Self-worth is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “a feeling that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect.”
If you are someone who experienced childhood trauma or were often put down as a child or teen, you may have a pretty strong belief that you are not good enough, and don't deserve the respect of others.
Self-worth is tied in deeply with self-respect and self-esteem. If you do not respect yourself, it is hard to expect that others will respect you. If you do not feel good enough, you are not likely to be very confident in your abilities. However, I chose to focus on self-worth specifically because I find that this is a sticking point for many women.
In Western culture, women are conditioned to believe that they need to perform certain tasks in order to be seen as a competent woman, coworker, wife, and mother. Women's worth is so tied up in productivity. In order to be deserving of attention and respect (if she's lucky) a woman must spend time, money, and effort to look sexually appealing, always be "nice" or polite, perform tasks such as planning events and purchasing gifts, be able to shop, cook, and clean consistently, she must want to raise children, and be the default caregiver when children are around, often including kids that aren't even hers. If women do not meet these demands, they are regarded negatively by society.
However, worth and productivity are not the same thing. Personally, I found that I was having trouble with this distinction when I was ill and had to take a leave of disability from work, and eventually had to quit my job for health reasons. I felt as thought because I was not of value to a company or providing financial value to my household, that I was not worthy. I equated my income with who I was as a person, despite the fact that I was still valuable to my loved ones in less tangible ways.
I later came to realize that the expectations society demands of women are ridiculous, and actually ask us to put aside our own self-worth in the name of productivity. Here are 4 areas that women are held to a higher standard of worthiness:
When we are pressured to exercise excessively, eat restrictive diets, wear makeup, and modify our bodies, we are subtly being told that we aren't good enough as we are.
When we are expected to perform tasks that men are not expected to do at work, such as answering phones, arranging meetings, planning office parties, and picking up coffee and donuts, we are told that we need to do more than men for the same (or often less) level of respect (and pay...)
When we are expected to do certain homemaking tasks - all the while juggling our fitness, fashion, beauty, and dietary routines, extra roles at work, and demands of children - and we can't keep up, we are viewed as lazy or disorganized, when really, we just have far too many things to do.
The expectation that women are meant to have children does us damage whether we choose to have them or not. If we find that we struggle with motherhood because there are just too many items on our to-do list, we believe that we are not good mothers. When we choose not to have kids, society views us as morally deficient and unworthy of acceptance.
Women are constantly told to play by the rules or be shunned. It's no wonder that we struggle with a sense of self-worth when the world literally withholds acceptance and respect from us. Which is why it is so important to cultivate that sense of self-worth within ourselves.
When we respect ourselves and feel confidence in the fact that we are inherently good people, we can feel free to act in whatever ways feel best for us. We can go to the store without makeup or a bra and not care what others think. We can start our own businesses because we are tired of having the men walk past the ringing telephone. We can choose to have a nap and tackle the dirty dishes tomorrow because we are exhausted. We can go away for a guilt-free weekend and leave the kids at home with a partner or other family members.
When we finally realize that the acceptance and respect of others is always going to be conditional, we can instead offer ourselves the same, unconditionally. We are not bad people for defending ourselves against abuse, saying "no" to things that aren't in our best interest, taking time for ourselves to rest, and making our own decisions.
Yoga can help us to develop this sense of self-worth, simply by showing up to practice yoga. Every time we show up on the mat to practice meditation or asana, we are reaffirming that we are worthy of taking this vital time for ourselves. We are taking back our sense of self-worth and untying it from the opinions of others and the myth that we must be productive to be valuable. It could even be argued that in taking time for ourselves, we can actually be more productive!
Any time you feel that you are letting someone down by not automatically acquiescing to their requests, repeat this mantra to yourself and make the choice that is best for you.
"I am worthy of my own respect, and I know myself best."