How you view yourself and, on a deeper level, your sense of self-worth, impact every single interaction you have in this world. It also controls your thoughts, perceptions and reactions. Your self-worth, in a sense, controls your life. And most of the time, we have no idea.
Self-worth can be conditional or unconditional. Conditional self-worth means, “I believe in myself IF…” For example, “I believe in myself if…”
- “… I look a certain way.”
- “… I have a certain title.”
- “… you agree with me.”
- “… I feel better than you.”
- “… I get a certain number of ‘Likes’ on my social media post.”
- “… you are afraid of me.”
- “… that experience had not happened to me.”
The key is IF ‒ if certain conditions are met, THEN you feel good about yourself.
The majority of our society operates on conditional self-worth. It is what propels tabloids, for example: “See this superstar looking fat in her bikini.” Why are people pulled toward that? The thinking goes something along the lines of, “If that ‘perfect’ body can look fat, then I feel better about myself,” when comparing myself to others.
Conditional self-worth contributes to the dramatic increase in bullying we are witnessing, both in person and cyberbullying. The bully tries to put other people down to feel better about themselves. “I feel good about myself if I feel better than you,” or “I feel good about myself if I can control you into feeling badly about yourself.”
Research shows that the longer people spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. Why? Conditional self-worth is, again, playing a role. By comparing themselves to others and believing as though they fall short, people with conditional self-worth feel a sense of “less-than” overall. “Look at how great their lives are as compared to mine; I am a loser.”
Ironically, it is conditional self-worth that contributes to both the behaviors of (sexual) predators AND the people upon whom they prey. Take that in for a moment. The same thing that propels someone to try to dominate another individual is a factor in the people who are the “victims.”
First, let’s look at the perpetrators. When someone tries to get someone else to do something against their will, the motivation is often a desire for control. A superior who tries to get a subordinate to go against their own wishes is thriving for power. “I feel good about myself IF I can get her to do this.”
And predators are often quite skilled at determining who has conditional self-worth (although, no doubt, they are not aware of this term). They look for people who are people-pleasers, who are not assertive, who do not want to “rock the boat,” or who are so focused on achieving a goal that they will go against their principles to move forward.
PLEASE HEAR ME SAY: This is not a judgment on people who have been victimized. Conditional self-worth is so entrenched in our society that most people are not even aware of it. Women, especially, are raised to try to make others happy, while at the same time they are supposed to “have it all.” We are taught that to be successful, we should have “perfect” personal and professional lives, all while taking care of the needs of others.
What if, instead, our society embraced unconditional self-worth?
Unconditional self-worth refers to believing in yourself because of your values, your core characteristics. You don’t base your worth on other people’s reactions, on how you compare to others, or on anything outside of yourself.
Do you want others to be happy? Of course. But you don’t base your worth on it.
Do you want to feel good about yourself? Yes. And that contentment is fueled by applying your values, having positive experiences, and growing and contributing to a cause greater than yourself.
When, as a society, we focus on unconditional self-worth, not only will we reduce predator activity, but we will also be able to heal more smoothly and move on from the past to create a present and future we truly love.