Help someone feel valued.

Print this page and nail your copy to something fragile. As you complete each task, tick it. When you have completed each task three times mail the page to a celebrity.

(Some of the tasks will benefit you as well as the recipient. For example, every time you say ‘Good morning’ to someone, and every time you acknowledge a car driver’s courtesy, you will be adding to your feeling of connection, not just theirs.)

▪ Give someone a few minutes of your time by listening to them. Let them complete what they want to say, and then ask questions. You don’t need to contribute your opinion unless requested to do so.

▪ Get into the habit of telling people why you appreciate them. Or, acknowledge their achievement. Be genuine. Be specific.  For example:  ‘You’re good at . . .’     ‘I like the way you . . .’

▪ Remember someone’s birthday and acknowledge it when it arrives.

▪ Do a job for a parent or neighbour without being asked. (Put the bin out. Sweep the path. Clean up the dog poo in the back yard. Mow the lawn . . .)

▪ Be patient with someone. The ones who are hard to be patient with need it the most.

▪ Thank someone, and be genuine. ‘Thank you for arranging my birthday party.’  Do it face to face if you can.

▪ Using the five steps, write a Thank you letter to a person who has significantly contributed to your life. It could be to a parent, relative, teacher, friend, colleague, employer . . .

▪ Acknowledge someone’s existence. For example, ring your grandpa without being asked.

▪ If you catch a passing stranger’s eye, say ‘Good morning’.

▪ Give a small gift to someone for no particular reason.

▪ Patiently listen to someone complain.

▪ When you cross a road as a pedestrian, and a car gives way to you, give a nod of thanks and a smile.

▪ Make your pet feel valued!  Play with it. (Make it a habit.) Walk the neighbour’s dog.

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Ditch the mask.

‘They had connection – as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were. You have to do that for connection.’
Brené Brown, from her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’.

Most of us are pretty good at being who we are. But some people try to impress others, or hide from others, by presenting an image, a mask, to the world. The trouble is, if they wear their mask for too long they can become the mask, and lose touch with who they are.

Out of touch with their true needs, they pursue professions unsuited to them, or marry someone unlikely to be a soulmate. And, because they have little insight into who they really are, no-one else gets to know them either. So they find it difficult to connect with people on a meaningful level, and can end up feeling isolated, and empty.

And, they lose confidence in their true self, fearful that if their true self is revealed it will be found inadequate. As a result they live tired lives, having spent much of their energy maintaining their mask. After a while, they might feel they have no centre – no substance – and feel powerless, even though they may be in powerful positions.

If you are tempted to create an image for yourself, be careful. Don’t allow your image to dictate the path you take in life. If you can retain your authenticity you will be more trusting of yourself and of the decisions you make. And, because you sense you are on the right path, you will feel you have substance, and feel safer in the world.

Authentic Self: ‘The authentic self is the ‘you’ that can be found at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do.’ 
Stephanie Dowrick.

Fictional Self: ‘When you’re not living faithfully to your authentic self, you find yourself feeling incomplete, as if there is a hole in your soul. You may have found that it’s easier to fill the roles your family and friends expect of you, rather than becoming who you really want to be. Living this way drains you of the critical life energy you need to pursue the things you truly value.
Stephanie Dowrick.

Q. ‘Can I fart in front of a dignitary and claim I’m ditching the mask, and being authentic?’
You would be trying to prove a point. Being yourself means being honest with people about what you think and feel, whilst behaving within the expected guidelines of the circumstances.

Q. ‘Isn’t it okay to play games sometimes? In the art of seduction, for example?’

Playing healthy games is being authentic. Lying, or creating a facade, isn’t.

Q. ‘How can we gain authenticity?

Applying the keys in the ‘Be assertive’ section will make a big difference. Plus, it helps to lose some of our anxiety about what people think of us. That’s what the next chapter is about.


Make a conscious effort to notice moments throughout the day when you’re trying to be someone you’re not. While it’s great to learn from others and copycat things that have worked for them, taking this too far and trying to be them will result in you losing your sense of self and trying to be someone you’re not. Similarly, contorting yourself to meet others’ expectations will erode your individuality, and break your spirit. Don’t do or say things just because another person does or expects you to; source the need to behave that way from within and if it’s not true to yourself, either don’t do it or tailor it completely to reflect your own self.’

From the WikiHow site.

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Key #1. Care about what people think of you.

2,500 years ago Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, ‘Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.’ The trouble is, we do care about what other people think of us – we evolved to feel that way. The trick is to care about what other people think of us the right way.

If we see daffodils as yellow it’s because we evolved to see them yellow; they aren’t inherently yellow. Bees see the flower in different colours because they see ultra-violet light. Therefore, the colour a flower seems to have depends on the viewer.

When we see a movie we see a story unfold, but when pigeons see a movie they see twenty-four photographs, one after the other, every second. They perceive time differently to us.

We don’t like the smell of faeces, but . . .

Two flies sit on a poo.

One farts.

The other says, ‘Do you mind? I’m eating my dinner.’

Author unknown.

Every creature creates its own reality. With its senses it selects the data it needs, and interprets that data to suit the organism it happens to be. We humans might see a tree as a source of shade, or a source of income, while a wood-grub might see it as food, as its home, as its world.

Everything simply is. There is no inherent meaning. The meaning something has is the meaning it has been given.

