How to raise
from the resilient roots of self-worth


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

Anyone who has ever suffered from low confidence and tried to improve the way they feel will have been told to raise their self-esteem. But where does self-worth come into the equation? Self-esteem is not the same as self-worth. Simply put, self-esteem is taking pride in yourself and your accomplishments, and self-worth is about valuing yourself for what you already are.

And why does it matter?

Because self-esteem, as it is generally understood, is extrinsic and contingent. Sorry, big words. To put it another way, self-esteem depends on things outside of your control. Like a ship sailing on the ocean, you are tossed by the waves of life’s stormy waters. They lift you up and crash you down.

Self-worth, on the other hand is intrinsic and unconditional. Self-worth is your innate value, it does not change as the waves rise and fall. It is limitless and renewable. Learning how to tap into this energy inside you can transform your outlook on life, and radically alter the way you feel.

Let’s check the dictionary

To make sure we are all on the same page, when we talk about self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence, let’s look at some definitions.

You will find much deeper explanations in the book, “The Self-Worth Safari”

What is self-worth?

Self-worth is your innate sense of value as a person. That does not change as life’s circumstances change. It is a deep awareness of self, a sense of who and what you are. Self-worth is like good food, it has to be enjoyed in the belly and not just the brain. It is neither tangible nor measurable, it “simply is”.

In reality it is easy to fall into the trap of judging yourself harshly, and feeling bad when things don’t go your way. That’s why we believe that, in practice, self-worth is being a friend to yourself, no matter what is happening around you. This can radically change the way you feel on the inside and how you go about life.

What is self-esteem?

To quote the Nathaniel Branden, “Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” The word “to esteem” means, to hold something or someone in high regard. Can you always hold yourself in high regard? What happens if the foundations of your self-esteem get shaken? What can you hold on to then?

In order to validate your self-esteem you need to have tangible results and measurable successes. This means you will be constantly judging your behaviour and performance. Most of us also compare ourselves to others to see how we are doing. Your self-esteem, therefore, depends on how you “measure up”.

What is self-confidence?

Confidence stems from the Latin word: fidere “to trust”. To have self-confidence is to believe in your talents and ability to perform certain tasks. Your self-confidence affects the way you present yourself to the world. Confidence can be real or faked. Many people cover up deep-rooted insecurity by projecting a confident persona.

Trying to improve your self-esteem to boost your confidence can leave you vulnerable if circumstances falter. However, if your self-esteem is based on your innate self-worth life begins to look very different. You won’t need other people’s approval. You’ll be able to choose what is right for you.

Okay, now you are
down with the lingo

We have a question for you,

“Is self-esteem really the ultimate goal?”

It’s not just us, many psychologists and authors are noticing that the self-esteem movement is running out of steam. Self-esteem is not delivering on its promise, people are not getting happier or more confident. The problem is self-esteem is insatiable. Just like thirst in the desert, a little water is never enough.

Self-esteem needs continually “topping up” whereas self-worth is a renewable fuel, a slow burner. Once you learn to tap into your inner reserves of self-worth you will be better equipped to tackle life’s challenges.

To illustrate this point we’ve made this short yet enlightening video.
Please sit back, get comfortable and enjoy…


The 6 Terrains of

To better understand the idea of self-worth, let’s take a look at different contexts. Like the proverbial iceberg, self-worth is 80% below the water line. It lies behind many behaviours. The following section maps out the role self-worth plays in each of these areas.


The information here is based on the book, “The Self-Worth Safari, valuing your life and work” by John Niland. Needless to say the book goes into much more detail. 

First Terrain: The Body

The world today is obsessed with appearance. A vast section of the economy is dedicated to fashion and beauty. To look good is to feel good. We are bombarded by images of beauty in glossy magazines, TV and social media. There is always someone telling you you should look better, even if it’s a nagging voice on the inside. 

Over the past 100 years our ideal of beauty has narrowed down to “a look” that perhaps only 5% of people actually live up to. Even these “beautiful people” are under constant pressure not to let themselves slide. And the rest of us have only two choices: to learn to love and accept ourselves for who we are or face a life-long sense of dissatisfaction.

Signs of low self-worth

For many people with low self-worth, a casual glance in the mirror is enough to spoil a happy day. In a matter of nanoseconds, they frown at the shape or size or color or style or appearance or age of the person looking back at them. Or they will, a few years from now, when the first wrinkles appear.

My bum is too big / too small. My hair looks awful. Those glasses have to go. Why am I so short / tall / fat / thin — insert your own adjective. You by now appreciate that this is all self-esteem talk. But the problem remains. It can still hurt, right? Particularly on days when you are tired, disappointed, or just feeling low. 

