Identify & Replace Self-Defeating Goals



  • "I am going to get rid of these feelings."
  • "I am never going to feel that depressed again."


  • Frustration, discouragement, short-lived optimism.


  • Lots of self-analysis. Looking for a quick fix.


Some goals encourage success while other goals interfere with progress, even leading to unintentional failure. No matter how well you succeed in fulfilling some goals, the desired result may still not be achieved. For example, you can obtain a good income but still not feel very secure.

Two of the most common and natural goals are to feel good and to do good. Unfortunately, these two goals are often in conflict with each other. Sometimes you may be doing something you consider to be "good," (getting out of bed in the morning, obeying the speed limits, or fulfilling an unpleasant responsibility) while at the same time not feeling good. Or you may be doing something that feels good that you do not consider to be good (turning the alarm off and going back to sleep, having a second helping of desert, or yelling at an inconsiderate driver). Fortunately, there are also occasions without conflict when you are doing something you consider "good," and at the same time, feeling good.

Rather than trying so hard to feel good, it is better–and generally feels better–to focus on doing good things. The goal of doing good things is solid, clear, and manageable. The benefits are two-fold: first, you accomplish something tangible, and second, you feel good about what you accomplished. If you fail to accomplish a worthwhile thing, you may feel badly about it, but you can still know your worth as a person is just as solid as ever. The security of that knowledge allows you to be more objective and patient with yourself and others.

The happiest and most successful people, therefore, set a higher priority on doing good than on feeling good. They place about 90% of their attention and effort on doing good and only about 10% on feeling good. Not that they do not enjoy feeling good–everyone wants to feel good–but they have discovered the important irony of feeling good: feeling good is more the by-product of doing good than the product of trying to feel good.

When you place greater emphasis on feeling good than on doing good, there is a natural, though counterproductive, tendency to try to directly control emotion. The "feeling" goal of trying to control or eliminate certain feelings, for example, usually results in more intense feelings. Like the flu, depression does not subside any faster by dwelling on it. In fact, the more you think about feeling crummy, the worse you usually feel.

Turning inward and focusing on pain, whether physical or emotional–although the natural thing to do–usually makes you feel worse. Instead, set goals to do specific things. "Doing" goals such as learning a skill, getting a job, cleaning a room, or calling a friend are not only more likely to be accomplished, they frequently result in better feelings. The process of accomplishing "doing" goals, however, does not always feel good.

When you are struggling with feeling depressed, for example, and set the goal "to not feel depressed," several surprising problems begin. First, the more you think about not feeling depressed, the more depressed you are apt to feel about feeling depressed. Second, the more you dwell on your feelings, the less energy you have available for thinking about and doing something constructive. Third, since emotion is constantly in motion, as well as a highly subjective experience, accurate and objective measurement is difficult.

Barbara, for example, suffered a great deal of depression for several years and never saw herself making any progress, despite consistent and sincere effort. The first time Barbara came to my office she told me of her problem and disappointing lack of progress. She was excited about the suggestions and homework assignments I gave her and left with increased hope and confidence.

She returned a week later, noticeably less depressed, only to announce she had failed once again. Rather than focusing on her feelings, I asked her what she did on her homework. She reported significant progress and success on her assignments. Then why did she feel she failed? Her criteria for success was whether or not she still felt at all depressed. Since she still felt some degree of depression, she thought–and therefore felt–she had failed.

My criteria for her success was whether or not she improved her thinking and behavior. Since she did improve in those areas, I thought–and therefore felt–she had succeeded. Because she based her measure of success on the fickle ups and downs of feeling, she failed to notice the many times she was on the road to success. As she shifted her emphasis more to doing than to feeling, she not only did much better, she soon began to feel better.

Depressed About Feeling Depressed



  • "I must be pretty messed up to be feeling this way."
  • "I shouldn't be feeling this way."
  • "I hate feeling depressed."


  • Lethargic, numb, stuck. Sinking deeper into depression.


  • Increasing withdrawal from people and activity. A lot of thinking and little action.


Depression is like emotional quicksand. The more you struggle and fight to get out of it, the deeper you sink. One reason you may get stuck feeling depressed is that you do not realize there are two levels or layers of depression.