‘To a worm in a horseradish the world is horseradish.’


So, humans have different realities to that of bees, pigeons and flies, but do humans have different realities from each other?

We sure do. When the happiness gurus say each person is unique, they are right. At a glance we humans appear to be similar to one another: ant-like we fill the streets, psychologists and advertisers find us predictable, we succumb to the same collective beliefs, we adopt the same cultural mores, laugh at the same sitcom jokes . . . But dig a little deeper and we find a different story: the complexity of our brain and the multiplicity of the interpretations we can make of the countless events each one of us experiences, means we really are unique. Each one of us is an enigma. We are so different from one another that we are like remote islands, barely explored even by ourselves, surrounded by a vast sea.

So yes, we have different realities, each one unimaginably different to that of everyone else. Seven billion people: seven billion worlds. Each remarkably different. And because we are so different we are also alone. 17th Century philosopher John Donne famously wrote:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less . . .
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.’

When he wrote the words, ‘No man is an island, entire of itself’, he was saying every man (and woman) is an island, but each ‘island’ is still a part of the main. In other words, we are alone, but so is everyone else. We are all in this together.

Orson Welles once said, ‘We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone.’ He was right. You were born alone, even though your mother was there, the doctor was there and the nurses were there. You were just a blob in your mother’s arms. No one in that maternity ward could have known, or even imagined, what you were experiencing.

As you grew you had to come to terms with your new world, your new life. Your hopes, fears, joys and disappointments were felt by you and you alone.

And no matter how much you love someone, and they you, on a deep and fundamental level you are alone. Not lonely. Alone. Deep within you is an understanding that just two things exist: You, and everything else.

When it’s your turn to die you might be on your death bed surrounded by loved ones, but it will be just you dying – that’s an experience no one can share.

This all means: you are unique and alone on this Earth. That puts you in a powerful and exhilarating position!

If each and every one of us creates our own very different reality, our own world, it means that when someone trolls you, what they say isn’t reality. It’s their reality. It’s their perception. It’s their world. You can adopt their perceptions and place them in your world, if you want to, but why would you?

Some people plant a tree and make their world their garden. Some people throw a cigarette butt on the ground and make their world their ashtray. You have little or no control over how others create their world, but you don’t have to adopt their world. We are only mere bit players in their world, and they give us little thought; they’re too busy creating their world. Whatever they think about us is fleeting.

Sure, the ‘data’ we interpret is heavily affected by the natural world of physics and chemistry, and by other people creating their realities – the gardeners and the cigarette butt droppers, the good and the bad – but we still get to make our world, and we get to make the decisions. We are the boss, provided we choose to be.

‘Only I get to decide if I’m humiliated or not.’

Josephine Georgio, after the media pestered her to feel humiliated after her left breast was accidentally exposed by the singer, Madonna.

Josephine resisted advice to sue Madonna. She dealt with the incident honestly and without avarice. I feel so proud of her! If Josephine deals with the rest of her life in the same way – by not letting others create her reality – she will be taking charge of her life.

We can be like Josephine: we don’t have to let others create our world.

The trouble occurs when we desire people’s approval so badly that we pretend to be someone we are not. It’s the person we are who needs to feel valued, not the person we pretend to be. If we create a facade for ourselves, and people like the facade, it means we are trying to fit into their world, and our true self gets left behind and remains unseen. And gets ignored. That true self doesn’t get to feel valued. Instead, it gets to feel shame and self loathing, and like the weird relative hidden in the attic, becomes weirder.

The facade we present might feel valued, but it has no substance. It’s a ghost.

Yes, in day-to-day life we do need to modify our behaviour, we do need to abide by the basic rules of social interaction. Otherwise, yes, we will become weird and isolated. We include those basic rules when we create our world. However, it’s still our world. If we go for a job interview, or approach someone we like, or speak with a neighbour, we can abide by the basic rules of social interaction, but we must also deal with those people on our terms. If we are to be taken seriously we have to present ourselves as we are, and on our terms. Let’s not pretend to be someone we are not, to get their approval. Let’s not modify ourselves to fit in. We have created for ourselves our own world and we embody it, so let’s present that world to people when we meet them.

‘We are only vulnerable and ridiculous through our pretensions.’ 

Delphine de Girardin.

And, we can remind ourselves that unless a person is close to us, we are given little thought. A second, at most. (Even those close to us give us far less thought than we realise.) While watching eight youths play basketball I noticed that when a player missed scoring, his teammates did not huff with dismay at his incompetence. They didn’t stop and put their hands on their hips. Instead, they focused on the ball bouncing off the hoop and moved on with the game. In the same way, people don’t stop to dwell on how stupid or bad they think you might be. If they do think that way it’s for a second, and then they move on.

Yet some of us can be so caught up in shame it feels like we are a black hole sucking everyone’s thoughts towards us. Nuh. It’s not like that. If someone holds you in contempt, it’s for a second or two at most. Then they get bored with the thought and move on.

‘You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realised how seldom they do.’
Olin Miller.

Our big mistake is to assume other people take our world as seriously as we take it. They don’t. They take their world seriously. They focus on their world.

Why does this put us in a powerful and exhilarating position? Because if people barely think about us it means we are free. We are not shackled by their thoughts. Thoughts can’t shackle us when they last a mere second! That means we might as well be the person we are meant to be. There is no point in trying to be someone we are not, just to please people, if all we are is a bit part in their world. Let’s take charge and be the boss, and create for ourselves the person we want to be and the world we want to live in.

