The Connection Between Self-Worth and Boundaries


Many people have trouble setting boundaries and practice self-care consistently. Even when we know what we need to do to take care of our bodies and minds, we often prioritize other things instead. It's easy to find a good reason to bypass self-care, such as being busy, distracted, not wanting to hurt someone's feelings, being exhausted, overwhelmed, or worrying about being selfish and indulgent. This is especially true for people who are highly sensitive and empathic, or for those who have caretaking or codependent tendencies.

Codependence is one of the most common expressions of low self-worth.

Codependence means that you connect with others through obligation, guilt, resentment, or control. This comes from trauma or anything that conveyed to you that your purpose in life is to be there for other people at the expense of your own needs. This means you get your sense of worth solely from taking care of others, but it’s really hard for you to receive support or to take good care of yourself.

If you have difficulty setting boundaries and practicing consistent self-care, this means that you need to strengthen your self-worth. It's likely that you have unconscious negative core beliefs that are deflating your self-worth and interfering with your conscious efforts.

Core beliefs are deeply rooted generalizations that live in the unconscious mind. You can usually pare them down to a short phrase or sentence which serves as a lens to view yourself, other people, and the world. Core beliefs are formed by genetics, our environment, important relationships, and trauma. Your core beliefs inform your worth, value, and sense of belonging in the world. Unresolved trauma and internalized negative experiences can give shape to negative core beliefs about your self-worth.

Common symptoms of low self-worth:

  • Difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries due to fear and guilt.

  • ​Feeling apologetic beyond necessity or blaming yourself for things outside of your control.

  • Neediness.

  • Allowing yourself to be put upon, or burdened by other people.

  • Taking on too many responsibilities, and feeling resentful about it.

  • Allowing yourself to be controlling or be controlled by others.

  • Feeling indebted to others, even when you’re not.

  • Difficulty keeping the commitments you make to yourself.

  • Fear of taking up space or not wanting to be seen.

  • Feeling ashamed for no reason.

  • Thinking that there’s always something wrong with you.

  • Being oriented around scarcity and lack in general.

  • Putting other people on a pedestal, or feeling like you’re better than others (two sides of the same coin).

  • Self-sabotage.

  • Loyalty to disempowering and draining relationships and work situations.

  • Experiencing an emotional void or a deep emptiness in the body.​

Most of these symptoms and behaviors are driven by an unconscious belief of not being worthy of love, belonging, happiness, or success. This perception of unworthiness orients you around fear and scarcity.

Conversely, if your self-worth is healthy and intact, this means that your sense of worth and value isn’t based on being controlled, controlling or being better or worse than anyone. You live from a place of equanimity, understanding that everyone is equally and inherently worthy of love and belonging. This makes it easier to take care of yourself and set healthy boundaries in your work and relationships.

To clarify, self-worth is based on who you are as a person, deep within, whereas self-esteem and confidence have more to do with external factors like achievements, competence, status, relationships, and autonomy. You can have high self-esteem or confidence but low self-worth. This is apparent when people make a lot of money or became become famous or successful in their careers and yet continue to feel empty inside.

How to Improve Your Self-Worth

Notice when you're feeling drained, burdened, resentful, controlled, or controlling. Notice the impulse to submit to guilt or take care of other people, but don't act on the impulse. Take a deep breath and redirect that energy toward yourself. Connect with your body and focus on the essence of who you are and what you need to nourish yourself. Do this at least once a day. Follow through with your intentions by doing something kind for yourself every day, even when you don’t want to. Over time, this will shift the way you view and treat yourself.

In reality, when your self-worth is low, it can be challenging to consistently do things that will make you feel better about yourself. You might feel stuck in negative self-talk or guilt. In this case, you’ll likely benefit from addressing the root of the issue with a trusted counselor or coach.

You can shift your response to codependent tendencies, even if you feel that low self-worth is a deeply ingrained in your brain, or based on your genetic code. The field of epigenetics has revealed that we inherit not only physical traits but also behavioral tendencies and thought patterns from previous generations. By making changes to your internal and external environment and you can turn on and off the expression of certain genes. Additionally, neural plasticity enables you to transform habitual patterns and make new connections in the brain at any age.

In summary, a holistic combination of therapy, healthy lifestyle choices, and daily self-care can heal your brain, and empower your self-worth. The process of healing from codependent tendencies will help you to change your relationship to yourself, which will also transform your ability to set boundaries and have healthy relationships with other people as well.

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