Layer One: The initial feelings of depression everyone experiences from time to time. They last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. This level is like initially stepping into quicksand.

Layer Two: Depressed about feeling depressed. You sink to this level as a result of the understandable, though counterproductive, reaction of doing battle with your feelings.

Example: Brad, a successful attorney, had lost the zest for life he once enjoyed. He was going through the motions of living without feeling the emotion. He was successful at work but personally unhappy. For several months he balked at his wife's observations concerning him. He insisted he was fine. He was impeccably rational and certainly did not have any emotional problems. When he finally--and reluctantly--came to see me, it was readily apparent he considered himself too bright to be as miserable as he was. Not only was he initially embarrassed to feel the way the rest of us feel on occasion, he was severely condemning himself for feeling depressed.

Before he could begin making the personal improvements preliminary to feeling better, it was necessary for him to overcome depressing himself about feeling depressed.

Key Point: Before you can begin climbing out of the pit, it is necessary to first learn to acknowledge and give yourself permission to feel pure, unadulterated depression, without making things worse by fighting and resisting the unpleasant feelings.

Difficulty Distinguishing Thoughts and Feelings from Facts



  • "I cannot be worthwhile if I do not feel worthwhile."
  • "Since I do not feel love for my spouse, I must not love him."
  • "I do not believe anybody loves me, so I guess no one does."


  • Agitated over the conflict between feelings and facts.


  • Endlessly debating feelings versus facts. Arguing with those offering help.


When you are feeling depressed, your senses are dulled, even numb in some cases. The world is viewed through a dark and dreary lens, and things seem much, much worse than they really are. Life seems terribly cold and awful. At times like this--and we all have them--thoughts and feelings can be so strong that they are often mistakenly considered as facts.

Example: Jeff and Becky were having trouble making ends meet. For each of the last three months, their expenses were a considerable amount greater than their income. Rather than dealing with the facts--there were several ways they could earn more money as well as reduce spending--Jeff dwelt on his feelings of doom and gloom until he was convinced his feelings represented reality and, therefore, they were truly on the verge of bankruptcy.

Before feelings of depression will pass, it is absolutely essential to perceive the facts accurately, clearly distinguishing them from associated thoughts and feelings.

Exaggerated Thinking



  • "This is absolutely terrible and awful."
  • "I cannot stand it."
  • "I'll never feel better again."
  • "I am always making mistakes."
  • "Life is one crisis after another."


  • Exaggerated. More intense than is necessary.


  • Extreme. Doing things for immediate relief or escape, without regard to reason or future consequences.


On almost every occasion when you feel upset, whether you are depressed or not, there is some form of exaggerated thinking taking place. If you habitually tell yourself, for example, you must always or never do something you cannot possibly always or never do, you have set the stage for an upsetting play. Or when you think of an event as terrible, awful, or catastrophic, rather than as unpleasant or inconvenient, the emotional escalation is apt to increase along the lines of your overly dramatic "Hollywood" movie. Likewise, if you take a lopsided and inaccurate inventory of your strengths, weaknesses, and potential, your feelings about yourself will be lopsided and inaccurate.

Key Point: The natural result of exaggerated thinking is exaggerated feelings.

Believing Life Should Be...



  • "Life should be . . .but it isn't."
  • "Why is life so hard? It is just not fair."


  • Fluctuating between anger and depression.


  • A lot of complaining. Withdrawing from, or rebelling against, people or things.


In life there are positives, negatives, and always the potential for things to get better or worse. There is indeed opposition in all things. When some aspects of life (such as your feelings, relationships, or circumstances) are undesirable, thinking that reality should be different puts you in conflict with it. Fighting reality by demanding something be or not be so, is one of the more common causes of depression. Rather than focusing on finding ways to improve the situation--or your response to the situation--you end up struggling against reality, which results in anger or depression.

You may, nevertheless, be in the habit of thinking life shouldn't be the way it is. Many people habitually demand that life should be "fair," as they define fair. They seem to have a love of fair--to their own detriment and depression. Although everyone would like life to be fair, the fact remains, life is not always fair.Accepting this fact of life frees you to deal with life in a realistic and healthy manner.

Myth: By acknowledging and accepting reality as it is, you are condoning or passively accepting it.