‘Trust yourself. Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Be yourself. Imitation is suicide.’  
Marva Collins, an extraordinary teacher in the U.S.A.

At the beginning of this chapter are Lao Tzu’s words, ‘Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.’ That’s true, only when we try to please people. Yes, we evolved to care about what people think about us, but we can care on our terms. Let’s be ourselves, and let them care. We might not get the approval we want, but in the long run we will feel valued – because we will like and respect ourselves; we will value ourselves.

‘When we try to get people to like us they like us more than we do.’


I have said all this to say: yes, we are compelled to satisfy our need to feel valued, but let’s not satisfy it by trying to please people. If someone wants us to be a part of their world they have to accept us on our terms, not theirs.

self esteem

Let’s focus on creating our world. If we want to feel valued, let’s be true to ourselves, to our interests, to our values. If we are to be a bit player in another person’s world then that person will have to deal with who we are, not the person they want us to be.

When we enter the world of other people let’s bring our real self. That way, we stand a chance of creating a real connection with them. But if we present a facade, we can’t truly connect with them – who can connect with a ghost? Worse, we have to spend time and energy maintaining that facade, until one day we don’t know who we truly are. Nor do they. Result: more disconnection.

If we enter the world of people who treat us harshly, let’s ask questions! In his book, ‘Status Anxiety’, Alain De Botton writes: ‘Rather than wondering in disgrace, “What is wrong with me (for being a woman/having dark skin/no money)?”, we are encouraged to ask, “What might be wrong, unjust or illogical about others for reproving me?”’

Further, if each and every one of us creates our own world, it means comparisons are pointless. The choices other people make reflect the world they are creating for themselves. If they choose to travel, or study, or swap partners . . . that’s for them. What they do might not suit your world, so why compare? Be pleased for them if you like, but focus on your world. If they treat you harshly or with disdain because your world isn’t like their world, it just means they haven’t yet figured out that each of us is different and we have our own journey.

1. Journey

The key: every time you notice yourself doing or saying something that isn’t ‘you’, just to please people, remind yourself that you’re in charge of your world, and you’re creating it, and if you are going to grow as a person and create for yourself the best possible world, other people will have to meet you on your terms, not their terms.

It’s downright simple: you’re the boss. Act like it.

Q. ‘My friends say I treat them poorly, and now refuse to see me. But I am just being myself. My friends should accept me for who I am, shouldn’t they? The can be with me on my terms.’

Your friends have the right to avoid you, too. You have many facets in your personality. When you are being polite you present one authentic aspect of yourself; when you are playing the fool you present another. The trick is to know which facet is appropriate for the circumstances.

Q. ‘What if I am weird and eccentric? How will being authentic help? Shouldn’t I try to be normal?’

We only become weird when we lose our interpersonal skills. Work on them. (There are chapters in this book about them.) Just don’t betray yourself to fit in with others – they will see through you anyway.

Q. ‘You say we evolved to care about what other people think of us. But I know someone who doesn’t care. He does what he wants. And I heard of a young man who boasted to his 400,000 Instagram followers about his acquisition of the latest phone and received many negative comments. He posted: ‘Look at all these haters, damn I feel good.’

We all care, unless we are deeply wounded. Some people have been so unloved and neglected that the idea of anyone liking them is incomprehensible to them. They might grow up unable to care about what other people thought of them.

As for that young man, he might not care about what his followers thought of him, but it’s likely he cares about what some people think of him.

‘If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If my goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. I get going by making authenticity the priority.’

Brené Brown, who also wrote: ‘We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.’

Brené is right; we only satisfy our deep need to belong when the real self is valued, not the mask we might present.

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Part 3. Can we value ourselves?

I have said that we evolved an innate propensity to feel insecure about our self-worth, because feeling insecure prompts us to lift our game, which in turn increases our chances of staying in tribe and living long enough to pass on our genes. Plus, our extra effort to compensate for our insecurity benefits the tribe.

We might work to be appreciated on a daily basis. That can shape the person we become. Many people become good and productive people because of their efforts to keep feeling valued.

The first section was brief because there is not much we can do to ensure others value us. We can’t force people to like us, and if we try too hard to please people we either please the wrong ones, or they see through us. Worse, we can end up losing touch with the person we truly are, and relying too heavily on the shell facade that’s left. That leads to instability and insecurity.

Most of us instinctively find ways to feel valued. When we are good workers, good spouses, valuable teammates, enjoyable to be with . . . and when we act kindly, put food on the table . . . and the recipients appreciate our contribution, and express it, we can feel valued. Those things need to occur regularly if they are to satisfy our innate need to feel valued, because evolution ‘wants’ us to have a nagging, never ending insecurity to keep us trying and contributing on an ongoing basis. That means we have to satisfy our need to feel valued on an ongoing basis.

‘What about valuing ourselves? Will that do? If we love ourselves, won’t we be happier?’

That’s another criticism I have with the happiness gurus: they tell us to love ourselves and ignore the fact that we can’t simply flick a switch and begin loving ourselves. We can’t simply say to ourselves, ‘Hey, from now on I will love myself,’ and do it. If only it were that easy.

