The Secret of Self Value: Valuing Others

Self-value tells you far more about how you’re doing in the world than self-esteem.

Self-esteem is often confused with ego and self-concept -- how you regard yourself. Self-value is more behavioral, more about how you treat yourself than how you think about yourself.

To value something is more than regarding it as important. To value it is to appreciate its finer qualities and to invest time, energy, effort, and sacrifice in its maintenance. For example, if you have a da Vinci painting, you focus on its beauty and design (more than the cracks in the paint), and, above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity. Similarly, people with self-value appreciate their better qualities (while trying to improve their lesser ones) and take care of their physical and psychological health, growth, and development.

Now here's the tricky part. People with high self-value necessarily value others. The more they value others, the greater their self-value grows.

Although hard to see in yourself, you can probably notice the following tendency in other people. When they value someone else, they value themselves more, i.e., they elevate their sense of well being, appreciate their better qualities, and improve their health, growth, and development. But when they devalue someone else, they devalue themselves - their sense of well being deteriorates, they violate their basic humanity to some degree, and become narrower and more rigid in perspective, all of which impair growth and development.

In other words, as you value someone else, you experience a state of value – a sense of vitality, meaning, and purpose (literally, your will to live increases) – and when you devalue someone else you experience a devalued state, wherein the will to live well becomes less important than the will to dominate or at least be seen as right.

It's often hard to notice that you are in a devalued state, because devaluing others requires a certain amount of adrenalin, which creates a temporary feeling of power and certainty - you feel right (although you’re more likely self-righteousness), but it lasts only as long as the arousal lasts. To stay "right," you have to stay aroused, negative, and narrow in perspective: "Every time I think of him I get pissed!"

In contrast, when self-value is high, you more easily see other people’s perspectives and can disagree with them without feeling devalued and without devaluing.

The impulse to devalue others always signals a diminished sense of self, as you must be in a devalued state to devalue. That's why it's so hard to put someone down when you feel really good (your value investment is high) and equally hard to build yourself up when you feel resentful.

If you doubt the latter, think of what you say to yourself and others when resentful, things like: "I shouldn't have to put up with this; I deserve better, just look at all the good things I do...." When you value others, i.e., when your self-value is high, you do not think of what you have to put up with and you certainly don't feel the need to list the good things you do. Rather, when confronted with life or relationship challenges, you shift automatically into improve mode - you try to make bad situations better.

The great swindle of devaluing others is that it never puts you in touch with the most important things about you and, therefore, never raises self-value. On the contrary, its whole purpose is to make someone else's value seem lower than your own. If it works, you're both down; if it doesn't, you end up lower than where you started, once the adrenalin wears off and you see things in more than one dimension. In either case, your personal value remains low and dependent on downward comparison to those you devalue.

This dependence on downward comparison creates a chronic state of powerlessness – you can only feel okay if you feel more valuable (i.e., more right or intelligent) than those you devalue. The need to gain temporary empowerment by devaluing others occurs more frequently, until, eventually, it takes over your life. This could be what Oscar Wilde meant by, "Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography."

Valuing others makes self-value soar. It also carries substantial social reward; showing value tends to invoke reciprocity and cooperation.

Devaluing others inspires reciprocity and resistance. Worst of all, it makes us look for something to be cranky about, so the low-grade adrenalin can inflate our egos enough to get us through the day.

If you want to increase self-value, the surest route is to increase the amount of value you invest in others, while decreasing the amount of criticism and other forms of devaluing you do.


Building core value