Fact: By squarely facing up to the truth and facts of a situation, no matter how unpleasant, you are in a much better position to change the situation if possible, or if not, to control or change your response to it

Difficulty Distinquishing Between What You Can and Cannot Control


  • "I've got to get him to change, but I can't." "I have to do something, but I can't."
  • Helpless, trapped, out of control.
  • Non-productive activity. Wasting time on less important activities.


Using mental and physical energy trying to control things or people that cannot really be controlled is equivalent to trying to blow up a balloon with a hole in it. No matter how hard you try, nothing happens: you just get tired. The brain does not automatically distinguish between what you can control versus what you cannot control. So if you are determined to control something you cannot in fact control, your mind will nevertheless keep searching for a solution--even though none is available. A mother who cares deeply for her children, for instance, may try so hard to help her children succeed, she dwells upon and worries about things she cannot control. This results a depressing drain on the brain, the body, and the relationship. Myth: Caring means you are responsible for other's success and feelings. If you do not do what someone wants you to do it means you do not care. Fact: A distinct difference exists between responsibly caring for someone and carrying their responsibilities. You may, in fact, care compassionately and responsibly, despite another's feelings to the contrary. Remember, just because someone thinks you do not care, their thoughts and feelings do not make it so. Whether dealing with people or things, distinguishing what you can control from what you cannot control allows you to use your energy and resources in a healthy and productive manner.

Asking Questionable Questions



  • "Why . . . ?"


  • Optimistic about a new answer/solution, only to be disappointed.
  • Frustrated about not being able to find a satisfactory answer.


  • Endlessly searching for answers.


Questions, like goals, set the course your mind follows. Everyday we ask ourselves dozens of questions, with the answers determining our priorities and activities. From mundane questions such as, "What shall I have for breakfast?" to value-based questions such as, "Is it more important to stay at the office an extra hour or to go home?" Some questions lead to constructive action--often solving or preventing problems--while other questions create problems and interfere with solutions.

Example: I was the sixth therapist whom Doris consulted over the last ten years regarding her feelings of depression. She sobbed as she told me of the years of cruelty from her husband and the loneliness she had felt since her divorce. I asked her what she wanted to accomplish. She explained she needed some questions answered before she could overcome feeling depressed, namely, "Why am I feeling so depressed?" Thus far, ten years of therapy had failed to bring her answers and relief.

I responded by asking her whether she was more interested in finding out why she was feeling depressed or in finding out how to live a more satisfactory life. I explained that the question of "Why," was leading her on a speculative, theoretical, wild goose chase. Despite good intentions, her efforts were unwittingly creating barriers. Once she changed her question from "Why do I feel so bad?" to "How can I feel better?" her perspective changed. She then began to discover answers to her questions and the relief she was seeking.

The more time you spend searching for answers to upsetting or depressing questions--whether or not you find satisfactory answers--the more depressed you are apt to feel. By carefully evaluating the type of questions you are asking yourself, rather than automatically searching for answers, you will be able to identify and eliminate counterproductive questions.

Questionable Nutritional, Sleep, and Exercise Habits



  • "I know I don't get enough . . ." "I know I need more . . ."


  • Fatigue, irritability, or depression.


  • Maintaining undesirable habits or taking extreme measures to improve health.


When the body or mind is in a weakened state, you naturally tend to view life in a negative or exaggerated manner. It is unlikely for you to begin feeling better until you take better care of your body.

Example: Brett had been feeling depressed for several months, although he continued to work and fulfill basic responsibilities. He was getting about five hours of sleep a night, drinking about half a dozen caffeine beverages a day, skipping breakfast and lunch, and snacking daily on donuts and candy bars.

I suggested that he begin eating three meals a day, getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, and dramatically decreasing his caffeine consumption, if not eliminating it entirely. I explained that until he began to take better care of his body, he was not likely to escape feeling depressed, no matter how many improvements he made in other areas of his life.

Key Point: Depression is often an emotional warning signal, not an enemy to be crushed. It is usually suggesting you carefully examine yourself and make appropriate improvements.

Shaky Self-esteem


• "Who am I?" "Am I worthwhile?"

• Up and down like a roller coaster.

• Seeking self-esteem through others, accomplishments, feelings,self-analysis, etc.


I do not know anyone who does not get down on himself occasionally. Everyone, regardless of age, intellect, accomplishment, position, or popularity, feels "I am not O.K.," or "I am not good enough" at times. These feelings come and go for all of us, regardless of our circumstances. Feelings of worth--as opposed to the facts of your inherent worth--are like the waves of the sea--continuously rising and falling. The only secure thing about the emotion of self-worth is that it is continuously in motion.

Self-worth is commonly thought of as something a person can get or lose. It is often measured by external things such as wealth, popularity, accomplishment, or others' opinions. For example, a person with great financial worth is often thought of as a worthwhile person. Nevertheless, money only measures wealth, not the things that really matter like happiness, love, intelligence, common sense, and family closeness. If internal worth is measured by external standards or fickle feelings over which you do not have complete control, your identity and your self-worth is built upon a shaky foundation.


Although the accomplishment of worthwhile things and a feeling of being worthwhile are highly desirable, I view self-worth more as a concrete fact than as an accomplishment or feeling. I believe each of us was born with a natural, spiritual, and biological predisposition to value ourselves as persons with inherent worth independent of success, failure, or the opinions of others.

Your inherent worth--as distinguished from the worth of your accomplishments and your worth to others--is like the pedigree or certificate of a thoroughbred horse. It is permanent and irrevocable. No opinion, feeling, or accomplishment can change your intrinsic identity and worth.

Somewhere inside of you is a natural sense of "I am" or identity. Permanently stamped or imprinted deeply in your mind is the certain knowledge that "I am me, a person of worth." Even when you make a mistake, experience failure, or feel worthless, your natural sense of self-worth says, "That's okay, just try again."

At birth you were given a name to identify who you are and to differentiate you from others. As a child with a natural sense of identity and worth--unless you were taught otherwise--there was no need to struggle with the age-old, philosophical question, "Who am I?" You knew who you were, even when you stumbled and fell.

For young children, usually less than eight years old, identity is not a question, it is a fact. Just ask a child, "Who are you?" You will undoubtedly hear, "I am Shannon" or "I am Melissa." You can ask the child to think of a time when he made a mistake or got into trouble, then ask him again, "Who are you?" The child will still tend to think in natural terms, "I am Shannon," rather than with the common adult tendency to add a negative label, such as, "I am stupid or not good enough."

Other than your name, you do not need a label to be special or unique. You are unique. Your particular combination of strengths, weaknesses, potential, and heritage is unlike anyone else's in the world--past, present, or future. Your identity is as exclusive as your fingerprints.

You--your inherent identity and worth--are like the hub of a wheel. The spokes may be thought of as the various characteristics, positions, relationships, and possessions you have. Although the spokes are important, they do not by themselves determine your identity or worth. See diagram on the next page.


Despite the biological stamp of inherent worth a child is born with, he receives new information from the environment. His personal identity is unintentionally labeled by the attitudes and actions of parents and other important and generally well-meaning adults. Good behavior usually results in "Good boy," while bad behavior brings forth a label of "Bad boy." Labeling a behavior or characteristic as good or bad may be appropriate, whereas using such a label on a person is inappropriate and can be harmful.

When a child is given a label affecting his identity or worth, he is faced with a dilemma. His natural instincts tell him he is a good, worthwhile person, independent of doing well or not. When he is labeled as a good and worthwhile person IF... and that he is not worthwhile unless..., what does he believe? His natural, pre-programmed beliefs or what others are saying? By the time a child is around eight years old, it is extremely likely that a new tape or program will have developed in his mind, suggesting his self-worth depends largely on accomplishments and what others think.


Identity Wheel graphic

Even in homes where caution is used in applying labels and in teaching a child the facts about who he is, a child still has a natural tendency to begin using personal labels of good or bad, depending on his accomplishments and the opinions of others. This proclivity for self-labeling, if left unchecked, can eat away at natural self-esteem much like weeds can gradually overrun a beautiful garden. Whether the natural, God-given tape or the subjective, artificial tape becomes the ruling force depends first on the child's environment and then, as he matures, on himself. Thus it is accurate to say, "I was not born with low self-esteem. I learned it."