If the gurus believe it is that easy, it’s because they do love themselves, and naively assume it is because they made the choice to do so.

As we shall see in coming chapters, it’s not a matter of loving ourselves, it’s about feeling worthy of love. It’s about feeling loveable. Are we loveable? Is the essence of our existence loveable?

There isn’t a switch to flick for that either, so let’s take it one chapter at a time.

Loving oneself is the end result of feeling loveable, of having self-worth, but that’s all it is: the end result. It’s not self-love that we need to aim for, it’s a sense of feeling loveable. The distinction might appear trivial, but there’s world of difference. Loving oneself is about one person loving you: you, but to feel loveable is to feel worthy of the love of everyone and everything. What better way to feel valued by the ‘tribe’! What better way is there to feel connected!

That’s what this section is about.

Q. ‘What about entertainers? They are adored by their fans They must feel very valued.’
Every time an entertainer performs in front of an audience they have the attention of ‘the tribe’, and the tribe applauds them. That’s a great way to feel valued! However, the applause is temporary. The tribe leaves and the entertainer goes home, or to a hotel room. There the feeling dissipates. On an intellectual level the entertainer might know they are valued by many, but might not feel it, so the door to rejection, to abandonment, remains open. They have to keep performing, keep entertaining, to receive that regular ‘hit’. To feel valued on a sustained level and add to their core happiness they might have to entertain thousands every night.

Even then, some busy entertainers might still not feel valued. Would that be because the entertainer doesn’t have a strong connection with anyone in ‘the tribe’? Is the appreciation they receive one dimensional? Do we need to feel valued in different ways for it to be effective?

I don’t know. There would also be entertainers who enjoy the applause, but don’t need it. When the crowd leaves they don’t feel empty, because they feel valued in other areas of their life on a sustained level. Or, they have a healthy self-worth.

‘The person who seeks all their applause from the outside has their happiness in another’s keeping.’ 

Dale Carnegie.

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What is self-worth?

When we are born we have an enormous capacity to absorb love. We don’t feel the need to earn love; we just absorb it. We have a strong sense of entitlement, and with indignation demand our mother’s love and attention.

As we grow we come to understand that the world does not revolve around us, and despite the countless reminders in life that we are not special, some of us manage to stay in touch with our sense of entitlement to love. That’s good. That’s healthy.

For others, that feeling can get a battering. Some people are repeatedly told, ‘You’re bad!’ or ‘Good girls don’t say those things,’ or ‘You’re stupid,’ and worse.

‘Boys are made of slugs and snails, and puppy dogs’ tails.’

A line from an old nursery rhyme.

They conscientiously absorb those barbs and defeats, and come to understand that they are not loved. Or, that to be worthy of love they have to earn it. Either way, they conclude that they are not inherently loveable, and feel unworthy of being taken seriously. So, although they have far more to offer society than a baby (who can only eat, poo, smile and scream) they don’t feel worthy of love. They have a low self-worth.

From that we can conclude that our sense of self-worth is not based on what we have to offer, nor on our achievements, it is based solely on how worthy we feel we are of being loved.

To have self-worth is to feel worthy of exisiting, worthy of taking up space on this planet, of having every right to be alive. To have self-worth is to feel that we matter, regardless of who loves us, our occupation, our achievements. To have self-worth is to feel ‘good enough’.

The only way we can feel that way is to feel worthy of being loved. I don’t mean ‘we need to feel loved’ and I don’t mean ‘we need to be loved’, I mean: we need to feel worthy of being loved. Big difference. It’s an important distinction to understand, because the rest of this section depends on it.

To feel worthy of being loved means whether or not we are actually loved is irrelevant.

Let’s say someone has no friends or family to love them – they are not loved. Yet, if they feel worthy of love, if they feel loveable, they will have a strong sense of self-worth.

Note the distinction: It’s not a matter of feeling loved, or being loved, or being loveable, it’s a matter of feeling worthy of being loved; feeling loveable. When we feel worthy of being loved, when we feel loveable, we don’t actually have to be loved.

Someone might be deeply loved by friends and family, but if they don’t feel worthy of being loved – if they don’t feel loveable – they will have a low self-worth.

What does it mean to have a high self-worth?
It does not mean being arrogant or self-centred, or complacent. It just means feeling comfortable with one’s right to exist, because an inner sense of feeling loveable gives us that right.

If we have a strong self-worth we can still acknowledge our flaws and accept them, and come to terms with them.

People with a strong self-worth like themselves, warts and all, because they feel those warts are acceptable. Therefore, a person with a high self-worth will have a high self-esteem. (They like who they are.)

Importantly, to have a sense of self-worth will give us a sustained sense of feeling valued, which will help satisfy our deep need to belong, and add to our core happiness. But the only way to gain that feeling is not, like the happiness gurus simplistically suggest, to simply flick a switch and begin loving ourselves, it’s to gain the feeling of being loveable. That’s what we are working on in this section.

Q. ‘Mark, you say self-worth is not based on achievements. But surely someone who achieves a great deal will have a high self-worth?’

Not necessarily. A surgeon or CEO might recognise that her achievements are worthy and valued, yet not feel that she herself is worthy of love. As a consequence she could have a low self-worth.

Conversely, a person can have a high self-worth even if she has achieved nothing, and is valued by no-one, because she feels loveable.

