There are many ways we can (and do) undervalue ourselves. Some of them may seem quite harmless, but little by little, every time you do it, you chip away at your sense of self-worth, value, self-esteem and confidence.
I see and hear people do it every day, in ways they’re not even aware of, and I still catch myself doing it sometimes, even though I know better!
This article looks at some of the ways we undervalue ourselves and, most importantly, how to stop.
In an article on the mindshift.money blog, author Dr. Tony Pennells says “when you undervalue your own merit as a person, you tell yourself - and the world - that you’re unworthy or less than everyone else. And that can wreak havoc not just on your money but on all areas of your life.”
It’s not just about how undervaluing affects you financially, it really has an impact on all areas of your life.
There’s no doubt that when you undervalue yourself, others will too. There is a saying that “we teach people how to treat us,” and it’s very true. We teach people by what we allow and tolerate, as well as how we talk to and about ourselves.
Have you ever heard someone say “I’m useless at that”? Or perhaps when somebody gives them a compliment they might say “oh, it was nothing.” Words like these can slip out of our mouths so easily, and often that’s nothing compared to the kinds of undervaluing thoughts we have that we don’t give voice to.
It’s not just about how others see you, it’s about how you see yourself, how you treat yourself and what you allow into your life.
Undervaluing yourself can cost you in many ways and often you may not even know you’re doing it. For example:
You may find that people don’t respect you or your time. You find it difficult to set boundaries and so other people take advantage of you or are rude to you. As a result, your confidence and self-esteem are low. The worse and more insecure you feel, the more difficult you find it to enjoy relationships with others - either romantically or socially.
When you value yourself you do set boundaries, you won’t allow someone to be rude to you or take advantage of you. You are confident in your ability to let people know you won’t tolerate being treated poorly.
If you want to have a meaningful and fulfilling career and enjoy the highest levels of success, you must learn to value yourself. When you don’t, you may find yourself being overlooked for promotions, or struggling to promote yourself in your company or in your business.
This can cost you financially as you are not paid what you’re really worth.
Undervaluing yourself can take its toll physically. When you value yourself you tend to take better care of yourself. Valuing yourself means you want to take care of your body, you want to eat well, to exercise and to feel good.
When you don’t value yourself your self-esteem is low. Low self-esteem makes you vulnerable to depression. Those who are successful and fulfilled and who truly enjoy life have a healthy mental outlook. When you don’t value yourself, and others don’t value you, it’s hard to notice or focus on anything that’s positive. Your mind finds it difficult to go there and it stays attached to everything that’s wrong in your life.
I think deep down what everyone really wants is to be happy and enjoy life. Nobody wants to be miserable and unhappy. Undervaluing affects your moods and your ability to allow yourself to experience happiness. Often, when people undervalue themselves they have a deep-seated belief that they don’t deserve to be happy. That’s a belief that will negatively impact all areas of your life.
When you begin to really value yourself you will notice a shift and improvement in your relationships and experiences, and very importantly in how you feel.
As with everything, the first step to change is awareness, the second is a willingness to change.
The first and most important step is to become aware of when, where and how you undervalue yourself.
It can be something that’s so deeply ingrained, and that you’re so used to doing that you’re not at all aware of it.
Here are some of the most common ways we undervalue ourselves. Pay attention to which ones apply to you.
Do you frequently doubt yourself and your abilities? If you grew up with constant criticism and negative messages then chances are you do often doubt yourself.
I also know people who were pushed to succeed when they were younger and who never quite felt they were capable of accomplishing what their parents wanted them to, consequently they doubt themselves as adults.
For those who had narcissistic parents or who were perceived as being “too sensitive” the criticism and being made to feel that who you are is wrong can be too much to bear.
If you grew up with a narcissistic parent self-doubt will most likely be deeply programmed within you. An article in Psychology Today states that “if raised by a narcissistic parent, an adult child will invariably be fearful that they will grow up to be narcissistic themselves. This makes it difficult to give self credit for fear of being arrogant or behaving like a narcissist.”
No matter where it comes from, doubting yourself and your abilities is a sure sign that you’re undervaluing yourself.
I used to be filled with self-doubt, but when I started working I began to receive very different messages from the ones I had heard growing up. People told me what a great job I did. They told me I was conscientious. I received promotions.
I noticed that my colleagues tended to bring me work to do, rather than giving it to someone else because they felt I did a better job! This led me to start questioning everything I thought I knew (and was told) about myself growing up.
To be able to let to go of feelings of self-doubt I recommend two things:
Each time you catch yourself saying “I can’t” do something or doubting your abilities in any way, stop and ask yourself:
- “What if I can do this?”
- “What if I’m really good at this?”
- “What if I’m the best person to do this?
Your mind might resist the idea, but keep asking the question. It’s a good way to quieten the inner critic that tells you that ‘you can’t’, and you may be pleasantly surprised at what you do actually accomplish.
The second thing is to start a list of all the things you’ve accomplished, and all the things you feel good about achieving throughout your life. No matter how small it may seem, add it to the list if it was meaningful to you at the time.