When our son Shane was eight years old, he began playing soccer. Although I try not to sound like a psychologist at home, I could not pass up this opportunity to teach him an important lesson. After one of his initial games he came home and jubilantly announced, "I am a great soccer player." I asked him why and he explained how he scored two goals. I said, "Shane, that is great that you scored two goals, but that does not make you a great soccer player." I then asked him to tell me what was fun about the game and what he learned. I explained it is more important to have fun and to learn in sports than it is to be great.

I was glad we had that discussion because the next week Shane came home from a game dejected, saying, "I am a horrible soccer player." I again asked why. He explained he was playing goalie when he bent over to stop the ball and it rolled between his legs scoring the goal that lost the game for his team. I said, "Shane, you made a mistake, but that does not make you a terrible soccer player. Now, did you have some fun during your game? And, what did you learn?" He got the point.

Although this principle is so simple that a child can understand it, an adult often shakes his head in utter confusion. When you ask an adult, "Who are you?" there tends to be a long pause after which you are apt to hear a variety of labels: I am an attorney, a housewife, an engineer or I am fat, bright, rich, lazy, or popular. This common way of thinking leads a person to base his intrinsic worth on variables (possessions, accomplishments, or the opinions of others) that can be taken away or lose their value, rather than on the natural and secure fact that "I AM," therefore, "I have worth and value."


Although everyone has important roles to fulfill (son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, husband, wife, friend, employer, employee, athlete, musician), you are NOT your roles. You are more than your career, you are more than your body, you are more than your marriage, and you are more than your accomplishments or lack of accomplishments. You are more than any of these things. This simple truth is obvious when we stop to think about it; nevertheless, many people define their identity by what they do.

You can think of your various roles in life as hats you wear: the hats are yours, but you are more than your hats. Your roles describe your responsibilities and to some extent, what you do; however they do not completely describe you (your strengths, weaknesses, potential, and personality).


Wanting to feel good about yourself is natural, but since feelings are fickle and emotion is constantly in motion, basing your identity or worth on how you feel is inherently unstable and insecure. If you base your self-worth on feelings, your view of your self-worth is on an emotional roller coaster ride and you feel less secure.

If you forget about the rock solid foundation you were born with and instead base your sense of worth on how you feel, your life is like a house built upon a sandy foundation. As long as things are going well, you tend to feel worthwhile. But when the clear weather passes and the storms of life come (illness, loss of job, loss of loved ones) your very worth as a person will seem to hang in a precarious state. Even amidst the good times, just knowing you could lose "everything" can interfere with fully enjoying your successes. The result is an increased sense of stress and anxiety.

Building self-esteem on feelings or possessions is like the man in the Bible who built his house on sand. The rains came and the house fell. But the man who built his house on rock--on a firm foundation--saw his house endure. Feelings and possessions may pass, but your own God-given uniqueness, abilities, and potential will endure.


The steps for applying the principle are divided into three sections:

  1. Avoid seeking after what you already have.
  2. Look at yourself objectively.
  3. Accept your natural self-worth.


  1. Beware of "Identity Questions" such as, Who am I?" or "Am I worthwhile?" The fact is, you are worthwhile. So do not keep asking a never-ending question such as, "Who am I?" or "Am I worthwhile?" Repeatedly asking such questions is depressing. Instead, ask questions that lead to constructive action, such as, "What shall I do that is worthwhile?"
  2. Notice if you set up tests to determine your worth. For example, "I am worthwhile if I get a promotion," "I am lovable if he loves me," "I am intelligent if I communicate well." Testing your self-worth is self-defeating. You cannot win.Even if you score high on several tests, you never know how you will do next time. The threat of not being worthwhile lurks around every corner. Continually questioning your self-worth leads to never-ending tests and increasing self-doubt.Trying to find self-worth reminds me of the time I looked all over the house, from top to bottom, for my glasses, only to discover I was wearing them all along.
  3. Trying to secure feelings of self-worth is a losing battle, because emotion is constantly in motion. You do not need to fight for something you already have.
    Take off the emotional battle fatigues and peacefully do things you consider worthwhile, regardless of how you feel. The worst that could happen is that you will feel badly about yourself while doing good things. It is much more likely, though, that your feelings of self-worth will continue to fluctuate, but without the extreme highs and lows.
  4. Strive to minimize or, if possible eliminate, comparisons of yourself to others. Comparing leads to lower self-esteem or artificially inflated self-esteem.
    1. Key point: Most comparisons are exaggerated and extremely inaccurate because people tend to compare their insides with others' outsides or they compare their weaknesses with others' strengths.
  5. If your goal is to be someone or to be worthwhile, the underlying assumption may be, I am not someone or I am not worthwhile. It is better to think and talk in terms of what you want to do, rather than what you want TO BE.
    Example: "I want to work at the Bank of America and someday manage the local branch, rather than I want TO BE a banker."



