How to improve your self-worth and overcome unmet childhood needs

Photo by Thiago Cardoso on Unsplash

Years ago, I had a session with a therapist who helped me work through some of my self-worth issues that resulted from childhood abuse and neglect.

She asked me to say, “I matter,” but the words wouldn’t come.

“Can you write it down,” she asked, extending a notepad and pen toward me. I shook my head, understanding for the first time the limitations of my own self-worth.

Eventually, she got me to write down the words with my non-dominant hand. Seeing the declaration in that messy scrawl did create a shift in me.

Fast forward ten years later, and not only do I believe in my own self-worth, I expect the best things in life to come my way. I’ve learned to take care of my needs and put myself first (most of the time).

What causes low self-worth?

If you’re feeling like you don’t matter, unmet childhood needs are often the culprit. You were raised to repress your needs rather than bring them out in the open for fulfillment.

If you're feeling like you don't matter, unmet childhood needs are often the culprit. Click To Tweet

The child in you fears the rejection you experienced any time you weren’t perfect or invisible or needless. As a result, you’ve defaulted to meet other peoples’ needs instead of your own.

Even though we’re fully grown, the inner child still runs the show. She tells us it’s dangerous to ask for what we want because we’ll lose love. She says the only way to keep love is through performance or serving others.

Service is wonderful but not when it’s done under duress. Many people believe when you give you receive in return. But that’s only true if your intentions are pure.

If you’re giving from an already depleted soul, all you’re going to experience is more lack. You need to learn to give to yourself first, filling the proverbial cup before pouring into another.

So, how do we increase our self-worth after a lifetime of unmet needs?


1. Discover your strengths

If you grew up with emotional neglect, you did not receive the praise and encouragement you deserved. You likely encountered criticism that made you aware of your faults more than your strengths.

And, often those weren’t faults, but normal human reactions to difficult circumstances, like your emotions.

Sit down and journal out a list of your strengths and read it to yourself daily. Pay attention to what you’re good at and recall what other people comment on. Decide to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

2. Cultivate self compassion

Low self-worth means you have an intense inner critic who points out all your flaws on a regular basis. She’s unforgiving and talks to you in ways you’d never speak to anyone else.

Self compassion is giving yourself the same care and kindness you give to a friend. You listen to your body when it needs a break instead of pushing through.

You accept and acknowledge your emotions rather than pushing them away. Your emotions have vital information that help you make positive changes in your life. They’re not now, and never were, your enemy.

3. Do what feels good to increase self-worth

Discovering your likes and dislikes after a lifetime of ignoring them is an exciting journey within. You may have filtered your choices through the lens of people pleasing for so long you have no idea what you actually want.

Discovering your likes and dislikes after a lifetime of ignoring them is an exciting journey within. Click To Tweet

Spend time with yourself, take yourself out on dates and let your body or intuition lead the way. What would feel good to you in this moment?

You might fear that you’ll go all hedonistic if you’re allowed to do what you want. But the first item on my list of desires was to spend a whole day reading. It’s likely your wants list is tamer than you think.

When childhood needs go unmet we feel empty, and try to fill that hole with material things or addictions. But increasing your self-worth is an inside job.

No one and nothing outside ourselves will repair our sense of self-worth. No relationship will heal you until you heal yourself.

These three strategies serve as a starting point for your self-worth journey. Add your own elements as you discover how to fulfill your wants and needs. And enjoy all life has to offer when you believe you’re worthy.

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