Our inner critic is always particularly harsh on ourselves but probably also judges others for how they look. Maybe even giggles and gossips about someone else’s appearance, facial features or crimes against fashion. Such criticisms give momentary relief to a deeper sense of low self-worth, self-esteem can get a boost at the expense of others. But the underlying insecurities will keep eroding self-worth from the inside, unless…

Expressions of healthy self-worth

Anyone who has ever tried will know that accepting oneself is easier said than done. To self-love and self-compassion are wonderful practices but both presuppose a sense of self-worth to begin with. Shifting towards valuing yourself for what you are and being an unconditional friend to yourself no matter what you look like are the first steps towards growing your self-worth.

Inside us all is the inner voice of the judge who tells us if things are good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Unfortunately the same character is always worrying if we are good enough or attractive enough – this is self-assessment. It has the power to make your relationship with yourself conditional and based on how you are doing.

Instead of trying to second guess yourself, focus on noticing how often you have thoughts that are critical of yourself. Either self-critical or praising how good you look today. Each time you catch yourself mark the moment with an action – taking a sip of water for example. You can introduce more expressions of self-worth such as taking a walk, enjoying a natural fruit juice or taking time to cook yourself a healthy meal. Not out of an obligation to be fit but out of simple joy because it feels good. As you do so, why not take up a new mantra like, “because I’m worth it”.

self-worth body terrain self-esteem
owning your own baggage

Second Terrain: Relationships and Family

Our relationship with ourselves significantly affects how we interact with other people. Our self-esteem frequently depends on how we feel we are “doing” at relationships. Is it any wonder we experience Ups and Downs. Intellectually we may tell ourselves it shouldn’t matter but when have emotions ever obeyed the intellect?

Our purpose is simply to start understanding (and perhaps disentangling) self-worth issues from relationship issues. In this way, we can at least learn to love ourselves, a foundation that will hopefully serve us well in our dealings with others.

Signs of low self-worth

“When I’m acting out of low self-worth, I can beat myself up for hours for a silly mistake. Or attack the other person, in order to smoke-screen my dissatisfaction with myself. I react to the other person’s angry words, instead of just seeing the hunger or tiredness or anxiety behind them. I feel slighted, humiliated or resentful about the way I’ve been spoken to. In a hundred different ways, I re-experience my inner suspicion of being “less than” or “not enough.”

A relationship is the meeting point of two worlds. In this dynamic there are spaces that belong to the individual the “My stuff realm” and the common space between the two individuals the “our stuff realm”. Where low self-worth is present the my stuff realm spills over into the our stuff real. Discussions are rarely about the subject at hand. Comments are either expressed badly,  taken badly or both – leading to things spiralling out of control.

Blame is shifted to the other person as those deep feelings of dissatisfaction with oneself are too much to deal with. It is easier to pass the buck. 

Expressions of healthy self-worth

The sad fact is that any a relationship might well look after itself, if only each partner had sufficient self-worth to take care of their “My Stuff realm”. It takes self-worth to own your stuff, to accept and work towards overcoming your baggage and behavioural patterns. It takes self-worth to look within and get curious about your own issues, to understand why you feel the way you do. Any relationship can be transformed by taking responsibility for your own life and giving up blaming the other for your circumstances. 

In this more self-worthy dynamic, the “Our Stuff” discussions will be very different. There will be less confrontational and much greater probability of either party taking responsibility for that “sink full of dirty dishes”. When one partner owns an issue as theirs, a loving companion usually wants to support them as best they can.

If you are reading this and experiencing relationship issues, may I invite you to explore how your own self-worth may be compounding the problem(s), whether magnifying the pain or driving the agenda? For example, does low self-worth trigger irritation, anxiety, or guilt and shame that then has ripple effects on the relationship?

Third Terrain: Career and Work

Most people spend more waking hours at work than in any other activity. For many, the absence of a fulfilling job is their single biggest issue for their self-esteem. Meanwhile, those who do have employment seem to be working harder than ever to prove themselves.

Furthermore, currently, many people find themselves in some sort of transition, whether between careers, countries, or sectors. With longer working lives people will need to reinvent themselves several times in a lifetime. In times of transition the foundations of self-esteem are often shaken. That’s when self-worth is particularly valuable. 

Signs of low self-worth

If you have ever worked for a leader who had low self-worth, you will know from personal experience what a nightmare this can be. In the workplace, the list of problematic behaviours produced by low self-worth is mind-boggling. Here are just a few of them:

  • Inability to delegate, need to control everything, micro managing
  • Ego-boosting behaviours such as belittling others and needing to be right all the time
  • Inability to tolerate disagreement or real discussion
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Unethical behaviour, often driven by compulsions
  • Breach of trust and confidentiality
  • Attracting the wrong people, for example, sycophantic or manipulative persons with their own agendas
  • Not asking for help when it is needed
  • Inability to retain good people, loss of valued team members who find better places to work
Expressions of healthy self-worth

Self-esteem culture is driven by a “desire to impress”. This in turn is fueled by self-evaluation. Most of the time, we are not conscious of this, yet it consumes a lot of our energy. In business relationships and meetings, egocentric behaviour can stifle the effectiveness of the team.

Instead of asking ourselves, “how am I doing?” we can ask, “how can I be useful?”. Shifting our focus at work, in such a way, is an expression of self-worth that is good for business. For example asking lots of curious questions can lead to a better understanding, which will keep us ahead of the curve. It will also help us provide services that are both in demand and appreciated.

From such a standpoint of usefulness, self-worth is free to grow. Uninhibited by the claims of self-esteem, conversations flow where they are needed. By dropping the constant need for self-evaluation or to prove their credentials, professionals develop courage in their business interactions.

self worth means being useful anticipate the market place
show me the money

Fourth Terrain: Money and Status

We live in a society that celebrates success that few people actually get to enjoy. Most people work hard, harder than they would need to get enough to cover their basic needs. We exchange the most valuable asset we have, our time, for money.

Often we put our financial needs above our personal, physical and emotional needs. The Dalai Lama said that, “man […] sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.” The search for money and status is a powerful drive. But what lies behind it?

Signs of low self-worth

The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Are these the rules of the capitalist system? Or do feelings of low-self worth and a celebration of the age of self-esteem lie behind it?

For some the feeling that they did not have enough as a child motives them to strive to be rich and successful. For others it is about living up to the (real or imagined) expectations of their parents. Others still are covering deep feelings of inadequacy, of needing to prove something to themselves and show the world WHO they are. For example, when they try on that expensive suit, with the right logo, the person to whom they are usually broadcasting their status is the person looking back at us in the mirror.

At a deeper level still, probably in the unconscious mind, low self-worth can be driving a person’s motivations. What drives a person to become a workaholic? To treat themselves as a means to an end, sacrificing all in order to achieve their ever greater goals. Is a feeling of being unloved and unappreciated by their parents when they were a child? Is envy at others having more? Or perhaps when comparing themselves to others they fall short, and feel ashamed or frustrated. We will never know for sure, but when is enough, enough?

Expressions of healthy self-worth

In the terrain of money, the invitation is to shift from what we “should” do to what we “could” do. It’s not our lifestyle or educational aspirations that are harmful; it’s our constant need to prove things to ourselves that does the damage. We can embark on our journey through life with more freedom and courage if we feel empowered by a sense of creativity and joy, not pressed by concepts of necessity and expectation.

It is helpful to remember that it is possible to strive for status with self-worth intact. Self-worth is not about abandoning our drive for excellence; it is about not being a slave to excellence. Rather than constantly trying to prove oneself, a solid core of self-worth allows you to value yourself. This means calculating the human cost of any endeavour, perhaps somethings just aren’t worth it.

Many people live their lives following the logic of Have, Do, Be. For example, when I have sufficient money/qualifications/achievement, then I will do the things I want to do, and finally I will be the person I want to be. Self-worth is about consciously inverting this process. Starting by being the person I want to be (valuing myself), I now do the things that fit with my values (self-esteem) and end up (at least sometimes) having the things I want or need.

Fifth Terrain: Friendship

Friends play an important role in how we see ourselves. Judging others, even filtering them out, can be a smoke screen for deeper self-worth issues. How many missed opportunities (and friendships) arise because of the judgments made about others? Judgments are like weeds in the garden of self-worth.

How are you as a friend? When it comes to friendship, it’s very easy to focus on what we want from the other person. If we drink from the self-filling cup of self-worth we can nourish ourselves from within. And thereby be less needy of others and more useful to them.

Signs of low self-worth

Since leaving college in Stockholm, life has been tough for Elsa. She first moved to Paris and then to London, in an attempt to establish her career. She does not feel that her career moves have been particularly successful. To make matters worse, Elsa thinks that her friends have generally done better than she has; their Facebook posts parade a procession of engagements, promotions, and exotic holidays that have somehow eluded her. 

She approaches her thirtieth birthday party with a deep sense of apprehension. She’s not made any close friends in London and she’s also lost touch with her friends back home. She has more than 1,500 friends on Facebook, yet she’s never felt so lonely. Running through all of this is a deep sense of failure and low self-worth.