Self-worth is an inner feeling not dependent on achievements or on how loved we actually are. It’s a feeling based on how worthy of love we feel we are.

Q. ‘Mark, what about people who do feel worthy of love but can’t find it? Are they not glum and frustrated because they can’t find the person they feel they deserve?’

Feeling worthy of love and being loved are two different things, and not to be confused. The people who feel worthy of love (who feel loveable) may well want to be loved, and might be glum because they aren’t loved. Yet, they don’t need love. They might think that they need it, after watching Hollywood movies, reading romance books, seeing their friends blossoming in love . . . but they don’t need it – not for their core happiness.

If they recognise that they don’t need love to be happy they can then see their situation in a healthier perspective.

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What is the difference between self-worth and self-esteem?

For those of you wanting a quick answer:
To have high self-esteem is to love oneself.
To have a high self-worth is to feel worthy of love, by no one in particular.

To have self-worth is to have an inner flame which is not self-love, it’s just the warm and nurturing feeling of being loveable – by anyone. To have that warm and nurturing feeling can, however, allow us to ‘let love in’ and love ourselves, and have a high self-esteem.

A more detailed explanation:
Does a person climb mountains because they have high self-worth, knowing they are capable of achieving great things? Or do they climb mountains because their self-worth is so low they feel they have to earn it?

I don’t know. Both options might apply, or neither. I just don’t know.

Is a person who doesn’t care about what other people think of their behaviour so self-assured they don’t need other people’s approval? Or have they failed to impress for so long they have given up and are taking comfort in ‘being themselves’?

Does the arrogant, bombastic, boastful jerk act that way because he has high self-esteem, and lacks humility and social skills? Or is he over-compensating for a deep-seated insecurity?

Goodness knows.

Does a person take loads of selfies because they find themselves so interesting? Or because they feel the need to regularly reassure themselves that they matter? Does a powerful dictator rant because he has a deep and irrepressible confidence in himself, or because he is trying to overcome a deep sense of powerlessness? Do bullies and violent criminals have rock-bottom self-esteem, like the experts attest? Or do they treat us badly because they see themselves superior to us? Are we insects in their eyes?

And, if it is true that most of us have a low self-esteem, why do most of us think we are better drivers, more ethical, less prejudiced, more cooperative, generous, kinder and smarter than the average person? (Some of these self-deceptions are exposed in David G. Myers’ article ‘The Inflated Self’. David says, ‘Note how radically at odds this conclusion is with the popular wisdom that most of us suffer from low self-esteem and high self-disparagement. We are, to be sure, strongly motivated to maintain and enhance our self-esteem and we will welcome any message which helps us do that. But most of us are not grovelling about with feelings that everyone else is better than we are.’)

And, if we have low self-esteem, why is it that Tarot Card readings and other ‘psychic’ readings, which are designed to fool the gullible, are full of subtle compliments the victims happily agree with?

We are complex creatures. For Christmas I would like to be another person for a day. Preferably, a ratbag. The comparisons I could make! The insights I would gain!

Chocolates are good too, though.

With my bewilderment laid bare, here is my attempt to define a few terms:

Self-worth, as suggested, comes from feeling that we are worthy of being loved. That we are loveable. We feel worthy of exisiting, worthy of being, of having the right to be alive and be on the planet.

It doesn’t mean we feel loved by others or by ourselves; it simply means we feel worthy of being loved. And that’s enough to satisfy our innate need to feel valued and our deep need to belong.

There are advantages to having a strong self-worth (feeling loveable):
1. We feel more self-assured, and are therefore less concerned about what other people think of us. That allows us to feel less anxious and be more likely to make independent decisions.
2. We become less dependent on having another person’s love, which means we can be less needy and more discerning when we look for a relationship.
3. We feel emotionally safer in life, because we are self-nurturing.
4. People with self-worth will continue to study hard and work hard, because they enjoy feeling good about themselves, and want to enhance that feeling.
5. A person with a high self-worth will also have a high self-esteem. After all, if we feel loveable it won’t take much to actually feel loved – by others or by ourselves.

self-esteem is often confused with self-worth because the two regularly overlap, but self-esteem (in my mind) is a measure of how much we like ourselves. To have a high self-esteem is to like who we are.

I have spoken with people with high self-esteem who can’t understand why others don’t feel the same way. I have spoken with people with low self-esteem who can’t understand how anyone can think highly of themselves. Members of these groups can be enigmas to one another.

There is nothing wrong with having a high self-esteem provided it comes from:
1) a sense of self-worth, of feeling loveable. (If we feel loveable we are open to ‘letting love in’, and when we ‘let love in’ we reignite the feeling we had as an infant: that we deserve. We matter. That feeling is not a self-admiring love; it’s a self-assuring love.
2) respecting the qualities we have.

A poor way to gain self-esteem is believe that we are in some way special (a belief that comes from being convinced of it). The trouble is: when we feel a little better than others it erodes our connection with humanity, and that makes it harder to satisfy our deep need to belong. Plus, it becomes harder to see our flaws.

Further, if we take pride in being a little better than others we might find ourselves feeling mystified and anxious when we fail to meet our own expectations.

So, the difference between self-esteem and self-worth:
To have high self-esteem is to love oneself.
To have a high self-worth is to feel worthy of love by no one in particular.

