Self-worth and self-development – does it work?
The Self-Development industry has been prolific in offering and promising tantalising quick and easy fixes – pre-packed solutions to ongoing tensions and dissatisfaction – fuelling wants and needs by promising a ‘jackpot’ or reaching ‘Success Goals’ and/or the ‘Life of your Dreams’.
The industry is promoted and sustained by aspirations of self-achievement and self-realisation that can be bought over the counter, but it often forgets to invite the participants to feel who they truly are and to understand the underlying dynamics and issues that come in the way of feeling one’s true worth and sense of being – in relationship with all.
We know that ‘being relational’ is a fundamental trait of being a human being (regardless of our gender) and yet, most of us struggle with this very natural expression that could be the simple and only way to be and live, rather than making it into a difficult or seemingly impossible task. In early childhood, the essential element for our psychosocial well-being and physical development is the ‘quality’ of the interactive relationship with caregivers; the quality and attunement of our first relationships is of significant importance as it mirrors and reconfirms our intrinsic worth as infants and human beings.
When this sense of intrinsic worth is lacking or missing and the understanding of being in relationship with oneself is misinterpreted, life becomes a chore. Relationships are difficult, unsatisfactory and inevitably fall apart; the possibility to be and express one’s true self fades away, appearing to be impossible and a sense of ‘not being enough’ creeps in – by the time one does not feel enough, one has (often) forgotten Who One Is to start with.
This underlining sense of ‘not being (good) enough’ or ‘incomplete’ leads to a never-ending seeking, identification with life goals or/and roles that become the focus of one’s pursuit, providing relief with a false sense of Self and Being. The consequent doing, or ‘bettering’ is used as a ‘fix’ to mask the tension of this incompleteness.
The marathon of the self-improvement ‘journey’ thus begins.
Everyday affliction, disappointment and/or mismatch of expectations opens the door to the ‘searching’, or ‘seeking’ of a solution, for an answer that appears to lay outside of oneself as, of course, we have fallen for the belief that ‘we are not enough’, ‘we have no power and therefore no worth’ and that ‘we need to improve ourselves or be better’ to be worth it.
It is not uncommon to hear lines such as: “Can you give me the recipe of life?” or “Is there a book that will tell me what to do?” or “If only I could be her.”
The proposition of self-improvement appears alluring, palatable and needed when there is a sense of inadequacy or at times despair and loss.
If one does not feel or think to be ‘enough’ then the ‘fix’ appears to be found in courses, seminars and titles resembling:
- Change your life around now
- Create the life of your dreams ... or better,
- Transform yourself in 10 (or even 5) easy steps
- Be the friend (or lover) everyone wants to have
- Ask the angels for your soul mate ... or, a personal favourite would be ...
- Women seeking for themselves ... somewhere over the rainbow!
The notion of Self continues to be shaped all through adulthood; our environments, society and different relationships mostly provide us with descriptive information about ‘what one should do or try to be’ rather than being reflections of ‘Who One Is’. As we abandon or switch off from feeling and the awareness of our own intrinsic worth, we become a conceptualised 'assembly of thoughts’ where the self emerges as an individualised, socially constructed identity that conforms to measurable rules or hoarding to-do lists, titles, roles and other societal requirements through which we dilute and diminish our sense of (true Self) who we are, rather than reigniting it.
The Self-Help arena also provides an ample repertoire of descriptive information on how to better oneself, a self that is ultimately in ‘separation from others’. The process of self-improvement feeds and maintains the perception of being ‘better or worse off’ than another, and the misconception that some people are more intelligent, capable, lovable etc., and some are less so. This comparison is measured against an idealistic ‘doing’ or ‘outer achieving’ and it is an individualised process that, at its bottom line, ultimately focuses on individual gain.
The drive is to become ‘more’, not only of what one considers oneself to be, but also to become better than most or everyone else.
