The sense of self-worth is a central concept and greatly impacts our mental stability and behavior.
In my practice, the models and methods I was familiar with often were insufficient in improving my clients’ sense of self-worth long-term. Common feedback I received was: “I understand that I am worthy, but I cannot feel it”, or the improved feeling of self-worth would evaporate from one session to the next.
This is why I developed a self-worth model. This layered model provides explanations and solutions even for gifted people, whose development of self-worth often depends on special conditions.
This model comprises and correlates all aspects, which, in my experience, influence our sense of self-worth. It is useful to determine the exact reasons for difficulties and choose methods to solve these difficulties more precisely.
At the core of this self-worth model is the baseline emotion, or general feeling. This feeling is generated very early and is relatively undifferentiated. It is the experience of: “Do I feel welcome or rejected?”, “Am I good or bad?” All other aspects of self-worth come together in this center.
The next layer, closest to the core, is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance greatly influences the stability of our sense of self-worth: If my self-acceptance is high, I appreciate myself, even if I haven’t been successful over a longer period of time, notice my weaknesses, make mistakes, or fail. I still accept myself and perceive myself as worthy.
The next circle is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that I (can) have an impact. For example: If I know I am intelligent, but my ideas are not understood, or I receive bad grades and get the impression that my intelligence doesn’t make any difference, I will have difficulty generating a positive sense of self-worth, even if I am aware of my skills and abilities.
This is where Ability Awareness comes into play: my knowledge and presence of my strengths and abilities. Most people regard this aspect as crucial for the sense of self-worth. Ability Awareness is highly dependent on if and how we receive feedback. If a gifted person is able to fully express his potential, he will have an advantage in this area. However, if he is discredited or mobbed, he will be disadvantaged. Ability Awareness can be highly specific depending on the area you look at. For example: You may be aware that you are a very good soccer player, but a bad singer. It could also be that your self-assessment is very realistic in one area, where you are aware of your strengths, but unrealistic or incomplete in another.
Furthermore, it is my theory that self-worth cannot be observed separately, but, because it is embedded in a system, needs to be considered in its systemic role. An individual’s sense of self-worth influences a system: It influences my behavior towards others, my expectations towards others, the role and space I take up etc. … At the same time, self-worth has an adaptive function and enables me to find my place in a given system. This creates a special challenge for gifted people, as they are so often outside the norm, or perceived as a threat. (cf: Ambivalence Dilemma).
Self-worth is developed through processes of internalization and generalization and each layer, or aspect, mutually influences the other.
Primary attachment figures have a great impact on our early generated baseline emotion. The further outward you move on the model’s layers, the more direct is the influence of other, external people such as peers, teachers, colleagues, bosses, etc.
A good sense of self-worth is associated with feelings of worthiness, safety, joy, pride etc. and leads you to expect to be treated well and loved by others. The associated behavior is self-caring, secure, assertive and open/ curious.
A negative sense of self-worth is associated with feelings of inferiority, fear, shame etc. and causes you to expect – and interpret – others to treat you negatively and as if you were worthless. The respective behavior shows self-neglecting, fearful, avoidant and/or aggressive tendencies.
Using this model, you can clarify which exact aspects cause difficulties and treat them accordingly.
The following is a selection of methods that help to positively influence specific aspects of the model:
- Understanding the system and system dynamics:
- Who influences your sense of self-worth (in the past and at the moment)?
- How and why?
- Which advantages or disadvantages come with a change in self-worth? For you and for others?
- What would change in the system if your self-esteem rises or falls?
Attention! Changing the sense of self-worth can come with a high price. You can also decide to keep the status quo and not change current feelings of worthiness. However, even this decision often causes the sense of self-worth to change, because you are now aware of the dynamics and able to distance yourself on the inside and make your own decisions. In this case, your sense of self-worth grows, but you choose to keep your position and behavior within the system. Another possibility would be to address and soothe the fears of other members of the system (see also Ambivalence Dilemma)
You may need to take into account several systems (birth family, school, job, current family…)
System dynamics can be determined easily with Manfred Prior’s Punkt, Punkt, Komma, Strich-method (MiniMax Interventions).
- Clarify which strategies regulate self-worth:
For kids and teenagers, for example, you could let soccer team „negative judgement“ play against team „self-worth“:
- Which phrases and behaviors represent both teams’ offense, defense etc.?
- When and how does a team score a goal?
- Who are the fans and what are they doing?
- How could team “self-worth” win? How do they have to train?
Enhancing awareness of sb.’s strengths through, for example:
- getting external feedback
- practicing to deliberately draw attention to positive things
- finding strengths and skills with the following process:
- collecting positive life experiences
- collecting positive performances and successes
- collecting difficulties
- reflect: Which traits and skills led to those experiences, great performances and successes?
Which skills do you have, or did you develop, in order to cope with difficulties?
And: Which positive traits, or characteristics, do you have that you did not specifically work for or develop?
- Enable or draw attention to success stories
For this purpose, it might be necessary to develop specific skills, such as self-management skills, assertiveness etc.
- Time progression: Best in trance, you imagine your success as if it had already happened. Then, in order to identify the strategies that led to your success, you proceed in going back in time in baby steps. For example: In the lobby of your examination room, your family congratulates you for your excellent exam. What happened right before that? The professor shook your hand. What happened right before that? You answered the last question. What happened right before that? You told yourself: “I am almost done!” (first useful strategy) What happened right before that? You looked into the assessor’s supportive face (second useful strategy). Etc.
Self-Acceptance and Baseline Emotion:
In my experience, mere cognitive methods are often insufficient in changing these aspects. What I find useful:
- Individual trance states, for example the resource transfer or affect bridge technique
- Externalizing emotions and working with them through individual metaphors
- PEP by Michael Bohne
- Impact techniques
An example of the Impact Technique:
A person was abused and consequentially developed a very poor sense of self-worth. You hold a 50 Euro bill up in the air and ask: “What is this worth?” The person usually replies: “50 Euro”. You then take the bill, crumble it up, throw it on the floor and step on it (etc.) – you basically abuse the bill. After that, you pick up the bill, unfold it and ask again: “What is this worth?”
Using the TEK (training of emotional competencies) analysis and basic scheme, you can find solutions for all areas of the self-worth model. To comprehend the system as a whole, you need to add the system perspective to reflection of advantages and disadvantages – and determine these for yourself as well as all other members of the system.
More information on individual techniques and seminars can be found under Counselling and Therapy Concepts under Methods (Method Recommendations).
If you are a coach or therapist and interested in a seminar regarding self-worth click here.
© Frauke Niehues