How to build self-worth

Coming out can be traumatic for some and a breeze for others. There are as many experiences as there are people who have come out as LGBT+. The concern, anxiety or stress many feel in coming out tends to have two aspects (1) the practical responses of others, and (2) what this means for our sense of self-worth.


Self-worth determines how we feel about ourselves (our self-esteem) and how we see ourselves (our self-image), which in turn limits or enhances the vision of who we can be/come (our self-concept).

It is at the level of our self-worth we need to work if we truly want to feel fulfilled in life. Unfortunately, too many people focus on self-esteem, where their happiness is dependent on what others think about them.


It is important we remember;

  • Happiness is transient and comes from the outside.
  • Fulfilment is longitudinal and comes from the inside.


I know this only too well. It took me a long time to come out, worrying what others would say. Scared I’d be shunned and rejected, or beat up.


But why should this be?


Clearly, at the time, I had low self-worth.


But why should this be?


Hmmm? Not so clear.


Until we can trace our self-worth to its roots, we are going to be stuck in our own negative belief stories.


There is a great exercise called ‘Emotional Time Travel’ I came across through Kain Ramsey which helps us get to the root of our past rejections, those first triggers that gave us the story we carry on telling our self. Once we have identified these triggers we are better able to come to terms with them, and start changing our story and so our beliefs.


For me, the first key trigger I remember was being lined up with my sisters and slapped about by my dad. Someone had spilt the bleach. Worse! Whoever it was had walked away and left it. Was it me? I don’t know. But my dad is hitting me, so it must have been me.


And then I’m being shuttled back and for the between my mum and dad as they go through a diverse. Why am I being shuttled back and forth? Who knows? Maybe neither of them want me.


And the next thing you know I’m being hit by an ice bucket flung at me by my step-father. Why? I don’t know. But I must have done something.


And by now a picture is emerging. As people we make meaning by connecting things that look like a pattern.


My dad hits me. My mum and dad don’t want me. My step-father throws things at me. I’ve been rejected. It’s all my fault. I’ve failed and I’m clearly no good, clearly not worth loving.


What we have to remember is that this all happens in the early years, what Morris Massey called stage 1 of the Four Stages of Belief Development. Stage 1 is the imprinting period. The belief I’ve built in my head is that I am not good enough, and I grow up believing I’m not good enough. And so when it is time for me to come out, and there is a chance of more rejection, more hitting, and I’m not good enough anyway, how’s that going to make me feel?


So I’ve failed again. I was right that I’m no good. I hate myself and I fall into despair (what we would probably now call identity crisis).


And so how do I pull myself out of this pit of despair?


This is by no means easy. But it can be done if we can accept who we truly are. If we make peace with our self. Soren Kierkegaard talks of this many long years ago in relation to self-deficiency, and Fritz Perls notes it when he talks of The Paradoxical Theory of Change.


But what does that actually mean? Am I my identity? Do I have to accept feeling worthless?


No! No! Definitely not.


We must accept who we truly are at the core. Our core is not what we do. It is not how we do what we do, or how we feel. Our core is our truth, our values.


Broadly speaking:


Bringing it all together


To build a strong basis in self-worth we first need to spend the time working out and accepting who we truly are. Not the parts we play, our personalities or how we feel about these aspects. Once we work out and accept who we truly are, this will drive how we wish to live our life, and what we want to do. This stands at odds with much of society which focusses on social labels and how we conduct ourselves, to determine who we are.


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