Self-worth – How can I feel special?

self-worthDo you feel as if you do not matter much and have little to offer? What’s the point you ask yourself of making an effort. “Whatever I say won’t make much of a difference and I won’t really be noticed.” These are signs of low self-worth. Such a way of seeing oneself can lead to a depressive mood.

There are several ways in which people value themselves and assess their self-worth.

Comparison with others and self-worth

A common thing is to look for some way you are better than others. Perhaps you have a smarter car, a bigger garden, or more fashionable clothes. Or perhaps you are socially popular or well-known in what you do at work. The Western world values winners – whether it is being more physically attractive, educationally advanced or financially successful.

But not everyone can beat the competition. There is always someone richer, better thought of, or more influential than you or me. We can’t all be at the top of the pile. And measuring oneself against others means that your sense of self-worth will rise and fall in step with your latest success or failure.

Research at the University of Michigan found that the students who reported more stress, anger, academic problems, and relationship conflicts were those who based their self-worth on comparison with others on external things such as academic performance, physical appearance and being socially approved. For students with well-being, however, what mattered for a sense of self-worth was self-appreciation and a sense of one’s unique strengths and qualities.

Some of these may not be valued by others. So how can one appreciate oneself when few do?

Doing meaningful things and self-worth

What is meaningful in life varies according to individual interest and experience but doing something that you happen to value can help with self-worth. Studies are finding that helping others and volunteering has a positive effect on how people feel about themselves.

Doing things for only external reasons can be demoralising when the rewards don’t come; a bonus from the company or tip from a customer that didn’t materialise, or the unforthcoming offer of employment from someone you are trying to impress. However, the worker who values getting a job done well and on time feels good about him- or herself even when the client or boss fails to show any thanks or praise. Everyone needs a bit of thanks from time to time. Being appreciated is what can keep us going. But when you are dependent upon it, then you perhaps need to think again about what you set store by in what you do; what is important about your input.

Adding value to a situation and self-worth

What seems to matter to self-worth is the attitude one brings to any everyday activity and relationship – not just at work but in the home and community. If you attach importance to generosity, then how generous is your attitude to those who need a little of your time? If you value patience in life, how patient are you with children? If you value home life, how supportive are you of your own family? I would suggest that the more your own ways of living are in harmony with the values you cherish then the more self-worth you will feel.

Unique contribution and self-worth

Every person you meet can walk away from you feeling just a little happier. This can be because of the way you deal with them, the effort you put in, and the interest you have shown. Feeling their appreciation if you get it is part of the delight.

To my way of thinking it doesn’t matter in what circumstance you find yourself – at home, work, or play – there will always be an opportunity to add value to the situation by what you choose to say and do. What this is will vary according to who you are – not only your values, but your strengths, experience and disposition. For everyone brings something slightly different and special to the table.

No two people have exactly the same way of being useful where there is a need. It might be a thoughtful suggestion, a warmth of concern, a sense of humour, an appropriate piece of  knowledge, a relevant personal experience, a practical action, a sensitive empathy, a wise insight. The list could go on.

Spiritual teachings and self-worth

Feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. A spiritual perspective acknowledges there is some higher power beyond that of human beings. According to this view, all people who behave well whatever their race, education and background are united because there is one infinite creative force behind all that is humane in the world.

I believe that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for this higher power. I am not good but I can feel good because the more I put into a situation then the more I will get out of it as I experience the inflow of energy, fulfilment and enlightenment.

Similarly, spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg had an all-embracing concept of a Divine Source. He also wrote about the image of what we might call ‘a universal human’. This visionary picture of a healthy well-formed human being is thought of as consisting of a myriad of all people who did good things who have ever existed. All these live in an afterlife of heaven. Each is said to be uniquely different but each fits into the whole as an important bit so that the whole body works. In other words, every human soul has been created to become a special part of the all. Everyone can be important in their own way.

Each of us can choose to remain separate and self-orientated or instead choose to serve some unique function by doing something good that adds to the healthy functioning of society.

“The heavenly kingdom resembles one human being since every specific thing in it corresponds to the only Lord” (Emanuel Swedenborg spiritual philosopher)

Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy

Author Heart, Head & Hands (

Self-Centered Behaviour – Can I Change?

