Working with others on self-worth

(written by John Niland)

Working with others on self-worth

The topic of self-worth resonates with many people in today’s world. It’s obviously relevant to freelancers growing their own business, with all the challenges this brings to how they value themselves. It’s equally relevant to those leaders who desire to deeply engage a team towards a common purpose – as opposed to each person chasing their own brand of self-validation.

So it’s hardly surprising that at SWA, we are constantly being approached by professionals who desire to support others to gain a greater measure of self-worth. It’s interesting to note that this desire does not just come from coaches or therapists, but also from experienced project-managers or operational leaders who see that empowering others is a key part of their role.

Some (though not all) want to work with young professionals, or students. As anyone who is close to young people already knows, we are seeing a veritable “self-esteem crisis” with many students and youth seeking to transition from education to employment.

So, if you are one of the professionals who want to support self-worth with others, what do you need to know?


Let’s begin with a few things to avoid. Perhaps the most common issue is entirely missing the significance of self-worth altogether. So you may have a team member (or son or daughter) who is super-conscientious, driven by values of excellence, and “performing” really well. To all appearances, they are outwardly confident, articulate and well-organised. So you may perhaps encourage them to take on bigger and greater challenges, sure in your own conviction that this is exactly what they need in order to grow and develop.

Early in the book “The Self-Worth Safari”, I write about such a talented young professional, a lady whom I call Sam. Everyone believes that Sam is super-successful and has it all together. But it’s all a carefully-managed perception by Sam, and everyone will be surprised the day they hear that Sam resigns or signs off work with burnout.

What’s the problem? As explained in the book, Sam’s excellence and self-esteem is fuelled by a constant need for validation. It’s contingent, not rooted in unconditional self-worth. Whatever outward appearances may suggest, Sam is living a life based on deep anxiety. It’s often the high-performers who suffer the most. I encounter many examples of this every week, in my coaching work.

A second (quite different) pitfall lies in the “labeling”. It’s generally pointless to tell someone they need help (even to read The Self-Worth Safari!) Either they will hide behind the label or resist the advice. In both cases, they avoid dealing with the fundamental problem.

Not everybody is able to see their own self-worth issues. It took me decades to do so. Often however, people can own up to specific issues: such as the need for more confidence when networking, or challenges in choosing career-direction. It’s vital to start with people where they are, rather than with root causes, or even our own labels.

There are other pitfalls, too. It’s very easy to end up working with people on self-esteem rather than self-worth, further exacerbating the contingency in their relationship with themselves. Much performance coaching does exactly this. Sometimes, depression sets in or your help is even refused. Or, being filled with their own sense of purpose, a coach earnestly exhorts their coachee to find their life-purpose, when in that precise moment that person may be struggling with the energy to make it through to lunchtime.

Liberating people from the struggle

When we train self-worth coaches, we don’t educate them to get their clients replacing “negative” self-assessments with “positive” ones. This only perpetuates the cycle of struggle. Instead, we heighten awareness of all self-assessments as just mental projections rather than objective facts.

When someone is a prisoner of negative self-assessments, it’s as if they are stuck inside a dingy movie-theatre, watching outdated horror-movies (often on their own) in the middle of a sunny afternoon. The solution is not to change the movie, or even to move seats in the theatre. It’s to step outside into the sunshine and stop mistaking artificial horror-movies for reality.

Yes, they may blink or stumble as they step from that dark movie-theatre into the light. But even as they do so, a wise friend (or parent, or coach) can be there for them, guiding them to take daily actions not as a condition of self-esteem (to be somehow yet established), but as an expression of intrinsic self-worth (already whole and complete, even when waiting to be discovered).

When a person tastes the first flavours of this joy and freedom – even briefly – they usually want more. Social occasions get easier: they are free to be interested, rather than striving to be interesting. Meetings get easier at work, when a person doesn’t feel they have to prove themselves all the time. Exams and interviews get easier when we ditch the anxiety of failure, and just focus on today’s topic to be prepared or discussed.

Oscar Wilde once said, “To love yourself is the beginning of a life-time romance”. I would only add that to enlighten others to do so is the beginning of a whole new adventure in meaningfulness.

Do you want to learn more?

If you would like to know more about our next Self-Worth Training, email

May we ask you for a favour? Our vision at Self Worth Academy is to bring fresh awareness of unconditional self-worth to the world: to leaders, entrepreneurs and young people. For that we need your help. For example…

– Buying a copy of The Self-Worth Safari and writing a review on Amazon
– Making a short video of how changing from self-esteem to self-worth helps you to do something specific
– Suggesting podcasts or events at which self-worth would be relevant

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