  1. Observe how you use the two most important words affecting your identity and self-esteem--I am.
    1. Caution: Any habitual use of these words to describe yourself in any other way than, for example, "I am Laurie," "I am a person," "I am a child of God," "I am a woman" may be hazardous to your self-esteem.
    2. Key Point: Avoid using good or bad labels to identify yourself or others ("I am smart" or "I am dumb").
  2. Likewise, observe how you use the two most important words affecting your view of others--"He is . . ." or "You are . . ."
    1. Caution: Any habitual use of these words to describe others in any other way than, "He is Roger," "He is a person," "He is a child of God," "He is a man" may be detrimental to your relationships and your self-esteem.
  3. Rather than attempting to describe who you are, describe what you think, feel, do, or have.
    Example: I have certain talents, accomplishments, and relationships. Or I like to play the piano, jog, and spend time with friends.
  4. For additional practice distinguishing who you are from what you have:Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the center.On the top of the left side, write "I AM," and on the top of the right side, write "I HAVE."
    1. List as many things about yourself as you can, placing them on the appropriate side of the line. Remember, only put factual, permanent, rock-solid statements about yourself in the "I AM" column.



  1. If you are concerned that your productivity or motivation will diminish by accepting your natural self-worth, consider the following:
    Myth: If I accept the notion I am worthwhile, perhaps I will become lazy and fail to accomplish some important things.
    Fact: Everyone has a natural desire to improve and accomplish, though some have learned to ignore it. When you strive to achieve something because of its value to you rather than because you are attempting to achieve self-worth, you are more likely to enjoy your successes and more successfully survive your failures.
    "I Am" 
    I am
    A Child of God
    A Person with Strengths, Weaknesses, and Potential
    "I have"
    I Have Thoughts (good and bad)
    Feelings (pleasant and unpleasant)
    Habits (good and bad)
    Accomplishments (successes and failures)
    Family relationships

    Myth: If I accept the belief I have natural worth, then I am no different from anyone else.
    Fact: You have a particular combination of strengths, weaknesses and potential as unique as your fingerprints. You are special.

  2. Decide that you want to accept what you were born knowing: that you have inherent worth, independent of others' opinions or anything you do. Then you can strengthen or regain your childhood faith in yourself.
    1. Answer the question of "Am I worthwhile?" once and for all. Take several 3x5 cards and write the following words or something similar: "I am worthwhile because I am me, a child of God with a unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, and potential."
    2. Place the cards where you can see them at least a dozen times a day (refrigerator, T.V., mirror, or the visor of your automobile).
    3. Use your feelings as a trigger to remind you of what you wrote on your cards. Whenever you feel depressed or doubt your self-worth, say to yourself, "I am worthwhile because I AM me, a child of God with a unique blend of strengths, weaknesses, and potential." By doing this you are using feelings of self-doubt to help remember what you once knew so naturally.
    4. To further reinforce your effort to build a solid foundation, share what you are working on with someone.
  3. Notice that your efforts to prove you are worthwhile are never quite enough. Just as you cannot prove the existence of God, you cannot prove you are worthwhile, no matter how hard you try.
    Key Point: Although you cannot prove you are worthwhile, you can choose to believe in your worth as a person; you can develop faith in yourself.Definition of faith: To hope for things which are not seen or provable but which are nevertheless true.
  4. Even though you were born with a sense of your inherent worth, it is easy to forget that you truly are worthwhile. Like the tiny, proverbial mustard seed (Matthew 13:31; Alma 32), your natural faith in yourself is easy to overlook. Fortunately, however, it is never too late to nurture that seed.
  5. Consider developing faith in your inherent worth just as you have in other aspects of your life such as the faith you have in your ability to graduate from school, do a job, learn a skill, or play a sport.
  6. Nurture your natural inclination--your seed of faith--to believe in yourself.
    1. Give your self-worth the benefit of the doubt. Exercise a particle of faith, even if you can no more than desire to believe that you have your own unique worth as a person. Allow yourself to hope it is true--that you truly are worthwhile.
    2. Listen to those around you who know the truth about your worth (loved ones, friends, and trusted associates). Ask those who care about you whether or not they believe you have any worth.
    3. Even though you may not feel worthwhile, give yourself permission to believe others when they say you have worth.Strengthen your faith in your inherent worth by doing things you consider worthwhile.
    4. Caution: If you do worthwhile things in an attempt to prove you are worthwhile or that you are not worthless, you will fail. On the other hand, if you believe you are worthwhile yet neglect doing worthwhile things, your natural faith in yourself will diminish.
      Key Point: Striving to do worthwhile things is essential to your success and happiness, but it is NOT the foundation of your self-worth.Example: Sharon doubts her worth unless she does everything right. Bill, on the other hand, believes he is worthwhile because he does so many things right. It would be better if Sharon and Bill each recognize they have inherent worth, independent of how well they do things.Be patient. Faith in yourself, like a mustard seed grows slowly; nevertheless, it will in time become a strong tree and bear good fruit.
  7. Frequently reassure yourself that feelings of low self-esteem or worthlessness, though normal, do not change the fact of your God-given worth.Remember: Your fundamental identity and worth is a fact, not a feeling.