This dynamic invites women (and men) to meet the world from outside of themselves – in disconnection from their true self and everything or everyone else – in order to meet ideals, externally constructed and imagined standards, to measure up to worldly expectations or to be always ‘on top of things’. If one doesn’t reach the ‘top’ or even when we do reach this set goal, the vicious cycle will be ongoing ... which ultimately means perpetuating a sense of feeling let down and distrust, which compounds what one was attempting to escape from to start with – a lack of self-worth, not being enough, not deserving and/or a self-doubt which makes us question if we have what is needed to reach these goals.
Best sellers, motivational and elite courses, invite us to CREATE what we think is missing, setting women up to believe that the leader or guru’s prescription and recipe for success is what is needed to achieve one’s self-worth. Within this view self-worth has to be gained, improved, forged, sought, bought and bartered with tools and skills that ‘will get one somewhere’, often at a cost prohibitive (and therefore exclusive) fee and in constant comparison along the way – because in the field of self-improvement there is always ‘a more and a less’ to compare oneself to.
The stairway to self-development and self-help, regardless of how the package looks or sounds and what the promise of improvement is, too often brings us nowhere near re-establishing the sought after sense of self-worth – women often and openly shared that the approach does not work.
Mostly the efforts to improve tend to implode, making space for the next self-development strategy to come along – same, same, just different cover and ambitions – and so the journey continues!
Women’s sense of self-worth suffers as a consequence of:
- Relying on another or others to have all the answers and solutions, which is disempowering
- Being kept in constant motion by seeking techniques, answers and fixes to the issue
- The relentless cycle of comparison – ‘I am less’ or ‘I am more’, ‘How can I be better’ or, ‘I want to be different’
To self-improve is also linked to the pursuit to control life’s outcomes and the constant ‘trying to improve’ to be in control becomes exhausting – it contributes to anxiety as there is no pause, no appreciation of oneself, but rather keeping up with the shadow of possible failure.
We are reduced and constrained to a set of skills, roles, the number of outfits or the latest goal achieved. The setup is inbuilt to lead women to failure and confirms the lack of self-worth and feelings of ‘not being good enough’. In the event of what appears to be a success there is no lasting satisfaction because what has been achieved never feels enough, as one has become even further removed from the true self.
Recent studies also confirm that self-worth is not measurable, rather it is intrinsic to who we are. We come to this world in all our Article not found. In fact, some scholars have introduced the possibility and evidence that infants are not born as ‘blank slates’, as is often assumed to be the case. In this sense, we all have the same inherent worth and that it is always within – there to reconnect with whenever we choose it.
It is known that for optimum well-being and development, what is needed is to be met in a mutual, loving relationship where the quality – that is, love, warmth and reciprocity of the relationship – allows us to naturally unfold. In turn this provides us with a mirror that re-confirms our own worth and supports the ability to keep returning to who we truly are.
As we re-connect and feel the quality of our true being, our true self that is, there is nothing to search for or to improve, and as with babies and young children, there is evidence that we feel and know this from a very young age. Remembering this fact is the key to the unfolding path back to our true selves.
It is also a reminder that it is not in the doing, achieving or identifying with outer goals, images or ideals that we rekindle our self-worth. It is about feeling and appreciating that we already are that which we are seeking so fruitlessly.
True self-worth is developed through living in a self-honouring manner, ensuring that the inherent message received by the ‘self’ is one of confirmation, appreciation and value. Each time we dishonour what we truly feel, the message received is one that discounts and dismisses the true self. This forms the root of our lack of self-worth.
Hence restoring our self-worth cannot be done through applying a formula, a potion, meditation, workshop or new age notion. It is not found in the next textbook, next course or in the hope that one will be saved, or will be improved or changed in the hope of finding the yearned-for new you.
If we want to reconnect to our intrinsic worth, we must start by making space to observe and listen to our own feelings, reconnecting to our own inner voice, and choosing to feel, discern and honour what it is that we feel in each moment. Through this we begin to discover our True Self, and eventually bring this in full to all that we do.
This daily practice, of feeling, listening, honouring and appreciating, affects every one of our choices and in so doing, supports us to build a true and unshakeable sense of self-worth.