Seeing yourself as others see you can be disquieting. Your friends and relatives, who know you reasonably well, sometimes react badly when you have a negative impact on them. Like when, without realising it, you happen to act in a self-centered way. Taking more than one’s share of food and drink, telling someone else’s story in order to grab the limelight, or criticising someone else without acknowledging one’s own contribution towards a family problem. We are all perfectly capable of being be blind to our individual faults which are glaringly obvious to others. Likewise we may not notice when our own group act in a self-centered way towards outsiders.

Native Americans as victims of self-centered behaviour

When one’s own negative traits are shared by others and common to one’s own community, then such traits are harder for us to see. Yet such faults can be clearly observed by outsiders.

Chief Black Hawk

self-centeredOne example is how native Americans perceived the white men who came into territory that did not belong to them in the 19th century, cheating the local inhabitants and taking away their lands. According to the Sauk leader Chief Black Hawk, his people were not deceitful, and did not steal, yet the invaders spoke ‘bad of the Indian’ and looked at him spitefully.
“An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation… The white men are bad schoolmasters; they carry false books, and deal in false actions; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat him; they shake them by their hands to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive them and ruin their wives… We lived in danger. We were becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterous lazy drones, all talkers and no workers. The white men do not scalp the head; but they do worse: they poison the heart.” (see Black Hawk’s autobiography which became an immediate bestseller and has gone through several editions.)

Self-centered behaviour in modern life

I would suggest these hidden (and not so hidden) self-centered attitudes of self-gain at the expense of others, deceit and hypocrisy, are still very much around today. For example are they not common in international conflict, sharp business practice and the ethos of individualism that characterises western culture? Does a self-centered attitude to life really lead to living well, human flourishing and happiness?

How can our society be at peace when through military and economic means it seeks dominance?

Effect of society on our own self-centered behaviour

We each cannot help but be negatively affected by the cultural norms of contemporary society. It is inevitable that we as individuals share some of its blind spots. How can we as individuals experience contentment when we seek an advantage over our rivals, getting our own back on those who oppose us?

Wanting to be less self-centered

You may feel you need to be more sensitive to the needs of the natural world around you, to better foster the people with whom you come into regular contact, and to seek the good of your community by taking more steps to prevent its harm. The trouble is people these days seem to have little or no time for such things being wrapped up in the business of their private lives. Yet those who are uncomfortable with how things are may feel trapped by their own self-serving attitudes.

Humanist solution to being self-centered

There is an assumption, doing the rounds, that human beings are basically good. That deep down we have a positive, creative and constructive nature. According to this view, self-centered conduct as shown by dishonesty in human relations, addiction, mood disorder, crime, abuse and violence are merely the adverse effects of physical and social environment. Without for example insanitary conditions, inadequate education, pollution, malnutrition, poverty, and shortage of good health care, it is thought people would be fit, sane, kind and good and less focused on their own needs.

Transformation of a self-centered attitude is possible

There is probably some truth in the humanist account. But is it the whole story? From a Swedenborgian perspective, there is a basic weakness in our human nature that needs to be addressed. The weakness is not the original sin believed by some traditional Christians, but rather, according to Swedenborg, it is due to everyone’s inbuilt inclination towards self-orientation.

Perhaps you have noticed how at times you have brought on to yourself disappointment and difficulty? And that this has happened through your own foolish self-centered choices. Perhaps you have realised you need other people to help you get through the troubles of daily living: and that lacking in yourself all the answers and energy for finding happiness, you need a higher force beyond yourself. If so then you will have signed up to a spiritual power that creates bodily and personal growth, heals physical and emotional wounds and enhances well-being. A hidden influence that spiritually minded people welcome into their lives.

How to change self-orientation

According to Swedenborg, although we don’t realise this to begin with, part of the process of personal growth is to accept that of ourselves we lack goodness itself – the reason being what is good originates in the source of goodness (love and wisdom of the Divine) which can be present and active within us. Religious people refer to this as the holy spirit of God illuminating their minds and inspiring their hearts.

In line with this belief is an appreciation that the talents and good inclinations with which we are born, are mere tendencies, for which we cannot claim merit.

If all this is true then without a change in your self-centered attitude there can only be emptiness, meaninglessness, and continued vulnerability to problems involving other people related to selfish desire. In other words the person engaged on a spiritual journey can look forward to experiencing inspiring ideas and loving impulses. I strongly believe that only when a self-centered attitude is moved to the side can you hope to find deep contentment, peace and joy.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems