Self Worth | Advice from a Therapist

What is self worth?

Self worth is exactly what it sounds like. It’s our view on ourselves and how we do or don’t see ourselves as worthy of love, kindness, respect and rest, like anyone else. 

It’s hard to connect to your feeling of intrinsic self worth. We live in a society that makes you fight for it, often battling structural disadvantages like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, fatphobia, and more. With all of these obstacles making it hard to tap into that inherent sense of self worth, people often find the easiest way to feel any sort of worth in themselves is to be impressively productive.

Why do we so often link self worth to productivity?

One reason is that when it comes to the short term, productivity is an easy metric to measure success! For a little while it feels good to be productive–when we complete a task and feel good about it, that’s our brains giving us a little dopamine hit as a reward for completing something we needed to get done! 

But–particularly in a culture that values hustling and leveling up and building wealth–it can be easy to confuse that good feeling you get with the feeling of fulfillment you get when living in a way that embodies your values. It can start to feel like in order to feel good, you have to be productive, and since nothing else gives the immediate gratification in the same way, being productive becomes the priority above all else.  

A woman holding herself and looking out of the window with a contented look on her face.

Why does linking it to productivity undermine true self worth?

Unfortunately, the dopamine hit reward we get from productivity is short lived. While it offers fleeting satisfaction, maintaining that feeling becomes quickly unsustainable. 

It’s impossible to be productive all of the time–and more than that, it’s actually not healthy to be going, going, going 24/7. Your body needs rest, and so does your mind! Have you ever heard the phrase “rest is productive?” While the messaging is obviously a little flawed–rest doesn’t actually need to produce anything to be worthwhile–it’s trying to communicate the purpose of rest in language our culture values and understands. 

What it is really trying to say is that rest is good for you; it gives your body and mind a chance to ease up, recharge, and even totally relax. This relaxation allows you to return to your more productive pursuits with energy and clarity and helps to prevent burnout–whereas if you didn’t allow for this rest you would be constantly burning out. 

The reality is we’re not machines, so expecting ourselves to be endlessly productive is just setting an impossible standard for ourselves. And when we do set that expectation for ourselves, it positions us to feel only shame when we engage in things that aren’t productive, but perhaps emotionally fulfilling, like leisure, engaging in hobbies,or spending time with friends & loved ones.

When productivity becomes the only way in which we measure our self worth, we end up sacrificing or ignoring the things that actually fulfill us in our lives, and increasing our risk of isolation. 

What can we do to unlink the two?

A woman sitting at her laptop looking stressed, while kids run in the background

Set limits on your productivity when possible:

Are you working outside of your work hours? Are you spending hours perfecting something that is probably fine as is? Are you making sure your home is Instagram ready before letting yourself relax in your living room? Sometimes it’s necessary to be productive, but there comes a point when productivity is just staying busy. Whether it’s from fear of slowing down long enough to be alone with your thoughts, or shame motivating you to stay productive, there comes a point where productivity is no longer productive but destructive. 

Ask yourself:

  • What is making me feel like I need to get this done right now?
  • What will actually change if I accomplish this task right now?
  • Will there be any negative consequences if I allow myself to rest first?
  • Could I do a better job on this after I’ve given myself a chance to rest?
  • Am I being motivated by shame or anxiety right now?
  • If I get this done right now, what’s the best that could happen?
  • If I don’t get this done right now, what’s the worst that could happen?
  • Is there something I would rather be doing, but don’t feel I’ve earned?

Meet yourself where you are:

Do you feel the need to get something done once it’s on your calendar? Put time for rest and relaxation, connecting with loved ones, and hobbies into your calendar! Once you get in the habit of making space for un-productive things in your life, you might not need to be so strict about adding them into your calendar. But building habits takes time, and it’s not bad to use tools that help you out. Take a tool of productivity and turn it into a tool to help you disconnect from the pressures of productivity! Your mindset around your calendar might end up changing too–maybe instead of looking for where you can add new events in, you’ll see it as a record of your sacred free time that you want to protect as much as possible. 

Remind yourself:

You can do so many things. You cannot do everything–no one can. This is a universal rule–no person can do everything–and you are not a failure for not being the exception to this rule. 

A Black woman smiling, turned away from an off computer

Do you need help unlinking your self worth from productivity? Our clinicians can help! Get in touch for a free consultation today.

About the Author 

Stella Nova is a psychology clinic specializing in mental health support for women and nonbinary professionals. We are located in San Francisco, CA and work with clients all over the state of California. Our team of therapists and psychologists offer counseling for a variety of concerns, from anxiety and depression, to chronic pain, to disordered eating and more. 

Stella Nova is a LGBTQ+ and BIPOC affirming practice, and we welcome people of all genders who are seeking a feminist healing space. 

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Find a California Therapist Near You

Are you looking for support in establishing boundaries in your relationships? Stella Nova offers online therapy for individuals and couples virtually throughout California, and in-person in San Francisco. Our team can provide therapy for relationships, depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, chronic pain, and more. We’re a BIPOC and LGBTQ+ owned and operated clinic that strives to provide an affirming, safe healing space for every one of our clients.

To connect with a therapist near you, schedule a free, 20-minute consultation with our Intake Specialist, Cami.