Feeling worthless? Here are 7 reasons why and what you can do about it

Image credit: Shutterstock - By manop

Feelings of worthlessness can come at any time in your life, but if you are suddenly feeling like you can’t do anything right or that you aren’t worthy of the things you have in your life, you might be wondering what has happened to your self-confidence.

You are not alone. Feelings of unworthiness can be triggered at any time, especially during your development years.

What’s even more possible is that if you are struggling with your self-confidence as an adult, it’s likely that you have had some experience with others telling you that you aren’t worthy and you might have been harboring those old feelings in some way now.

If you can’t shake that feeling that your self-confidence is waning, it might be time to start exploring why that is. Here’s how.

1) If someone else has been telling you that you are no good.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would say mean things to another person, especially unprovoked, but many people grow up in households where they have been told repeatedly that they are worthless.

For many reasons, parents take out their frustrations with life on their children, calling them names or saying they are stupid and unworthy of being loved. This can especially be the case if you were raised by narcissists.

In other periods of life, your boss or coworkers may make remarks about your performance that make you feel like you are no good at anything.

It doesn’t help that according to Scientific America, it’s natural for humans to care what other people think of them. This is probably, even more, the case when it comes to our close ones or people we work with.

You might have had a series of failed jobs or relationships or opportunities and now you feel like everything you touch turns to stone.

It’s important that you identify where the negative messages are coming from. If you are willing to figure out why you feel that way, you’ll be able to manage those thoughts and find your worth again.

If you don’t face where those negative messages are coming from, you’ll be working against an immovable mountain.

The more you dig into your thoughts about what others have said about you or to you, the less power they have over you and the more likely you are to be able to create new thoughts about yourself.

Perhaps this advice from a spiritual master Osho says it best:

“Nobody can say anything about you. Whatsoever people say is about themselves. But you become very shaky because you are still clinging to a false center. That false center depends on others, so you are always looking at what people are saying about you. And you are always following other people, you are always trying to satisfy them. You are always trying to be respectable, you are always trying to decorate your ego. This is suicidal. Rather than being disturbed by what others say, you should start looking inside yourself…”

2) If you’ve been telling yourself that you’re no good.

If you’ve grown up hearing bad things about yourself, it’s going to be hard to tell yourself something different.

But you do need to make sure that these thoughts are not your own.

If you are an adult when you find yourself feeling less self-confident or unworthy of your life in any way, you’ll need to ask yourself why you are telling yourself these negative things.

You wouldn’t say that to a friend, right? Why do we always treat ourselves poorly and give so much to other people?

Take some time to consider why you are having these ill-gotten feelings about yourself and explore where the thoughts are coming from.

It might not be from the comments of others. We often find it hard to place ourselves in society, especially if we haven’t had a good role model of self-confidence.

Younger generations are increasingly struggling with their self-esteem and self-image because of social media and how they think they should be acting.

In fact, studies have found links between social media use and loneliness, envy and anxiety.

More and more we are getting away from our most authentic selves. If you can just figure out why you are treating yourself so poorly, you can start to introduce more kind actions and thoughts into your day-to-day life.

RELATED: What J.K Rowling can teach us about mental toughness

3) You are comparing yourself to others.

You spend a lot of time looking at other people, reading about other people, wishing you had another life, made more money, had a different job or house.

If you find yourself doing this, you need to stop and start practicing gratitude for what you have in your life.

According to Susan Biali Haas M.D. in Psychology Today:

“If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what’s good in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you’ll be far less vulnerable to comparison and envy.”

No matter how little you have or how worthless you feel, there are lots of reasons to be happy about the way your life is right now.

If you spend your time comparing yourself to other people, you’ll always wish you had more or could do more.

Instead, be an example of what is possible in your own life and start comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday and strive to be better than that person tomorrow.

4) You’ve experienced a great change in your life.

Sometimes a change in our identity can alter our sense of self. If you have been recently divorced or lost a job, you might not know how to quantify your value.

Many people look to their careers as a way to validate their success in the world and if you have recently lost yours, you might find it difficult to relate to others and the life you once had.

When you’re dealing with trauma or heartbreaking change, it can become easy to blame yourself.

Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D. explains:

“In an effort to gain control of your circumstances, in your head you may have convinced yourself that you were complicit or even to blame.”

Aside from any misery and negativity, you might have related to the loss to your identity, the negative thoughts you were having about yourself now aren’t helping.

It’s best to let yourself process what is happening and try not to judge yourself for what has gone down.

5) You feel like everyone is against you.

You might find that you feel bad about yourself, not because of the thoughts you are having about yourself, but because of the thoughts you are having about other people!

Sometimes we put words in other people’s mouths and we think they are thinking things about us even when they are not.

If you feel like the whole world is against you, it’s not because they are out to get you, it’s because you think they are.

When you create these situations in your mind, you find that they often come true.

This is because you might be operating with a “cognitive bias“. These are rules of thumb that help you make sense of the world and make fast decisions.

Your “rule of thumb” is that people are against you and don’t hold positive judgments about you. This leads to errors in processing the world around you.

You’ll start to see evidence of how people are working against you, even when they are not.

In order to deal with this, you need to turn your attention inward and ask yourself why you think people are out to get you.

Question your thinking and try to look at the facts objectively.

6) You are negative.

Another thing you might need to consider is that you are the problem. It’s hard to hear, but it could be true.

Do you find yourself dwelling on criticisms or mistakes you’ve made? That negative events tend to draw your attention more than positive events?

This is actually more common than you think. Psychologists say that it’s natural for negative events to have a greater impact on our brains than positive ones. It’s referred to as “negative bias”.

If you are struggling to find your self-worth and if you are feeling bad about yourself, it might be that you want to feel like that and want others to feel bad for you.

We like to be victims in our own lives sometimes, even if we don’t like to admit it.

If you are feeling low and can’t seem to get out of the funk you are in, you might need to consider that it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

Nancy Colier LCSW, Rev. has some great advice in Psychology Today on how to deal with a victim mindset:

“Victim mentality focuses you on your suffering, specifically what you’re not getting. Try flipping your perspective and focusing on something that matters to you, that you do enjoy, and that you do “get.” Shift your attention from what you’re missing to what you have.”

If you let yourself get sucked into negative thinking and see the glass as half empty instead of half full, try reworking the way you think and force yourself to see the glass as half full.

7) There may be underlying health issues.

A final thing to consider is that if you look yourself in the eye and feel like you are not the problem, but you can’t get your thoughts under control and feel like you are not getting anywhere, it might be time to seek professional help.

You know your body better than anyone else and if you feel like something’s not right, you might be right.

Don’t sit around and wait to find out what is going on, talk to your doctor about how you are feeling and ask for the help you need to feel better.

(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).

What you can do about feeling worthless

1) Pay attention to when the lows hit.

When you notice that you aren’t having a great day, week, or month, pay attention to what is going on in your head.

It might just be that you need to replace a thought or try to do something else than what you are doing in order to change your confidence.

This can take time to develop the skills to notice your thoughts, but with practice, you’ll be able to recognize that your lack of self-confidence is just a thought in your head and you can start doing something about it.

A great way to practice being aware of your thoughts is through mindfulness.

APA (American Psychological Association) defines mindfulness “as a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment”.

Studies have suggested that mindfulness can help reduce rumination, reduce stress, boost working memory, improve focus, improve emotional reactivity, improve cognitive flexibility and enhance relationship satisfaction.

To practice mindfulness, all you have to do is bring your attention to your senses or your thoughts.

According to

“Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.”

As Mark Epstein, M.D, says in his book Thoughts Without a Thinker, meditators quickly understand the nature of the “monkey mind”:

“Like the undeveloped mind, the metaphorical monkey is always in motion, jumping from one attempt at self-satisfaction to another, from one thought to another. “Monkey mind” is something that people who begin to meditate have an immediate understanding of as they begin to tune into the restless nature of their own psyches, to the incessant and mostly unproductive chatter of their thoughts.”

When you allow yourself to take the time to step back and observe your thoughts, you’ll quickly realize you don’t have to believe your thoughts. Your brain is a thought-making machine ande everything it thinks doesn’t represent who you are as a person.

This will give you enormous liberation from the constraint of self-limiting thoughts. If you can’t help but think negative thoughts about yourself, remember that it’s just your brain. It’s not you and you don’t have to believe those thoughts.

2) Get up and get moving.

You might not like to exercise, but there’s nothing better for boosting a mood than when you exercise.

Sure, there is a lot of science behind why exercise makes you feel better, but besides all the science and medical evidence of how endorphins boost your mood, exercising can help you connect with your body in a new way and you can discover that you are capable of things you didn’t even know were possible.

