stress Relief Clinic in Vancouver. Upcoming Anxiety and Stress Relief Program begins January 30. Info: www.anxietyandstressrelief.com
illustration © Tanja Krstevska