Blog Short #69: Do you know your “conditions of worth?” You need to.
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Photo by Tero Vesalainen, Courtesy of iStock Photo
Today we’re talking about “conditions of worth.”
This term comes from the work of Carl Rogers, a pioneer in the field of humanistic psychology. I love this concept because it gives you a way to question how you determine your self-worth. It helps you challenge the conditions and expectations that have been imposed on you that really don’t reflect who you are or what you want.
Let’s start with a definition.
Conditions of worth are those “conditions” we think we need to meet for people to accept us as worthy of their love and positive regard.
They consist of the rules of behavior we learn growing up that serve as the measure of our worth and the conditions for approval. They start with our parents and are enforced later by teachers, coaches, friends, community leaders, and the culture. They’re based on conditional love.
If you behave in a particular way, you receive approval and love. If not, you feel disapproval and a lack of worth.
A simple way to think about it are two common parenting strategies used by most parents at some time or other:
- Withholding love when you don’t do as they wish.
- Showing love only when you do as they wish.
In each case, your behavior becomes the vehicle by which you feel either accepted or not – loved or not – worthy or not.
When parents act with unconditional love, they still hold you accountable for your behavior, but always with the message that you’re worthy and loved regardless of what you do. That’s a big difference.
With conditional love, you are your performance, and what is “good performance” is defined by others.
The Effects of Conditions of Worth
What happens as you grow up is that you eventually internalize the conditions of worth you’ve been taught. That means:
The voices outside your head become the single voice inside your head. It’s your voice, and it repetitively measures you against those learned conditions you now call your own. You don’t question them.
For example, what if becoming a doctor was expected of you because your father was a doctor, as was your grandfather before him. You had a natural talent for art and loved it, but your parents brushed that aside and pushed you toward med school. You knew if you didn’t meet their expectations, they would be disappointed in you. Your whole family would! You went so far as to convince yourself that you also wanted to become a doctor.
So you did. But you weren’t happy. It didn’t fulfill you. But, instead of recognizing that you took the wrong path, you decided there was something wrong with you. You shoved your desire to pursue art so far down that you lost sight of it, and you took on your parents’ expectations and made them your own.
When we accept conditions of worth imposed on us by others, without examining them for their validity, we end up reducing ourselves to an image someone else created.
We become someone else’s expectations, and we judge ourselves by how well we meet those expectations. The conditions of worth dictate the measure of our self-esteem, how we make decisions, who we get into relationships with, and how we must act to be loved and accepted.
Worse yet, we become our own worst critic. Just as we were primed with conditional love to conform to the behavioral standards prescribed, we now assault ourselves with that same mindset. And we get locked into a never-ending need for affirmation from outside sources.
It’s like being in a straight-jacket on a tight-rope; only the tight-rope resides in your head.
What can be done?
Let’s start with the goal, which is “to become your true self.” That means learning to listen to the inner voice that’s been muffled out by the years of external conditioning.
It doesn’t mean that everything you’ve learned and internalized growing up is wrong. That’s likely never the case. It means that you have to be able to sift through it all and question what’s valid for you and what’s not. What truly resonates with who you are – your values, opinions, interests, talents, and desires.
There are two parts to working toward this goal.
- Recognizing and reviewing your conditions of worth.
- Identifying your truths about who you are and who you want to be.
Review your conditions of worth.
In his book Authentic, Stephen Joseph outlines an exercise that I think is perfect for working on this part of the goal. It’s done in writing. Get a piece of paper and write this sentence:
To be of value, I must _____________.
Fill in the blank as many times as you can. Include everything that fits for you.
Examples might be:
- Take care of other people
- Be wealthy
- Be married and have children
- Have a career (whatever fits)
- Be sociable
- Be successful (define it)
- Be calm and never angry
- Be beautiful
- Be perfect
After you fill these in, sit with each one, and as you do, let any thoughts, feelings, or memories come up in your mind. Observe them and write them down.
As you proceed, you’ll start to see where these conditions of worth originated and how they’re embedded in your relationships with parents, family, and other important figures in your life. You might also feel the weight of each one and recognize decisions you made that took you away from what you really wanted or who you really are.
Identify your truths.
As you go through this exercise, you’ll become more aware of what fits and what doesn’t. You’ll question, recognize, and revise what you think, need, and want. You’ll be able to crystallize what you truly value. You’ll find your inner voice again – probably stuck somewhere in a box covered by heavy books and sealed with tape. Dig it out.
This process will allow you to change how you talk to yourself and construct narratives for your life. The voice in your head will become your friend rather than a correctional officer holding you hostage. The door to new opportunities for exploring yourself and becoming more of who you are will open up.
Better yet, this process puts you in charge of your life. It’s both relieving and freeing, not to mention exciting, because it opens the door to step into your authentic self and reach your potential.
That’s all for today. I hope you have a great week!
All my best,