Harvard Health says that aerobic exercise is key for your head, just as it is for your heart:

“Regular aerobic exercise will bring remarkable changes to your body, your metabolism, your heart, and your spirits. It has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress. It’s a common experience among endurance athletes and has been verified in clinical trials that have successfully used exercise to treat anxiety disorders and clinical depression. If athletes and patients can derive psychological benefits from exercise, so can you.”

Try running for 5 more minutes, hiking a new hill, or biking a little longer every time you go out and soon you’ll have a new routine that makes you feel great about your efforts.

3) Look for evidence of other times when you felt confident.

If you are feeling low about yourself and can’t think your way out of the situation, start looking to the past to provide you evidence of times when you used to feel better.

This isn’t about faking it until you make it though: it’s about rediscovering the things about those moments that made you feel good.

See if they still make you feel good now. If not, keep looking for the things that will help you rise above your thoughts this time around.

Practicing gratitude can be a powerful technique. All you have to do is think of 5 things you’re grateful for every day. Do it in the morning or before you go to bed. Write it down. Get in the habit of being appreciative for everything you have in your life.

The Harvard Health Blog says that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Practicing gratitude as you follow your own lead will help you see that there are lots of things in your life that are worthy of your attention and work to create happiness in your life and in the lives of others.

If you were happy before, you can be happy again.

4) Ask questions.

Another way to boost your self-confidence is to use low moments as an opportunity to learn about yourself.

If you approach your life with a sense of curiosity instead of feeling like you need to have everything figured out, you’ll be better equipped to go about your life learning and growing instead of feeling like you missed the last train to know-it-all-ville.

Ask questions about how you do things, why you do them, and what you get out of them. Use the information you discover to help you move forward.

For me, I find that writing in a journal every day allows me to get to know what I’m really thinking and feeling.

In the Harvard Health Blog, Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH says that when people write about what’s in their hearts and minds, they better make sense of the world and themselves:

“Writing provides a rewarding means of exploring and expressing feelings. It allows you to make sense of yourself and the world you are experiencing. Having a deeper understanding of how you think and feel — that self-knowledge — provides you with a stronger connection to yourself.”

To get started, here are 4 questions to prompt your writing:

1) What do I really want?

2) What am I no longer willing to accept?

3) What makes me happy?

4) Are my current habits enabling me to live the life I want?

5) Be in the now.

A lack of self-confidence often comes from living in the future.

If you turn your attention to what is going on right now instead of living in an anxiety-filled-future focus, you can just put one foot in front of the other and work to like who you are right now, instead of worrying about who you will be in the future.

Being in the now allows you to accept where you are and where you’ve come from instead of putting pressure on yourself to get where you are trying to go later.

This is where mindfulness can come in to help live in the present moment. In the book Mindfulness for Creativity, Danny Penman says that mindfulness practices can help you be more open to new ideas, can improve attention and nurtures courage and resilience in the face of setbacks.

Furthermore, living in the present moment empowers you to take action.

If you followed the above steps and you understand what you want to do with your life, then it’s important to take practical action to make that a reality.

Here are some tips to take meaningful action in the present moment:

1) Focus only on single tasks, no matter how small it is.

2) Do your tasks in a slow, relaxed pace. Take it in and enjoy it.

3) Minimize checking things like Facebook. They’re distractions that take you away from the task you’re doing.

4) Tell yourself: Now I am…As you do something, simply tell yourself what you’re doing. If you’re brushing your teeth, tell yourself that and only do that.

5) Start a meditation practice. This is a great way to learn to calm your mind and improve your focus. You’ll find that you’re more productive when your mind is clear and you know what you need to do.

(To dive deep into how to improve your own self-esteem, check out my ultimate guide on how to love yourself here)

In Conclusion

Feeling worthless is a common human experience for many people. Whether it’s from growing up in a non-supportive environment, a trauma-based event or the tendency to compare ourselves to others, feelings of worthlessness are difficult to deal with no matter who you are.

But learning to practice mindfulness to allow us to question our own thoughts and emotions allows us to take a step back from the mind and understand that we don’t need to think negatively about ourselves.

Taking an objective look at reality will allow you to see that you have a lot of potential and skills, a lot to be grateful for, and you don’t need to believe your own negative thoughts.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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