A business coach I was working with once asked me to do this because she wanted to see what types of things I’d done in the past. Not only was she amazed when I produced my list, so was I. There were so many things I’d achieved that I’d forgotten about or not even considered as particularly special at the time, but when I saw the list and looked back on all the things I’d done it helped me to see that there was no more room for self-doubt in my life.
You’ve already accomplished many great things, I know you have. But I bet you’ve forgotten most of them, or never really appreciated them at all. Make that list - I think you’ll find that you’re capable of so much more than you think and you’ll start to see that you don’t need to doubt yourself any more.
Sensitive to the Opinions of Others
When others have the ability to upset you or diminish you in some way, you are definitely undervaluing yourself.
As a recovering people-pleaser I know how difficult this can be. You want to fit in. You want people to like you. You want to feel like you’re doing a good job. But if someone else has the power to upset you by what they say or do - you’ve given them that power.
One of the things that helped me overcome this is the following affirmation/statement from Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements:
Of course, it’s not nice when you’re the person they are lashing out at, but if you remind yourself that what they are doing/saying/feeling has nothing to do with you, then you don’t have to take it on. You don’t have to let yourself be affected by them.
This is not something that changes overnight, but if you start to be aware of when and how this happens, you can start to change it in small ways. Print out this statement by Don Miguel Ruiz and keep it somewhere where you can see it. Read it whenever you feel someone is making you feel bad. Start taking your power back in small ways and it will get easier with time.
This has been a life-changer for me, because I used to be deeply affected by other people’s negative comments and criticism, and it can be life changing for you too.
Fear of Failure or Success
Do you hold yourself back because you’re afraid you might fail? Do you say no to things you’d really like to say yes to?
Nobody likes to fail, and that’s doubly true for you if you happen to be a perfectionist. Any time you attempt something new there’s a possibility that there will be a learning curve and that it may take some time for you to get it right. That’s true for anyone, but if you don’t even try because you’re afraid of failing, that goes back to the self-doubt that we talked about earlier.
Along with fear of failure, there is also fear of success. At first you may wonder why anyone would have a fear of succeeding. Doesn’t everybody want to succeed?
I think that fear of success can be more devastating than fear of failure, because it’s more likely to go undetected. If you find yourself unable to go beyond a certain level without something happening to stop you - almost as if you’re sabotaging yourself - then you may be experiencing fear of success.
It could be that there’s a fear of what will happen once you do achieve the goals you set for yourself. Perhaps you’re really afraid that:
- you’ll lose contact with certain friends
- certain family members will be jealous
- greater success will lead to you being busier than you want to be
- you’ll have to travel more than you want or
- you’ll have less free time to do things you love to do.
How do you know that you have one or both of these fears and what do you do about it?
One helpful way I’ve found is to sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine yourself doing what it is you want to be doing. Imagine yourself reaching the goal you’ve set. Visualize it in as much detail as you can. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with?
Next, pay attention to how you feel as you visualize this. Do you feel relaxed and happy? Do you feel energized? That’s great.
Or, do you find it difficult to visualize? Is it hard to imagine yourself accomplishing what you want? If so, it may be that you don’t believe you can do it. You feel it’s not possible, that you’ll fail. It’s possible that you have a fear of failure.
Or, do you notice some stress in your body, some tightness or pain. Do you notice some anxiety as you see yourself reaching your goal? It’s possible that you’re experiencing a fear of success.
I’ve always enjoyed coaching people. I enjoy doing individual coaching and group coaching. A few years ago I had just completed a program to help me establish a full-time coaching practice, but even though I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing, things weren’t happening in the way that I wanted or expected. My coaching practice was not growing and I felt frustrated.
So one day I sat down and did this exercise. I visualized myself with a full coaching practice, talking with several clients each day.
As I did this I noticed that there was a tightness in my chest. It was hard for me to breathe. I was experiencing anxiety.
When I took the time to examine what I was feeling and what was behind it, I realized that this wasn’t what I wanted. The idea of being on the phone all day, everyday, with one client after another felt too restrictive to me.
From this exercise I realized that, although I love coaching, I also want to be doing other things - like creating courses, and online programs, writing and doing other creative projects. This was very enlightening for me because I realized the goal I was striving for was not right for me. No wonder I was afraid of succeeding!
So now I have structured my business very differently. I do have coaching clients, but not all day, every day. It’s a much better fit for me and I have the freedom I really wanted.
Another helpful way to identify if fear of failure or success is holding you back is to write about it. Take a notebook and complete the following statements - allow yourself to write without thinking, and write whatever comes to you:
- My biggest fear is that...
- What I’m really afraid of is…
- I’m afraid that if I fail I will….
- I’m afraid that if I fail others will….
- I’m afraid that if I succeed I will….
- I’m afraid that if I succeed others will…
This activity may bring up some key insights for you.
Shame and Feeling Not Good Enough
Renowned shame researcher, Brene Brown, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
The belief that you’re not good enough affects the way you think and feel and everything you do. When you feel there’s something wrong with you then you do experience shame, which certainly links to undervaluing yourself.
This is a deep-seated belief and I’m not going to pretend that there’s a simple way to move beyond it. This article in Psychology Today that explains how a therapist would help someone deal with this. The important thing is to recognize that you feel this way, that you have this belief and that you carry a sense of shame.
