The age of entitlement is, not coincidentally, the age of high self-esteem. Self-esteem, as defined by standard measures, is a function of how we feel about ourselves—based mostly on comparison to others. It often has a hierarchical bias—we’re better than some, but not as good as others. It has a dark side, too, as indicated by the research of Roy Baumeister and colleagues and summarized in the book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. High self-esteem tends to create a sense of entitlement. When the world does not meet their entitlement needs, many with high self-esteem feel wronged and may retaliate with manipulation, abuse, or violence.
Self-value is more behavioral than emotional, more about how you act toward what you value, including yourself, than how you feel about yourself compared to others. It necessarily includes self-care.
To value something goes beyond regarding it as important; you also appreciate its qualities, while investing time, energy, effort, and sacrifice in its nurturing or maintenance. If you value a da Vinci painting, you focus on its beauty and design more than the cracks in the paint, and, above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions and shielded from direct lighting. Similarly, people with high self-value appreciate their own better qualities (even while trying to improve their lesser ones) and take care of their physical and psychological health, growth, and development.
Now here's the tricky part. In contrast to high self-esteem, with its tendency toward entitlement, people with high self-value necessarily value others. Where self-esteem is hierarchical, self-value is about equality. Here's why: When we value others, we value ourselves more—we elevate our sense of well-being and facilitate our health, growth, and development. (Think of how you feel when you’re loving and compassionate to those you love.) When we devalue someone else, we devalue ourselves—our sense of well being deteriorates, we violate our basic humanity to some degree, and become more narrow and rigid in perspective, all of which impair growth and development. (Think of how you feel when you devalue loved ones.) In other words, when you value someone else you experience a state of value—vitality, meaning, and purpose—and when you devalue someone else, you experience a devalued state, wherein the will to live well becomes less important than the will to control or dominate or at least be seen as right.
Valuing others makes our self-value soar. It also carries substantial social reward; showing value tends to invoke reciprocity and cooperation. Devaluing others, though, causes reactivity and resistance. It makes us look for something to be cranky about, so the low-grade adrenaline can inflate our egos enough to get us through the day.
In general, the more we value other people, animals, and things, the stronger our self-value becomes; the more we devalue, the lower our self-value sinks, making elaborate and often self-destructive ego defenses—chronic resentment, anger, substance abuse, impulsive behavior, or abuse of others—seem necessary.
A radical approach to self-value makes these and other maladaptive ego defenses unnecessary. Here's how to get there:
1. Physical Well-Being. Commit to making your physical health important and worthy of appreciation, time, energy, and sacrifice. Begin by reading widely available information about wellness, diet, and exercise, and decide which are optimal for you. Pursue your regimen of health vigorously—not only for yourself, but to make the world a better place.
2. Emotional Well-Being. Make your emotional well-being worthy of appreciation, time, energy, and sacrifice. Emotional well-being has many dimensions: