Sunday, February 4, 2018

How Your Erroneous View of Self-Worth Fuels Your Depression

Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem represent key symptoms of depression.  Self-worth is how you value yourself as a human being or your overall opinion of yourself. Self-worth has also been equated with self-respect – having respect for one’s abilities.
People with depression experience feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem in thoughts as:
“I am worthless”
“I am inadequate”
“I am incompetent”
“I am bad”
“I am a failure”
“I am a loser”
“I am ugly”
“I am no good”
“I am immoral”
“I am stupid”
“I am a fake”
In depression, most thoughts of worthlessness represent irrational thinking patterns such as all-or-none thinking, overgeneralization, labeling (putting negative labels on self), and magnification (blowing things out of proportion). For example, you get an average evaluation in one area of your job performance compared to above average in other areas and you start feeling that you are incompetent. Or worthlessness can be also be triggered by not meeting your perfectionistic expectations – “I should always get an A and B is not acceptable.”

What Defines Your Self-Worth? It is self-“RESPECT”

Your faulty notions about self-worth can skew you into believing that your self-worth is restricted to your performance in certain areas of life that are of special personal importance to you such as work, family life, or intellectual pursuits. You then mistakenly start defining your self-worth based on your achievements in one particular area of your life. For example, if somebody works in an academic institution, they may believe that their self-worth depends on how successful they are in producing quality research, publishing papers, or winning awards for their work. However, if they are basing their self-worth only on their work, then they are likely to feel discouraged if they don’t meet their expectations. The concept of self is too broad, complex, and ever-changing to be assigned a single global rating of either one is worthy or worthless. Self-respect is considered same as self-worth and the word RESPECT aptly describes the attributes that define the self.  

R: Roles: What meaningful roles do you have in your life? Are you a father, a husband, a coach, a brother, a sister, a parent, a teacher, a student, an employee, etc.? 

E: Emotions: How are you feeling in the present moment? What has your general state of mood been? Do you feel happy, sad, angry, anxious, content, frustrated, etc.?

S: Skills and abilities: What kind of skills and abilities do you have? Are you good at any hobbies? Are you known for any particular kind of trade skills? What are you capable of doing at work and outside work?

P: Perspective: How do you interpret situations or experience? What are your core beliefs regarding yourself, others, and the world? How do you view your physical self – your body – and your intellect?

E: Ethics and morals: What are your values? What kind of ethics and morals do you have for yourself and others? What are your guiding principles? What are your preferences?

C: Character: What traits have you acquired with maturity? Are you thoughtful, kind, honest, a person of integrity, caring, compassionate, bold, courageous, etc.?

T: Temperament: What is your natural predisposition? What is your habitual or emotional inclination? Are you introverted, extroverted, shy, outgoing, optimist, pessimist, easy going, spiritual, suspicious, high strung, etc.?

The permutations and combinations of the attributes under “RESPECT” run into thousands and these are what define your self-worth. Your self-worth is never constant and changes as these attributes change. Therefore, when you characterize yourself as being worthless based on a single attribute, you are giving into the irrational thought processes brought on by depression such as the all-or-none thinking and disqualifying the positives. You tend to focus on one area of your life (e.g., work or relationships) and dwell on your inadequacies in that area to give yourself an overall rating – “I am incompetent,” “I am a failure,” or “I am worthless.” This defies logic because you cannot give a single rating to your self-worth that depends upon thousands of variables.  Thus, self-worth and self-esteem are arbitrary concepts when applied to human beings. It may be time to get rid of this “worthless” thing called self-worth!

To learn more about evidence-based self-management techniques that are proven to work for depression, check out Dr. Duggal's Author Page.


Written by a board-certified psychiatrist and an international expert on self-management of depression, this blog focuses on proven scientific methods of treating depression that go beyond medications and traditional therapy. It discusses elements of healthy lifestyle, positive psychology, relationships, values, strengths, communication, and wellness. The content of the blog is not to be construed as treatment advice.

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