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5 Ways We Compromise Our Self-Worth and How to Rebuild It

Young girl raking leaves, looking for self-worth through perfectionism, working, people-pleasing

Why do you feel unworthy?

So many of us feel unworthy. We feel like we’re not good enough, like we don’t fit in, and like we don’t matter. We’re overly self-critical, fixating on our flaws and failures. We think we need to be perfect and successful in order to have value.

For years we’ve believed the lies others have told us – that we’re unworthy. We get these messages everywhere – from critical parents, well-meaning teachers, our friends, and the media. We repeatedly hear that we have to earn our worth, that only the special, select few can be worthy. Well, that’s bull sh*t. We don’t have to prove or earn our self-worth. We’re all inherently worthy. We all have value.


5 ways we compromise our self-worth

  1. Perfectionism. We feel unworthy if we’re imperfect.
  2. Overworking. We work to excess in order to feel valued and received tangible proof of our worthiness (praise, financial compensation, awards, degrees, etc).
  3. Busyness. We overschedule and keep ourselves busy as a way to feel important and needed.
  4. Comparison. We look to others to measure our value. We compare ourselves to others and feel inferior.
  5. People-pleasing. We prioritize other people’s opinions above our own. We compromise our values and needs to please others and we feel “less than” when others are angry or disappointed with us.


Unfortunately, un-doing the messages that we’ve accepted for years and used to form our identity is a tough job. It takes practice to retrain our thinking patterns and a strong will to stand up to our cultural values of perfectionism, overworking, and busyness.


Let go of perfectionism, overworking, busyness, comparison, and people-pleasing

Are you constantly looking for external validation — someone to tell you “good job”, reward your hard work with a promotion or accolade in order to feel worthy?

This is the trap so many of us have fallen into. We don’t acknowledge our own worth, so we’re always seeking someone who will acknowledge it. This leaves us always having to prove ourselves. We have to constantly be doing more, performing better, looking perfect, working harder. We become too busy to take a vacation, eat dinner with our families, or even get adequate sleep!

It’s like you’re on a hamster wheel, constantly having to perfect and produce and please in order to feel worthy. And once you base your worth on external validation and achievements, you can’t just stop seeking it; if you do, you’ll end up feeling worthless, unneeded, and unloveable. This is why perfectionism, working excessively, and busyness can never fill the internal sense of being enough. We have to fill it ourselves.


Don’t let others determine your worth

We let other people determine our worth when we use perfectionism, overworking, and busyness to determine our worth.

Instead, you can develop a mindset of inherent self-worth. Your mindset is important because it informs how you feel and how you behave. You can gradually change your thinking about self-worth using a mantra like the one I’ve written below.

And at the same time, you can start to behave like someone who feels worthy regardless of how much they achieve or what anyone else thinks. Take a moment and think about what knowing you’re worthy looks like. Think of specific actions that someone who feels worthy might take (especially things that are different than your current behavior). Perhaps she’d allow herself to rest when she’s tired or decline an invitation to a get-together that she doesn’t really want to attend. Or he might leave work unfinished and not worry about what his co-workers will think or go hiking all day Saturday without checking his phone. Your ideas might look different and that’s just fine. You get to decide! Once you’ve got a clear picture of what inherent self-worth looks like, choose a small step that you can take towards making that your reality. As you begin to do things differently, reinforce them with self-talk that reminds you that self-worth doesn’t have to be earned. You can choose to get off this hamster wheel and claim your worth by refusing to let others determine how you feel about yourself.


A mantra to help rebuild your self-worth

I don’t have to earn my worth.
I don’t have to do more, earn more, or be more. I am worthy just as I am right now.
Perfecting, practicing, and pretending to be who others want me to be isn’t the path to self-worth.
I am already worthy – regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Self-worth isn’t something I have to earn. All I have to do is accept it. Own it. Live it.
I can slow down, relax, and enjoy who I am and what I have.
When I live as though I have to earn my worth, I’ll never be enough. There will always be more I can do.

When I live as though other people’s opinions matter more than my own, I’ll never be enough. They can always criticize or reject me.
Chasing self-worth is an exhausting and miserable way to live.

I don’t have to rely on others to tell me I’m good enough.
Instead, I choose to reclaim my self-worth.
I choose to stop telling myself, “I’m not enough. ” or “I’ll be worthy when I  ________ (lose weight, get married, graduate from college, earn more money, etc.). 

My self-worth doesn’t depend on being liked or being perfect. I can choose to accept myself and live knowing I’m just as worthy as everyone else. We’re all different, of course, but there doesn’t have to be any judgment or comparison.
Today I will rebuild my self-worth by ________________________________.




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This post was originally published on the author’s website.
©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash.

5 Ways We Compromise Our Self-Worth and How to Rebuild It

Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin is a licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert practicing in San Jose, CA.

  She is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Setting Boundaries Without Guilt.  

To learn more, visit Sharon's website. And please sign-up for free access to her resource library HERE (worksheets, tips, meditations, and resources for healing codependency, perfectionism, anxiety and more).

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APA Reference
Martin, S. (2019). 5 Ways We Compromise Our Self-Worth and How to Rebuild It. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 10 Jan 2019
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