I spent several weeks trying to help Cari overcome a lifelong feeling of worthlessness. I asked her to tell me if others viewed her similarly to the way she viewed herself. "Oh, I don't believe so," she said. Others viewed her as a loving wife and mother. Her manager at the bank viewed her as dedicated and hard working. At church and in the community, she was known as someone who was willing to help and serve others.

Although she was aware of the good things she did and of others' love and appreciation, she continued to feel badly about herself. I reasoned and reasoned with her. Sometimes she argued persuasively that she just was not good enough. Other times she acknowledged that my reasoning seemed valid; nevertheless, she could not accept the idea that she had unchangeable worth.

Because she forgot what she once naturally knew as a child--that she has inherent, God-given worth--she repeatedly asked, "Am I worthwhile?" The more she asked the question, the more she doubted herself. She was caught in a vicious cycle, a never ending test of her worth as a person. No matter how much she accomplished, how often others praised her, or how good she felt about herself, she kept asking the same question. Having lost her childhood faith in herself, she could not simply answer, "Yes, I am worthwhile."

The problem in Cari's case was not so much a lack of effort, accomplishment, or actual worth, but having forgotten what she once knew so well as a child then she developed the self-defeating habit of questioning and doubting her instinctive or God-given sense of worth. Repeatedly asking herself, "Am I worthwhile?" became as much a problem as forgetting the answer.

Since the answer was pre-programmed in her mind, I knew once she stopped consciously and repetitively asking whether or not she was worthwhile, the natural answer would begin to emerge. I suggested she stop asking the question. She agreed. Instead, she simply went about doing her usual things. Whenever the question popped into her mind, she dismissed it and went about doing her business.

As she thought less about the question, an interesting thing happened--she became less troubled about her identity and worth. It was not so much that she suddenly felt great about herself--who does?--but she no longer doubted her worth as a person.

Trying Too Hard to Help Others


  • "I've got to do something to help him." "I can't stand to see him so unhappy."
  • Sympathy, frustration, resentment.
  • Unnaturally altering normal routine, repeatedly talking about the same things, etc.


When someone is hurting, it is only natural to want to help relieve the pain to whatever extent possible. If a person has a painful stomachache, for example, he can be given understanding and perhaps a little advice and encouragement, but not much else. Accepting the obvious limitations of how much help can be given is not difficult in such cases. When someone is experiencing severe emotional pain, however, there is often a tendency to try to give more help than is possible or even helpful. Attempting to help a person do something he can only do for himself can create confusion over who is responsible for what. The "helper" often ends up carrying too much responsibility, while the person who could benefit from accepting full responsibility is actually weakened by retaining too little. Generally, the most beneficial thing to do is to genuinely believe in the other's ability to solve his own problem.