To have self-worth is to have an inner flame which is not self-love, it’s just the warm and nurturing feeling of being loveable – by anyone. To have that warm and nurturing feeling can, however, allow us to ‘let love in’ and love ourselves – have a high self-esteem.

More about self-esteem:

Q. ’Mark, some people say self-esteem is transitory. We can dress like a million dollars and have a high self-esteem, but with one insult our self-esteem can plummet.’

When you stand resplendent in front of a mirror feeling good, it doesn’t mean you like yourself more than you did an hour ago. It means you feel more confident about yourself. An insult can dent that confidence.

 ‘Can we measure a person’s self-esteem?’

We could ask the person the following questions:

1. ‘If there were another one of you, would you like to meet him/her?’

I have asked this question of friends and received varying responses, ranging from, ‘Sure, I wish there were hundreds of me!’ to ‘Nuh.’

2. ‘Do you deserve to be loved?’

Answers ranged from, ‘The answer to that silly question is: absolutely!’ to ‘Nuh’.

3. ‘In general, how much do think people like you?

The answers to the three questions lead to obvious conclusions. But is this an accurate measure of self-esteem? I don’t know. How could self-esteem be measured scientifically? We can’t even agree on what it is or who has it. Any questionnaire would have to take into account modesty, arrogance (which can hide insecurity), self-worth, and cultural biases. So how accurate could the questionnaires be?

‘Cultural biases?’

People from Eastern cultures tend to see the ‘self’ differently, placing more value upon how they are seen by others than on how they see themselves. They focus on their weaknesses rather than on their strengths, and believe it’s inappropriate to praise oneself. Plus, there are translation problems.

I suspect that getting an accurate gauge of self-esteem is nigh impossible. Are you, dear reader, even clear about how much you like yourself? Would you be certain to give the same answers to the three questions above, an hour later?

A healthy low self-esteem:
We can have a low self-esteem yet lead a happy, productive life. There are people who have lost a limb and as a result have become disabled. Yet, they can be just as happy as an able-bodied person. In the same way, having a low self-esteem can disable us – it can prevent us from finding the job we want, or the right partner – but we can be just happy as a person with a high self-esteem. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, and it goes against nearly all of what the experts say, but we did not evolve an innate need to like ourselves. The advantages of liking ourselves aren’t much greater than the advantages of not liking ourselves (if they are greater at all) so we didn’t evolve that need. However, we did evolve a self-worth, but that was just to see us through our formative years.

‘What are the advantages of having a low self-esteem?’
1. If we don’t like ourselves much we might be concerned about how other people see us. Although that’s not much fun, it can prompt us modify or curtail our undesirable idiosyncrasies.
2. With a low self-esteem we can feel less compelled to live up to other people’s expectations, and be less likely to seek other people’s approval. That can be liberating. (We are less likely to seek the approval of others because we are used to rejection, having rejecting ourselves so often).
3. Low self-esteemers can take on daunting tasks, because their identity isn’t tied to succeeding. They can deal with failure. (That can apply to high self-esteemers too.)
4. With a healthy low self-esteem we are more likely to be aware of our flaws, and more likely to admit to them. That makes it easier to get to know ourselves, come to terms with our faults, and limit their influence upon us.

There are, of course, advantages to having a healthy high self-esteem as well. You’ll find them easy enough on the internet.

Warning! If you don’t like yourself that is no reason to treat yourself badly, with insults or with complaints. Why? Well, if you don’t like someone else, that is no reason to treat them badly. People deserve your respect and courtesy whether you like them or not. So, if you don’t like yourself it’s only fair that you treat yourself with the same respect and courtesy you would give someone else you don’t like. That means: no insults. No self-harm. No self-criticism. Just respect.

If you want to be angry with yourself, go ahead, but express that anger in a healthy, constructive manner. Speak to yourself as you would to someone who is delicate, who needs guidance. Focus on constructive ways to ensure the same mistake isn’t made again. Being angry with yourself is fine, but do it in a mature way. Don’t indulge in inappropriate behaviour just because it’s yourself. That is no excuse.

An unhealthy low self-esteem might come from
– doing something for which you can’t forgive yourself,
– from being verbally abused, neglected as a child,
– from being taught to feel guilt and shame,
These people might be able to absorb some barbs, but with their feelings red raw could become overly defensive, and be quick to take umbrage.

A high but wacky self-esteem comes from receiving lots of shallow praise and taking praise for granted. Such people are unlikely to see their flaws and limitations, even when pointed out to them. As a result they gain skewed perspectives, self-centredness and complacency, and are likely to be intolerant of other people’s flaws.

Think of a storybook king, or a real life dictator. After a while they can’t get enough praise, and are easily slighted. They might even appear arrogant.

As you can imagine, their relationships suffer.

‘If you have watched the early auditions on American Idol you have surely marvelled at how confident some of the worst performers are. Even when the judges look on with horror and give them three thumbs down, they declare that they are very talented and no one is going to crush their dreams. You can just imagine this person’s mother praising their tone-deaf child for fear the truth would destroy them. The consequence is that they are now learning the truth by being humiliated in front of millions of television viewers. While this is an extreme example, many teens whose self-esteem is based on nothing more than talk are in for similar disappointments as they move into adulthood.’

Author unknown.

Some people absorb so much praise it becomes part of their identity. They find it harder to accept rejection than the rest of us because they haven’t had the opportunity to hone their coping skills. When they are rejected they are not only confused and hurt, they’re disturbed.

