Self-worth is an essential concept for people to grasp – especially those of the household of faith. Christian, self-worth does not mean selfish. It means honoring God by valuing the pinnacle of His creation (us), so we can love Him and love others more effectively.
Essentially, there are two types of value - instrumental, i.e., what you do with your gifts, talents, and abilities, and inherent, which is based not on what you do but on the fact that you exist (Thomas, 2022).
In psychology, self-worth theory asserts that building self-worth is instrumental, i.e., ability, effort, and performance (Ackerman, 2021). Our culture echoes this sentiment by emphasizing success as measured by material gain, physical appearance and skill, and popularity. The lure of this school of thought is that we have a measure of control in the outcome, i.e., it is wholly dependent on our ability, effort, and performance – which is also its downfall. What happens to our self-worth when we fail? It plummets.
Philosophers tend to believe self-worth is inherent. Aristotle asserted that we are valuable because we have the “capacity for reason” (Thomson, 2022). Immanuel Kant argued that humans were priceless due to the nebulous quality of dignity. “Whatever has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; on the other hand, whatever is above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity” (Kant as quoted by David, 2019).
Now, we’re getting closer...but what does our Creator say about our self-worth? After all, we are His handiwork (Eph. 2:10). He is the potter, and we are the clay and product of His labor (Isa. 64:8), so He determines our worth and value. It is not dependent upon what we do, our performance, outward beauty, or worldly success. We are powerless to increase or decrease our worth in God’s eyes.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that we were created in the image of Almighty God (Gen. 1:27). What He made in His image has intrinsic worth and value. We would do well to live like it. We must not lose sight of the fact that He has chosen us. He did so before the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4). So, we can safely say the choice was not dependent upon anything we did to earn it. He further demonstrates this because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
If we do not have self-worth, it makes praising God for His incredible and wondrous deeds, i.e., knitting us together in our mother’s womb, knowing our hearts, and numbering our days (Ps. 139:13-16) an impossibility. If we don’t value ourselves, it is difficult to value others.
While I do not share the religious or philosophical views of Andrew Shorten, he does a skilled job of identifying the characteristics of a person with low self-worth: “changing yourself for others, seeking approval from others, not communicating your needs, allowing others to take advantage of you, no self-love, no healthy boundaries, no self-belief, being afraid and not being yourself.”
The need for the type of external validation that Shorten describes results in people with low self-worth being more likely to have toxic relationships, depression, anxiety, self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors, addictions, and exhibit people-pleasing behaviors (Tanasugarn, 2020).
These attitudes and behaviors end in bitterness and resentment toward the people from whom we are seeking our value, which damages relationships and tarnishes our witness. So, you can see the importance of seeking your worth from the One who can provide it – our Heavenly Father.
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
Ackerman, C. E. (2021, August 12). What is self-worth and how do we increase it? Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychology.com/self-worth/
Davis, M. (2019, August 3). 5 Ways of valuing a human being. Big Think. https://bigthink.com/the-present/value-of-human-being/
New English Translation (NET). (1996/2017). NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press. https://biblegateway.com
Shorten, A. (n.d.). Self-worth: How to be yourself by valuing yourself. The Law of Attraction. https://www.thelawofattraction.com/self-worth/
Tanasugarn, A. (2020, June 22). The power of self-worth: recognizing your value. PsychCentral https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-power-of-self-worth-recognizing-your-value?c=1512693845718#1
Thomson, J. (2022, February 14). Why do we value human life? Big Think. https://bigthink.com/thinking/value-human-life/