Does your self-worth fluctuate based on the balance of your bank account? Do you feel more worthy when you’re dressed head to toe in name brand clothes? Do you feel uncomfortable or “less-than” when you’re around people who have more or make more money than you?
If you feel like your self-worth is contingent on your financial standing, know that you’re not alone. But also recognize that there are ways to overcome this.
With some time, self-reflection, and the willingness to make a change, you can separate your self-worth from your net worth. You can start to focus on being the person you want to be instead of buying all of the things.
What Is Self-Worth?
Self-worth is a measure of how worthy you feel. Worthiness is the feeling of being good enough.
People with high self-worth have a positive opinion of themselves. They believe they are good and deserving of love and respect, regardless of external factors like their salary or accomplishments . They allow themselves the opportunity to make mistakes and know that they aren’t defined by their failures.
If a person with high self-worth does something bad or out of character, they can admit they made an error. They can admit they did something bad without labelling themself as a bad person.
Those with low self-worth believe they are lacking. They often attach their feelings of worthiness to external factors like money, appearance, or academic performance. They struggle to see themselves as inherently worthy and may not believe they are deserving of love and respect.
People with low self-worth are often very concerned about what other people think of them, making them more susceptible to criticism or feedback from others.
Those with low self-worth also ruminate on any mistakes or failures they make instead of using them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
What Is Net Worth?
Your net worth is a value determined by subtracting your liabilities (debts) from your financial assets. You have a high net worth if your assets far exceed your liabilities. You have a low net worth if you have more debt than assets.
Net worth is a simple figure to calculate with no room or consideration for how kind, generous, compassionate, or good you may be. It’s a number, not a judgement.
Pro tip: If you’re interested in keeping track of your net worth, sign up for a free account with Personal Capital. Once you connect your financial accounts, they will automatically calculate your net worth. They also have a very useful budgeting program. Check out our review of Personal Capital.
How Is Self-Worth Developed?
Self-worth starts to develop in childhood and is a product of your family’s values, your life experiences, and the culture and society you grow up in.
An individual who comes from a loving and encouraging family, who’s been taught self-love and self-compassion, is likely to have a different sense of self-worth than a child who suffered from mental and physical abuse and was constantly told that they were not enough.
A child who was incessantly criticized or shamed by a teacher due to their inability to perform at school is more likely to question their abilities and self-worth than a student who is high achieving and constantly praised.
Like any internal state of being, self-worth is a multidimensional construct that can’t be pinned down to one cause. It’s complex and influenced by a variety of factors.
Why Do We Attach Our Self-Worth to Our Net Worth?
The process through which self-worth is formed is different for everyone. Some attach their self-worth to external factors like physical appearance, productivity, or financial success. Others focus on internal measures such as self-love, acceptance, and virtue.
Researchers have found that people who are highly reliant on external sources of self-worth are greatly influenced by the opinion and approval of others and tend to be more materialistic.
These individuals accumulate money and possessions in order to obtain social validation. The fancier their possessions, the more social approval they receive and the more worthy they feel.
There are examples of this everywhere. Just look at Instagram. Everyone’s trying to keep up with the impossibly perfect, completely contrived Instagram persona, all in the pursuit of “likes” and social approval. They want to be noticed and loved by their peers and complete strangers.
However, new research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests the opposite that actually occurs. People who attach their self-worth to external forces such as their finances have worse relationships and greater feelings of loneliness and social disconnection.
This is because those who are constantly chasing more financial success spend all of their time working and making money instead of fostering and maintaining their relationships with themselves and others. They strive for financial success with the goal of social connection, yet their social connections are what suffer the most.
How to Separate Your Self-Worth From Your Net Worth
So, if self-worth is often based on external factors like beauty and wealth, how does one go about separating one’s feelings of worthiness from the trappings of affluence and success?
Luckily, with some self-reflection and the use of the following strategies, it’s possible to create a version of self-worth that is based more on intrinsic values.
1. Assess Your Values
Who are you and what do you value?
Self-worth is largely based on how you evaluate your performance in the areas you deem as valuable. If making money is what you value, then you‘ll feel a great deal of pressure to succeed financially. The amount of money you have or don’t have becomes a measure of your value as a person.
If you decide you value self-love and self-compassion, then you’ll be motivated to treat yourself well. You will treat yourself kindly when you make a mistake or encounter a failure. You will show yourself grace and compassion when you receive negative feedback or criticism.
Actively taking inventory of what really matters in your life can help to refocus your metrics for self-evaluation and self-worth. This can be as simple as grabbing a piece of paper and writing down the type of person you wish to be — kind, moral, self-loving, self-accepting — instead of all of the things you want to have.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
While comparison is a normal part of being human, too much of it can be detrimental to your mental well-being and feelings of self-worth, according to a study published in the journal Nursing.
But how do you stop comparing yourself when there’s a 24/7 barrage of social media content to compare yourself to?
Start by putting your phone down.
Take a break from social media. Go for a walk without your phone. Better yet, take a walk with a friend and work on strengthening your real-life social connections. It’s so simple, yet so effective.
When you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and you start to feel down on yourself, remember: It’s not real. The pictures you see are filtered, Facetuned, and altered. These images tell a minuscule and often artificial piece of someone’s story.
When you start to get anxious or question your feelings of self-worth, that’s your cue to take a break and go do something that gives you energy, whether it’s walking, talking to a friend, journaling, or meditating.
Start to pay attention to the way you feel when you’re online or on social media and take a pause when it’s no longer useful, entertaining, or fun.