Many people who are highly sensitive are all too familiar with these feelings, particularly if they grew up in a family that did not understand them, and where they were made to feel there was something wrong with them.
As a highly sensitive person myself, and as many of my clients are also highly sensitive, I understand first-hand how difficult it is to value yourself when you feel the shame of not being good enough.
When you feel this way, it is very important that you find people who are supportive and understand exactly what you’re experiencing. Building a community of encouraging and supportive people is crucial, as is distancing yourself from those who continue to make you feel that you’re not good enough.
A study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology shows there is a correlation between self-esteem and how much money people make.
When you don’t recognize your true value and worth, it’s likely you’ll find you’re being paid less than others that perhaps have less ability and experience than you.
If you work for an organization you may not feel confident enough to ask for a raise or a reasonable starting salary. If you work for yourself, you may experience difficulty charging what you’re worth or finding customers who are willing to pay what you’re worth.
If you are struggling financially in any way, it’s likely that you have some unhelpful beliefs about money and what you feel you deserve, which lead you to not value yourself enough.
Here are some common beliefs about money that will cause you to undervalue yourself:
- Money is the root of all evil
- Most rich people probably did something bad or dishonest to get their money
- Money isn’t that important
- I don’t enjoy managing money
- I’m not good at managing money
- Rich people aren’t happy
Casey Brown is a Pricing Consultant. In her TED Talk she shares helpful stories and learnings that can help you know your worth, better communicate your value and get paid for your excellence.
I also think it’s helpful to become aware of the beliefs you have about money that may be causing you to undervalue yourself, your skills, talents and abilities and stopping you from asking for (and receiving) what you’re worth.
Here’s a helpful exercise that can uncover those unconscious beliefs about money that cause you to undervalue yourself:
- Close your eyes and think about your current income and your financial situation.
- Notice how you feel in your body - is there any tightness, anxiety, pain?
- Pay attention to what you feel and how you feel
- Now, imagine that your income has doubled overnight
- Again, notice how you feel in your body and what thoughts and emotions come up
- Ask yourself - what is it that I need to learn from what I’m feeling right now?
You may receive some insights right away, or it may take time for them to come. Writing about your experience can help you uncover what’s going on more quickly.
Most importantly, going forward, become aware of any thoughts and feelings you have when it comes to money and receiving what you’re worth - and what you feel you’re worth.
Awareness is the key to change. Once you become aware of the beliefs you have around money and how they contribute to you undervaluing yourself, you will start the process of change.
When did you last compare yourself to someone and then had the thought that the person you were comparing yourself to was somehow better than you?
We do it all the time: “That person’s fitter, smarter, taller, thinner, younger, faster, wealthier, more accomplished, etc., than me.”
Whenever you measure yourself against other people, you lose sight of your own value. Instead, it’s much more important to focus on who YOU are, what YOUR skills, gifts and talents are and what YOU want out of life.
It really doesn't matter what someone else does or what they want. We are all different. We all have different abilities and desires. Comparing yourself to others is not helpful and is really a waste of time and energy.
You might compare yourself to someone else and find yourself thinking that you’re somehow better than them and you might think that’s a sign that you do value yourself highly. But I think if you really valued yourself then you wouldn’t feel the need to compare in the first place.
When you compare yourself to others, you’re more likely to feel insecure, envious, and discontented.
Again, comparing is something you probably are not even aware you’re doing most of the time. So the key is to bring it into your awareness. For example:
- Did you hear about someone who makes more money than you and feel envious or dissatisfied?
- Do you have a colleague, family member or friend who tends to brag and who makes you feel inferior in some way?
- Do you feel irritated or upset when you see someone driving an expensive car or you hear about someone (like a sports personality) who makes millions?
- Do you find yourself making statements like “I’m not as good at …. as this person” or “I wish I was more like…”?
When you experience feelings of envy, discontent or dissatisfaction in this way, then you are comparing (and undervaluing) yourself.
Here’s an affirmation you will find useful. Any time you become aware that you’re comparing yourself to someone else, repeat this to yourself:
I release the need to compare myself to others. I am good enough just as I am.
I hope you can see that undervaluing yourself is not helpful, it’s not productive and it serves no-one. I hope you are also beginning to see how you may be doing it without even knowing.
You might be thinking that it’s too difficult to change. I’m living proof that it’s not. I grew up thinking I had no value, that I had nothing to offer and I have turned that around completely. I wouldn’t even recognize the person I was back then.
If I can do it I know you can too. It’s one of the greatest joys for me when I work with clients who undervalue themselves and feel they’re not good enough - to see them learn how to fully embrace who they are, become more confident, and own their value and worth.
The first step is always awareness, and a willingness and desire to stop the behavior that is not serving you. Once you know where, when and how you undervalue yourself, you can stop doing it, little by little, until you eventually break free completely.
Once you experience the benefits, you will never want to go back! Commit to taking the first step today.
Are you ready to stop undervaluing yourself but don't know where and how to start? Contact me for a complimentary15-minute clarity session and I’ll point you in the right direction.