To be egotistical is to focus on one’s own qualities, activities and achievements. Egotistical people show little interest in others.
This could mean they have an inability to take an interest in other people, or it could mean they feel anxious when not the centre of attention.

‘When we genuinely appreciate our own worth, there is no need to tell the world how good we are. It is only the person who hasn’t convinced himself of his own worth, who proceeds to inform the rest of humanity of his value.’

From the book, ‘Being Happy’, by Andrew Matthews.

confidence is the feeling that we can successfully handle a particular situation. A person might feel confident in one situation but not in another.

‘Confident people are masters of attention diffusion. When they’re being given attention for an accomplishment, they quickly shift the focus to all the people who worked hard to help get them there. They don’t crave the approval or praise because they draw their self-worth from within.’
Dr Travis Bradberry.

narcissism is deemed to be a personality disorder and is not a subject of this book.

‘Social learning theory suggests that the narcissism develops when parents believe their children are more important than others, more special than others, more entitled than others.’


To have resilience is to have the ability, though not necessarily the confidence, to recover from a situation.
To feel resilient is to have the confidence, though not necessarily the ability, to recover from a situation.

self-assuredness is confidence with an added dollop of poise.

self-confidence is the feeling of being able to can handle a particular situation, whether or not we will succeed in our attempt.
A person with strong self-confidence might feel disappointed with a failure, or with an insult, while a person with low self-confidence might feel devastated.

‘People who brim with confidence derive their sense of pleasure and satisfaction from their own accomplishments, as opposed to what other people think of their accomplishments.’

Travis Bradberry.

self-importance is an exaggerated sense of one’s own value to a situation, or to the world.


By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity and altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness.’

Matthieu Richard.

attention seekers expect to be ignored. They’re frightened of becoming invisible. Getting people’s attention is a reminder to them that they are not invisible. However, the feeling is an empty one because on some level they know they themselves have not been seen, just their antics. The bit inside them, the bit crying out to feel valued, has not been heard, has not been seen.

Find yourself an internet troll and you have found yourself an attention seeker. That’s why the best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them. They don’t get the attention they seek, and move elsewhere.

It has been suggested that attention seekers suffered neglect in their formative years.

Q. ‘Mark, won’t these terms vary depending on the circumstances? In some situations we might like ourselves, or feel worthy, or feel confident, and at other times not.’

True. The terms are rubbery and are used in different ways by different people. I have listed the terms to indicate what I mean when I use them in this book.

Q. ‘Mark, won’t a person with high self-esteem feel loveable? And therefore, have high self-worth?’

From what I can see, the only self-esteem worth having is the one gained from having self-worth. The other forms of self-esteem are wacky or fragile, and come with their own problems. That’s why we are focusing on self-worth.

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Can we earn our self-worth?

To have self-worth is to feel worthy of existing, to feel that we are deserving, that we matter. And that comes from feeling that we are worthy of love, that we are loveable. We don’t automatically feel loveable when we are loved, or become wealthy, or wise, or charitable, or pious, or whatever. There is no direct link between those things and feeling loveable. One does not lead to the other. Self-worth is not something we can earn.

A baby is born with self-worth. It doesn’t earn it.

Despite there not being a link, many of us do try to earn our self-worth, and when we base our self-worth on getting other people to like and respect us, we have a problem.

Some people try to earn their self-worth by being good people.
I met a lottery winner who used his winnings to create a soup kitchen, to provide meals for the homeless. He told me how a sponsoring bank had rewarded him with a trip-for-two holiday voucher. He sold the voucher and I asked him why.

Wearily he pointed to the floor and said plaintively, ‘How could I use the holiday when the floor needed repaving?’

This man was trapped by his need to do the right thing.

Being charitable can be an enriching experience, and it’s to be encouraged, but we have a problem if we spend a lifetime feeling obliged to be a good person, while having to endure the ever-present, draining possibility that one day we might let ourselves, or others, or God, down.

The problem is magnified if, in our endeavours to make other people happy, we ignore our own needs or the needs of our family.

‘Mark, why would someone base their self-worth on being a good person?’

Some children raised by strict or pious parents come to believe that only by being good are they worthy of love. As a consequence, they grow up believing that only by continually earning their place in society, by being a good person, will their lives have any value.

‘Isn’t that good? They become law abiding people.’

Earning our self-worth by being good can be an awful, life-long burden. And, a few good people become so intent on developing integrity they develop rigid thinking, and become self-righteous prigs no one wants to know.

Being good and charitable is a good thing provided we have a choice in the matter. If we feel compelled to be charitable there is a good chance we are basing our self-worth upon it, in which case we have a problem. Indeed, if we base our self-worth on anything we have a problem: our priorities become skewed and our behaviour, distorted.

Some people base their self-worth on how much people like them.
If that describes you it means you are likely to spend a lot of time trying to impress people, right? That’s a sure way to develop insecurities, right? But if you see the trap you have made for yourself (your need to impress people) and see yourself like a hamster on a hamster wheel, furiously getting nowhere, you might change your priorities. You might begin to make smarter decisions – decisions not based on pleasing people, but on directing your life effectively.

Someone basing their self-worth upon their good looks will feel constant pressure to look good. Yet their self-worth will be fragile because there will always be a blackhead here, a wayward strand of hair there . . .

