We've all felt the sting of being let down, frustrated, unfulfilled, or not quite good enough in our lives and relationships. I have been guilty of having unrealistic expectations of others, wanting them to shower me with compliments, approval, and validation, sometimes even trying to control situations or outcomes in an attempt to get what I thought would make me feel good. It was a painful, exhausting way to live.
Studies show that basing our self-worth on external factors is actually harmful to our mental health. One study at the University of Michigan found that college students who base their self-worth on external sources (including academic performance, appearance, and approval from others) reported more stress, anger, academic problems, and relationship conflicts. They also had higher levels of alcohol and drug use, as well as more symptoms of eating disorders. The same study found that students who based their self-worth on internal sources not only felt better, but also received higher grades and were less likely to use drugs and alcohol or to develop eating disorders.
Through the consistent practices of self-compassion and meditation, I've discovered a few perspective shifts that have transformed my sense of self-worth. I've found that when I base my self-worth on who I am and my inherent value as a human being rather than what others think or how much I achieve, my confidence soars and my inner critic quiets.
1. Develop self-sufficiency.
For the majority of my life, I got my self-worth from the outside world—someone else's approval or validation dictated how I felt about myself. What a setup that is! I've learned that when we place our worth outside of ourselves (career, money, material possessions, relationship, appearance), we can never have enough or be enough.
Being independent from someone else's thoughts of me (both positive and negative), and instead trusting in God/Spirit/Universe for my value, I have become more self-sufficient and as a result, experience more peace, freedom, and material success.
Sure, compliments are very nice to hear, but my mood and mental and physical health and worth are no longer dependent on another's approval of me. As long as we are basing our worth on another's opinion of us or how people choose to treat us, we will never be able to live up to our full potential and experience true joy.
2. Let people off the hook.
Instead of looking to others for validation to make us feel worthy or enough, how about reframing to the notion that nobody owes us anything?
When we are truly anchored in our own self-love and get our self-worth from the unique qualities that make us one-of-a-kind, we become self-sufficient. We don't need to go to our partners, friends, work, food, alcohol, or social media for a quick ego boost. We can turn inward and look to a higher power for our value, knowing we are enough simply because we are alive.
3. Accept that people can't give you what they don't have.
I've looked to significant others, bosses, parents, or friends to tell me something to make me feel better or treat me a certain way so I could feel valued, respected, and loved. But if a client simply doesn't have any more money in their budget to pay me, they can't give it to me, and perhaps the solution is to find an opportunity where the compensation matches the value, skills, and experience I bring to the table. Maybe our partner isn't respecting us because he or she lacks self-respect. If a customer service representative is frustrating us because they can't help us with our request, maybe that person hasn't been properly trained and is simply doing the best they can.
I've learned that the people who have cheated us, hurt us, or done us wrong cannot necessarily make amends—either they are unwilling or unable. Waiting for and expecting others to apologize, make it up to us, or even admit they were wrong implies a belief that their actions can make us feel whole again. But when we are dependent on others to make us happy or behave a certain way, we will always be disappointed on some level.
The good news is if we put our faith in our own understanding, we will never be let down. The universe is self-organizing and self-correcting.
4. It's not about keeping everyone happy; it's about fulfilling your life's purpose.
As long as we are doing our best, honoring ourselves and our purpose, we will feel less and less inclined to seek the approval of others. Instead of feeling offended when people fail to acknowledge us, what if we could see it as an opportunity to expand and grow? What if we embraced the fact that we are being prepared to take our lives to the next level and start fulfilling our mission?
The less I depend on people to validate me, the stronger my emotional muscles become, and in turn, the stronger my sense of self-worth. I have accomplished more both personally and professionally in less time and need fewer compliments to keep me going simply because of my faith in myself and in the Universe. Focusing on the special characteristics that make me ME is much easier and more rewarding than waiting for someone to say or do something that will make me feel good for only a matter of minutes before I need my next "fix."
Our lives truly become more full when we turn our attention inward to the miracle that we are, release expectations, and stay detached from outcomes and other people's opinions. Try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes!
Kate Eckman is the author of The Full Spirit Workout: A Ten-Step System to Shed Your Self-Doubt, Strengthen Your Spiritual Core, and Create a Fun and Fulfilling Life. She is a broadcast journalist and TV personality who brings her expertise in communications, performance, and mindfulness to her practice as a success coach for business leaders and professional athletes. She earned a B.A. in communications from Penn State University, where she was an Academic All-American swimmer, and received her master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She graduated at the highest level from Columbia University’s executive and organizational coaching program and is a certified ICF coach (ACC) and a licensed NBI consultant. Passionate about mindfulness practices for both brain and body health, she is also a meditation teacher and course creator for Insight Timer, the world’s number one–ranked free meditation app.