Friendship and Self-Worth

written by John Niland

Many people think of self-worth as something to work on in “splendid isolation”.  In practice, nothing could be further from the truth.  Self-worth is often honed and developed in the context of our relationships with others.

If you are lucky, this begins early in life: with a nurturing caregiver who is supportive. They don’t just love you when you “perform well”, but they are also there for you when you are sad or confused or not performing as you should. In particular, they don’t use sarcasm or withdrawal or manipulation to undermine your sense of self.
Needless to say, many people are not so fortunate. Therefore they are left with the task of “re-parenting themselves” in later life and this is exactly when friends become all important. Here are some of the things a good friend will do, which is supportive of self-worth:
  • Listen to you, seeking to understand and not just to “fix” or comment
  • Be present for you in times of sadness or confusion
  • Remind you of your strengths
  • Be there for you, whether you are “succeeding” in life or not
  • Appreciate you rather than judge you
  • Be interested in you – not just as a minor character in their own drama
Through the experience of loyal friendship, we can learn to be loyal friends with ourselves – which is the essence of self-worth. Unfortunately, however, our experience of friendship all too often is conditional. For example: “You can be my friend as long as…”
  • “… you fit with my (image / achievements / spiritual views / etc.)”
  • “… you share our lifestyle (spending power / golf-club / leisure pursuits / etc.)”
  • “… you are in the right age-range / political affiliation / social class etc.”)
Our experience of friendship is all too often a mirror of our experience of education and upbringing: “I’m OK if….”  In our conditional self-esteem culture, it’s hardly surprising that we spend so much energy and time proving ourselves.
With good friends, there is no need to prove ourselves. We are OK already, just as we are.  We can have low self-esteem and they will still be our friends.  As long as we have sufficient self-worth to choose such friends in the first place…. Now that’s another blog post!

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