3. Change Your Environment
If you feel like you’re constantly struggling to keep up with the people around you and it’s making you self-conscious and miserable, then perhaps it’s time for a change.
You might change your job, change your friends, or change your physical environment.
Take a trip and see the world from a new perspective. Eat new food; meet new people with different ideas and new points of view. See how other people live and how other people define success and happiness.
This is not meant to be an exercise in comparison but instead one in broadening perspectives.
If circumstances don’t allow you to physically travel to a new environment, there are other ways to expand your horizons. Read books from faraway lands, find a virtual pen pal from another country, or just start hanging out in new places with new people.
4. Change Your Focus
It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and hustle. A break in your normal routine can help you to shift your thinking and give you the mental space needed to make new decisions. Take a few days off work to break your normal routine. Give yourself time to think about what you want in your future and who you want to be.
Alternatively, shift your attention away from yourself to someone else.
If you value helping others and giving back to your community, then start volunteering or mentoring. These activities have been shown to have significant health benefits, including improved feelings of self-worth.
5. Change Your Narrative
If you’re continually telling yourself your worthiness is dependent on money or possessions, you will start to believe it.
The stories you tell yourself matter. These stories construct who you are and how you live your life.
Change your story and you change your life.
If you feel your self-worth is connected to your net worth, stop telling yourself, “I am worth more when I have more money.”
Start telling yourself a new story, like “I am a good person, regardless of the things I have or don’t have.”
Right now, think about the story you’re telling yourself. Do you want this narrative to continue or are you ready to start a new chapter? The choice is yours.
6. Surround Yourself With Good People
There’s an often-cited phrase by motivational speaker Jim Rohn that says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
In other words, that the company you keep matters.
When was the last time you took inventory of the people you hang around with? Do these people bring you up? Are they positive or negative? Are they overly focused on money and material wealth or do they value relationships, experiences, and self-love?
How do you feel when you’re around these people? Do they energize you or leave you feeling exhausted, defeated, and less than?
If you don’t like the answers to these questions, it might be time to seek out new relationships — ones that are full of love, joy, and understanding.
The great news is there are over 7 billion people on the planet. You’re not stuck with the friend group you currently have or the people you’re near every day by default. So, get out there and meet some new people you’re genuinely happy to be around.
7. Become Financially Literate
Knowledge is power. The more you learn about money, the more in control you will feel over your financial situation. And when you’re in control of your money, it can no longer control you.
While the size of your bank account is no way to measure your self-worth, achieving some level of financial literacy can help you to find confidence in your financial situation. It can help you to get out of debt or start saving for the future that you want.
You can start small. Check out some of the informative — and free — financial literacy resources online. Or listen to a financial podcast while out on your morning run. You can even go to the library and borrow a book on personal finance to read each month.
With an investment of time and effort, you are capable of taking control of your finances so that thoughts about money lose their control over you.
8. Step Off of the Hedonic Treadmill
There’s a term used in social psychology to define the constant striving for more. It’s called the hedonic treadmill.
The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the tendency for a person to return to their baseline state of happiness despite major positive or negative events occurring in their life. If you’ve heard of the term “regression to the mean” in terms of personal happiness, it’s basically the same idea.
Although you might experience periods of increased happiness due to a job promotion or a big pay raise, this boost in joy will only last for so long. Then, it’s back to normal, and you soon begin striving to reach the next rung on the ladder.
In terms of self-worth, this tendency demonstrates that it doesn’t matter how much financial success you obtain or how many possessions you can buy. The feeling of satisfaction and happiness from these things is fleeting. After a short period of time, you’ll be back to a feeling of wanting. It never ends — it’s like running on a treadmill.
If you want to step off the hedonic treadmill and focus on what brings you long-lasting happiness, there are steps you can take, like choosing long-term goals you want to achieve instead of focusing on “winning” in the short-term.
9. Practice Self-Compassion
Start to treat yourself the way you treat your best friend. Self-compassion is a combination of self-kindness, patience, and a lack of negative self-judgement. It’s the ability to give yourself a pass if you make a mistake.
Self-compassion is linked to greater feelings of happiness and optimism and is associated with lower levels of shame and self-consciousness or social comparison. It also acts as a buffer against the effects of criticism and negative feedback.
So, the next time you make a mistake, avoid the critical self-talk and practice kindness toward yourself. Tell yourself, “I’m only human. Everyone makes mistakes.” Think about what you would say to a friend you love who made the same mistake, and then say it to yourself.
10. Seek Help
You don’t have to go through this journey alone. There are professionals out there who can help you work through your feelings of self-worth and provide useful exercises and tools.
When people tie their self-worth to their net worth, it can bring on a number of problems, including high levels of stress and mental health issues. The stress is often caused by the constant hustle required to achieve financial success. Stress can also be due to a large amount of consumer debt that comes with buying all of the fancy things required to make it look as though you’ve achieved financial success, even if you haven’t.
A good therapist can help you to manage stress or depression you may be experiencing and can work with you to navigate your feelings of worthiness.
The pursuit of a high net worth is not inherently bad. What can be dangerous is the motivation behind why you want to achieve it. If you’re seeking a large net worth because it’s how you define your self-worth, this can be a problem. But know that it’s a problem faced by many — you are not alone.
Society says that material success is important. Social media suggests it’s possible to look perfect — if you can afford it. It’s no wonder people feel the pressure to consume more and more as their financial means increase.
But, if you’re ready to look inward and define your self-worth based on intrinsic measures that you deem as valuable, it’s possible to make the change.
Remember: You’re the one who sets the standards for your self-worth. You have the power to define what is important to you and make a change.