Attending to the Undervalued Self

A fresh approach to those times when you doubt your own worth

Easy Ways to Escape Feeling "No Good"

Another reason to look, consciously, at the ranking and linking all around us.

painting of friends, by David Pott
Let's get practical. As I said in my first blog post, we all undervalue ourselves at times. In a sense we all have many selves besides our core self. I am sure you are a very different person when you are, for example, with your parents, starting a new job, singing in the shower, or being stopped for speeding. You will only be your undervalued self when people and places make you compare yourself to others. That's ranking mode.

The easiest way out of your undervalued self is to stop ranking entirely by switching from ranking to linking. Of course, this is easier said than done. The undervalued self really hangs on after a failure or rejection. Some of us are stuck in our undervalued self for years. My book has entire chapters on why and what to do about seeing the world through a ranking lens. But here are some tricks to start with for switching to linking.

First, try to change who you are with. Switch to thinking about or being with people with whom you have good, close, strong links. Get away from those who have the wrong idea about you, or compulsively compare themselves to others.

Second, try to change where you are. Think about places where you do feel loved. Go there in your mind or actually go there as soon as you can. If you work in a place that is ruthlessly competitive, consider finding a job where the strategy is teamwork and trust.

Third, look at yourself through the other's eyes - with some money on the table. Suppose your ruthless workplace has you undervaluing yourself again today. You go to the gym and feel certain that others are noticing how fat and flabby you are. You see someone you know from work. She's friendly. You are sure it's out of pity. Or else she wants something. However, would you bet a thousand dollars on it? Probably not, because you know many people do like you. Now you aren't ranking, but seeing the possibility of linking.

Fourth, to link, practice SEEK. First, Smile and make Eye contact with someone you think you might like to know. That's not so hard. Then show some Empathy. Don't just say "Lousy weather," but "You look pretty wet and miserable." Finish with Kind. Offer a hot cup of coffee. You are no longer comparing yourself to the other person or to anyone.

It's a little embarrassing, telling you what sounds like something Grandma would recommend for a bad mood. But SEEK is not just being polite or pleasant, although that is good too. Research shows that linking begins with being drawn to a particular person, at least a little. It's like a mild case of falling in love, and might even lead to that. This caring for the other leads you to want to know what's going on in this person--empathy. Further, linking means wanting to meet the other's needs if you can--kindness.

Another reason not to discount SEEK as "Bubba psychology" is that, not only do you have to hear Grandma say this will help, but you have to actually practice it. You want it to be so automatic that you can do it even when you feel bad about yourself. Something to do today for your undervalued self: Try SEEK with some people you might kind of like.

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Photo by David Pott.

Elaine Aron, Ph.D., is a research and clinical psychologist, and the author of The Undervalued Self, The Highly Sensitive Person, and The Highly Sensitive Child.

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