I have had the privilege in my life to know a few people with a deep sense of self-worth. What I saw was the following traits they had 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 on 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 this.

Originally, we develop our self-worth as a child from either the messages we receive from our parents such as: “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, a special attention to our needs for help or attention. All of this fosters 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 worth as a person.

Similarly, as adults, we also get our self-worth from relationships however, this time, 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 these 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 behavior that we find in scriptures of 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 honor our worth and our divinity.

Self-worth, how to increase it?

These prescriptions include: not harming others in words or actions, being loyal, refraining from gossiping, judging, stealing or telling lies. Having pure, positive and kind thoughts, being content with one’s circumstances, being self-disciplined, being calm, forgiving and respectful.

Note your own reactions upon reading this. A part of you intuitively knows, “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 are 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 and regardless of any justifications you may have for your actions, do you feel at peace with what you said or did. Did you act from a place of purity and kindness? If this was said or done unto you, would you feel okay?”


And our duty doesn’t stop there.

It is said that actions speak louder than words. However, intentions speak louder than actions.

If we perform a good deed or a compassionate act yet our mind is filled with envy, criticism, resentment or jealousy or if we are doing things conditionally so others can think we are great, approve of us, or will take care of us then the action has very little value. These actions will ultimately leave us feeling depleted rather than rejuvenated because it’s the intention behind the action that impact 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 away from doing what is healthy and good for us and for others. We are born to be good, and here’s some evidence.

In 2007, Yale University conducted a study published in the Journal ‘Nature’. They took over 200 ten 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 color, 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 in 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 that 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 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 and nurture our inherent goodness.

Written by:

Claire Maisonneuve, MA.

Registered Clinical Counsellor
Director of the Alpine Counselling Clinic

Note: In all case histories and examples other than those pertaining to myself and my family I have changed names and any identifying characteristics in an attempt to protect and preserve privacy and anonymity. The stories usually represent composites of people struggling with the issues discussed.