Intrinsic Worth Is Our Enough

intrinsic worth Sep 29, 2023

Self-worth isn’t taught.  It is remembered.  It is present in each of us by virtue of our existence.

Collaborating with others to better understand the most personal parts of their lives has been a unique privilege.  So much so, that I consider it to be the honor of my lifetime.  Exploring the joys and struggles of thousands of people has also given me a valuable education.  Experience has crafted a detailed understanding around what it takes to live a healthy, positive, and purposeful life.  We share so much more than any of us realizes, and a great deal can be learned from our collective struggle.  Within our shared experience there are misconceptions that create anxiety and avoidance, but also truths that can empower and transform.  Understanding ideas such as intrinsic worth, forgiveness, fear, psychological separation, and primary awareness offer us what we need to solve our problems and mitigate our pain.  These ideas may be new or familiar, but magic is found whenever we choose to embrace the wisdom awaiting us in these timeless perspectives.  

There are so many important and transformational ideas, but for me, the one that holds the greatest power for positive change is intrinsic worth.  In my earliest days as a therapist, it became evident that whatever the unique problem or motivation for therapy, the underlying issue was consistent; the struggle with self-worth.  Self-worth is generally understood as self-esteem, and most of us equate self-esteem with confidence.  If we feel secure in a particular strength or skill, such as our athleticism, intelligence or social acumen, we use it to confirm our self-esteem.  Another common interpretation is the satisfaction we feel with effort, sacrifice or accomplishment.  No doubt, how we define ourselves is positively impacted by both confidence and good work.  But what continues to plague the human species is the rampant oblivion to our intrinsic worth.  Self-esteem, at its best, just scratches the surface.

Intrinsic worth is innate.  It is present in each of us by virtue of our human existence.  Intrinsic worth is not dependent on who we are or what we do.  The idea deserves repeating… our worth is not dependent on who we are or what we do.   An analogy I often use is to recall the arrival of a newborn.  Anyone in the room can immediately sense the baby’s preciousness.  Other than just showing up, the infant did nothing to earn its worth.  I remind my clients that this inherent value does not dissipate as the child grows up.  The baby, in its inevitable changing physicality, does not lose worth as its bones and tissues expand.  Nevertheless, the predicted BUT makes its way into the conversation.  Yes, they agree, that makes sense.  I can read the trajectory of thoughts as they consider this point.  But I have made a lot of mistakes in my life.  I’m not sure if I can make up for some of the things I’ve done.  What about all of the negative, judgmental thoughts I have, the ways I’ve hurt others and fallen short time and again?  And just like that, the glory of the baby is swept away with the grime of a life not perfectly lived.

For many years, most of my career honestly, I believed that self-worth was taught, and the  primary responsibility was in the hands of the parents.  If a child received consistent or even occasional messages that they didn’t matter or weren’t good enough, then they were at risk for developing a wounded or incomplete sense of self.  But even as I worked with clients to identify and address faulty messages from childhood or young adult years, it didn’t usually translate into a new way of thinking.  Even for those who really wanted to feel differently, they continued to struggle… the old hard narrative refusing to crack.  

Then, one day (a month into the pandemic), I had an epiphany while meditating.  I realized in that moment that self-value is not taught.  Instead, it is remembered.  That moment in time was life changing for many reasons, but not the least of which was recognizing the limitations of my previous work with clients.  It wasn’t about breaking down and challenging every negative message, it was that the messages themselves didn’t matter.  They were just the veil that hid the truth.  

For many of us, there is deep resistance to the idea of intrinsic worth.  In the journey of trying to embrace this concept, it can be helpful to explore why it is so foundational to the lives we lead.  Most of us would agree that it is hard to put the necessary effort and care into something we don’t value.  Taking care of anything takes patience, time, energy, focus, sacrifice and consistency.  All of these things and more are required to take care of ourselves.  And I don’t just mean getting to the gym or keeping our jobs.  It is the experience of making thoughtful, consistent decisions around who we are and how we show up in the world.  It is the process of letting go of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, instead choosing to make decisions that authentically support who we are and what we are here to do.  It is neither internalizing nor projecting the inevitable unfairness and cruelness of the world.  It is expecting much for ourselves and little (or nothing really) from others.  Finally, it is recognizing how forgiveness is more powerful than any other state of mind and is the ultimate path to everything good.  

One of the greatest outcomes of embracing intrinsic worth is the ability to let go of our desire for validation.  Pursuing proof of value from external sources is a precarious journey.  If it is a person we are looking to find value from, they will inevitably let us down.  If it is achievement or a material good that we seek, the satisfaction or joy will be fleeting and quickly we will be in search of the next source of happiness, status or endorsement.  Intrinsic worth teaches us that everything we need; we already have, and it is only up to us to recognize it.  

Another foundational shift is the ability to appreciate the value in others despite their bad behavior or contrasting belief systems.  We mirror back to others how we see ourselves at the deepest level.  If we learn to be flexible with our shortcomings, forgive our errors and mistakes, then we will offer this grace to others as well.  Conversely, the more critical we are of ourselves, the more judgmental we are of others, which does service to no one.  The practice of forgiveness holds infinite power in transforming our state of mind and daily experience.  So much of the challenge in forgiving the hurts of others stems from our inability or refusal to forgive ourselves.

Finally, it must be said that we all have purpose here.  A big part of that purpose is to find healing.  We did not create the pain and chaos of the world, but we are responsible to nurture healing for ourselves and others.  This starts with learning to transcend the errors in and around us rather than getting pulled into the mess.  When we embrace our intrinsic worth, we open up access to the deeper, knowing part of ourselves - the part that only observes the thoughts and feelings generated by the brain and is far beyond the personality housed in our DNA.  

My loving suggestion is to explore your intrinsic worth.  Do you see it?  Can you acknowledge it?  I invite you to spend a few minutes writing what you notice.  If you are struggling or feel particularly skeptical, investigate the beliefs or feelings that keep you from embracing this real, universal, and transformational truth.

You are light.  You are love.