When socialising, Elsa comes across as aloof and somewhat snobbish, so she’s not made deep friends. People perceive that she is judging them, which she probably is. Elsa feels lonely: she’s lost her boyfriend and she’s far from her hometown and college friends. What is more damaging is that Elsa judges herself harshly for being lonely. Not only does this hurt more than the loneliness; it led Elsa to armour herself with a veneer that became a block to real friendship.

Expressions of healthy self-worth

In the terrain of friendship, I find the following question to be a simple test of my own self-worth: when listening to a friend tell a story, am I listening out of interest or am I listening in order to reply? In other words, is my focus on being interested or trying to be interesting? If the latter, why? What am I trying to prove?”

Often, being interested just takes remembering. As long as I remind myself, I can switch out of “interesting mode” and focus on the other person. It’s a lot easier to be curious about someone else than to be worried about being entertaining, and generally my self-worth is reassured by the switch.

A conscious focus on being interested is rewarding at many levels. The quality of connection with others almost instantly improves. I often wonder if this is due to the simple fact that people are now so accustomed to poor levels of attention, they gravitate toward those people who accord them their full presence. You learn so much more. Listening carefully, you hear what’s not being said. The writer Mark Nepo puts it this way,

“To listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”

self-obsessed low self-worth
clutter workplace low self-worth

Sixth Terrain: Environment and Leisure

The environment in which we live and work is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves and therefore an indicator of our self-worth. What does your home and office space say about you? Does the shabby and disordered state of the space say, “I just don’t care”. Or do you pay attention to details like the light level, the flow of fresh air and keep your desk organized?

The way we choose to spend our free time and how we look after ourselves is also an expression of our self-worth. Endless hours of Netflix may dull down the restlessness. But taking up a new hobby and spending time with a group of people brought together by a common passion could be more fulfilling.

Signs of low self-worth

Most people are somewhere on the spectrum; from extreme apathy to OCD. Some live in perpetual clutter, with old fast food containers piled up in the car, coffee cups invading the office space and a pile of unopened mail in the doorway at home – others have to have everything neatly organised, they must be nothing out of place in their space. 

Have we become numb to the world to the point of not really caring? Is the obsession to have everything neat and tidy the only way we can feel comfortable because if our space is unorganised it says something disastrous about ourselves that we just can’t deal with? Or is there a place in the middle where we’re “not bothered” because “it will do”.

Not only the physical environment which we inhabit but our leisure, how we spend our free time also provides many clues about the state of our self-worth.

Expressions of healthy self-worth

Daily activities from making the bed in the morning, walking some of the way to work and meeting up with friends after work to enjoy a cultural activity or go to a yoga class can be expressions of self-worth.It’s not what you do it’s how you do it. Where there is an obligation and you’re doing it because of the pressure you put yourself under then there is little room for enjoyment of the thing in itself. However, things that simply feel good, which you do out of joy for life, are an expression of healthy self-worth. 

The choices we make in life, where we choose to work, what we choose to do are also reflections of our self-worth. Even regognising that we have a choice, we are entitled to choose what is right for us, not what others push on us, or what is easy and acceptable, is an important step on the path to full self-worth.

Valuing yourself, not highly or poorly, simply being good to yourself because you deserve it is an act of self-worth. Keeping on top of things like a clean car, a clear desk, no unopened mail means that you are more agile to deal with things that come in and more resilient to deal with setbacks as they occur. This is because you no longer feel bogged down by clutter. Also factoring in time each day to do nothing means you have available time to deal with things that come up, and if nothing does you can always do a bit of filing or tidying.





How could your life change

if self-worth became

the roots of your self-esteem?

You can think of self-worth as the roots and self-esteem as the stem and the branches of a plant. Like roots below the ground, self-worth is unseen. What we see is the plant, the branches and leaves, which may be flowering or not, depending on the season of the year. Indeed, self-esteem also goes through its seasons. At times, it is spring and self-esteem grows. Particularly if we feel we are progressing in life; when work is going well or we’ve fallen in love or lost weight. At these times, the self-esteem “plant” thrives.

In the soil, the roots exist throughout the seasons. Even in autumn, when the leaves are falling and the flowers fading, the roots are still alive. Much the same is true of self-worth. So when we are not doing so well at work or we’ve lost a loved one or we’ve fallen off our planned diet, the roots of self-worth are as present as ever. Indeed, it’s precisely when the plant is in its autumn or winter that the roots are most important, protecting the future of the plant. In the same way, self-worth provides a perennial foundation for self-esteem. Tolkien expresses this idea poetically.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

Work with us to access your Innate Self-worth

 You don’t have to explore this area by yourself. In fact, having someone there to accompany you on this safari will amplify your connection to your self-worth.

We have a team of associates and coaches who approach self-worth from different perspectives. We welcome you to get to know them.