And what happens when one day those good looks disappear?

Plus, there is that nagging question: ‘Can I back up my good looks with personality?’

I’m not saying we can’t look good, but let’s not base our self-worth on it. Then we won’t feel the need to spend inordinate time and money protecting those good looks. And more importantly, we will feel less anxious.

‘What are you suggesting?’

If we are good looking, let’s not take our good looks seriously. We can let ourselves look haggard now and then, and get comfortable looking ordinary.

‘Why would someone base their self-worth on their good looks?’

A lack of confidence in their personality, or abilities? Being constantly praised for looking good? Being conditioned by peers, or by the media? When young girls apply make-up to feel pretty they might begin to place too much importance upon how people look. By the time they are twenty their self-worth might be linked with their looks. Problems begin.

Someone who finds that their self-worth is based on how indispensable they are at work might want to search for another way to feel valued, and cease being a workaholic.

An athlete taking performance-enhancing drugs to win medals might see the absurdity of their actions when they realise their main objective is to earn self-worth. They might take winning less seriously and develop new priorities.

Someone trying to earn their self-worth by accumulating money will have to keep making money, and keep showing it off. After making ten million dollars they will feel the pressure to make another ten. They might even exploit the environment, or other people, in their pursuit of it. And view people less wealthy as inferior. That will disconnect them!

‘Billionaires scrabbling for their next billion aren’t motivated by greed. They just want to demonstrate – to themselves and others – how good they are at playing the money game.’ 
Ross Gittins, journalist.
As well, billionaire Donald Trump said of his wealth: ‘Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.’

We play games in order to win them. When winning becomes so important it affects our choices in the way we lead our life, it is easy to assume that the prize on offer is self-worth.

“We should not be surprised to find many of the already affluent continuing to accumulate sums beyond anything that five generations might spend. Their endeavours are peculiar only if we insist on a strictly financial rationale behind wealth creation. As much as money, they seek the respect that stands to be derived from the process of gathering it.’

Alain De Botton, in his book, ‘Status Anxiety’.

If a person bases their self-worth on the large wealth they have accumulated, what happens to a person’s self-worth if they lose that money? It plummets. In their anxiety to prevent that happening they spend more precious time and energy increasing their wealth, while looking for ways to avoid paying tax.

When we base our self-worth upon how much money we have, no amount of money will be enough.

‘Is not dread of thirst when the well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?’

Kahlil Gibran.

A few years ago a multi-millionaire investor broke the law to cheat shareholders out of a measly $500. He was caught and disgraced. Why did he do it? Did he have to keep making money to feel good about himself?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against money. If you want to be wealthy, go for it. But don’t base your self-worth on it.

‘Does this apply to poor people as well?’

Of course. If a poor person measures their self-worth by wealth, they will feel badly about themselves.

‘I bet wealthy people have no trouble feeling good about themselves most of the time, especially when they compare themselves to the rest of us.’

If they do feel good it might be because they feel they are contributing, and feel valued for that contribution. After all, they might be employing people, and producing a valuable product or service.

If they feel good about themselves merely because they are wealthier than the rest of us, would that not indicate insecurity? Would it not suggest that their self-worth is fragile?

 ‘When someone unemployed finds a job and starts earning money, they feel better about themselves. Their sense of self-worth soars.’

Their self-worth improves not because they now have money, but because they have earned it. They feel they have contributed, and feel valued for their contribution.

In short, if we try to earn our self-worth by impressing people we can lose our path. We can become overly concerned about how others see us, and spend time and energy seeking their approval. We might even pursue careers unsuited to our characters, tempted by the prestige and respect we feel we need, and as a consequence won’t fully discover the person we are meant to be.

We might even become antisocial and participate in gang behaviour, whether it be to vandalise a train or to allow damaging legislation to pass. When we aim to please our colleagues we can end up doing things which demean us.

Plus, we place upon ourselves constant pressure. If we feel the need to make money to earn our self-worth then we have to keep making money. If we feel the need to look good we have to keep looking good. Keeping up an image requires energy and work. We can do without a lifelong burden.

And, despite our efforts, our self-worth remains fragile. There will always be someone wealthier, or prettier, or smarter . . . And, anyone relying on their wealth, their looks, their intelligence . . . to establish their self-worth can still fear falling short in other categories.

One way or the other, we cannot succeed in earning our self-worth.

It gets worse. Trying to earn our self-worth can isolate us. By aiming to be better than other people we can reduce the connection we have with them. It is difficult to be warm, trusting and compassionate with other people if, to feel good about ourselves, we feel the need to be better than they.

Have you met people with a high self-worth? They don’t feel the need to appear cool, good looking, wealthy, or smart. They might be all those things, but the need to display those qualities isn’t there.

Carlos Castaneda wrote that a candle’s flame remains intact under the light of a billion stars, and he’s right – we don’t need to be exceptional. We are already enough.

‘. . .  most important is to believe that we are enough. Because when we come from a place that says we are enough then we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler with the people around us and we are kinder and gentler with ourselves.’
Brené Brown.

Q. ‘If we can’t try to earn our self-worth, on what can we base it? On qualities such as patience, kindness, integrity?’ 

I don’t think we can consciously choose to base our self-worth on anything, and it’s a good idea to try.

It’s there already, within us. We just have to get in touch with it.

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