High and low moods, productivity, accomplishment, concentration, and socialization often depend on our sense of self-worth.

When we feel low, how do we come up again? When we feel good about ourselves, why is it? It’s important to know how to measure self-worth to feel in control of yourself and your well-being.

The Ideal Self

The ideal self is what we wish we were. It may have to do with how we think others think of us but most important is how we feel about ourselves.

An ideal is what we strive for with regard to what we value in ourselves, what we hope to achieve, how we gain respect from others and ourselves, and even how intelligent we want to be.

These characteristics guide us and point us in the direction we hope to succeed at. However, remember this is ideal. It leads us but shouldn’t be how we measure our self-worth.

This is an essential point: the ideal is a guide not a current measure. It leads. It doesn’t judge or condemn or criticize who we are now. With this perspective your sense of self-worth will be much better than if you think you must always meet this ideal. If you met your ideal, what then? Next is to reach and stretch further and recreate new ideals.

The Real Self

Your real or actual self is how you view yourself presently. You may be pleased with aspects of yourself and yet want to improve others. For example, you may be pleased with your social life but feel you are under-achieving. Or, you may feel your productivity is satisfying but you wish you had a more pleasurable companion.

This is the time to make an honest and fair assessment of where you are because then you can compare it to your ideal and give yourself a path to proceed on.


Self-esteem is measured by comparing the ideal to the real. Ideal self minus real self equals self-esteem or self-worth. That’s the equation to live by. If they are too far apart, then you might be very down in the dumps because you are judging yourself harshly. If your real self is moving toward your ideal self, you probably feel pretty good because you feel proactive as you progress. This feeling of reaching forward to meet your goals builds self-esteem.

How to Raise Low Self-Esteem

If you find you are down in the dumps about your self-worth, try not to think broadly and tell yourself you’re a mess. Instead, think of the specific goals you have for yourself and go one by one. You may discover in fact, some are moving along quite well and just some need readjusting.

Paring down what needs to be done to improve your self-esteem already helps it rise because you are being more realistic rather than totally negative. Then your sense of self-worth is more likely to grow more effectively.

How to Value Your Significance

People with a low sense of self-worth often are negative thinkers. When they feel badly, they feel badly all over. You forget your significance in some areas of life because they get lost in all this negativity. Try to think of even one thing you accomplished in a week that you recognize as worthy. Then you will feel more appealing to yourself and others.

Think of building blocks. You have to start with one. Once you recall that one accomplishment which may be a kind word, something useful that you read (like this article), appreciating a sunny day or the beauty of a snowfall then you can add a second building block. Do you notice your self-worth rising a bit?

Give yourself credit for being able to think from this new perspective. That in itself can be another building block of self-worth.

Changing Your Perspective Builds Self-Worth

In other words, changing your point of view or outlook about what self-worth means helps it improve all by itself. It may be hard to hold on to a new point of view at first, but persisting is another accomplishment worthy of respect.

Your orientation has thus shifted from the ideal self to the real self and you build the blocks of self-worth incrementally rather than with a broad brush stroke that can be unkind to you.

Just reading through this article is an accomplishment to add to your list of what builds your self-worth today and makes for higher self-confidence. Congrats!

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon. She also contributes to Bustle Life Style, Good Housekeeping, and Active Family Magazine. Visit her website for more guidance: http://lauriehollmanphd.com.

Originally published at medium.com