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Importance of Self-Worth in Personal Narratives

Posted on March 25, 2016

I have been interested in the concept of self-worth since being introduced to it years ago when I started learning Motivational Interviewing. In my struggle to understand the power of worth on the client’s understory, I’ve come to appreciate the paralyzing effects a feeling of unworthiness can have on a person. Finding worth in one’s self is fundamental to any process of healing or change, and has become a central part of nearly every one of my trainings.

Trauma steals a sense of worth from the client. How one person could treat another in such horrible ways is a haunting question for someone experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, or domestic abuse. Not only did this happen to the client, for too many people there was not an appropriate response by parents, teachers, police, or others to rally around the client after the trauma happened. Too often, the victim is left feeling as though they are at fault – that they caused the trauma to happen. Where feelings of love and support should have been, there is only loneliness, depression, anxiety, and isolation.

iStock_000002120441XSmallIf I’m unlovable, then why wouldn’t my partner hit me? If I’ve failed in everything I’ve given my all to, why would I apply for a part-time job? If I’ve only ever gotten the message that I’m not good enough, why would I expect someone to love me?

Working with self-worth is hard. Helpers confront the belief that the client doesn’t think they are worth anything better than their present situation. To work with someone who believes they deserve the terrible hand they’ve been dealt is incredibly difficult, both psychologically and intellectually. Psychologically, it is hard to care about someone more than they can care about themselves. Intellectually, this reality makes finding the motivation and courage to address behavioral change or past trauma very difficult.

If no light enters this dark situation, change or healing will not happen. Helpers look for the light and the positive aspects of the client and their situation, reflecting these insights back to the client so they can see the good that lies within them. Our clients are some of the most resilient people in the world. To call them survivors does not fully capture their strength in the face of continuous hardships and traumas.

I have come to realize how critically important it is for us to reflect back these strengths when we identify them. Too many of our clients have no one in their lives that see them in a positive light –  providing this mirror for the client to see the good that lies within them is a priceless gift that takes little time to deliver. If we can’t find value in the person sitting across from us, then we are not looking hard enough!

It is just as important to help the client see the positive in their situation and their challenges. Most clients have opportunities to make at least small choices that could improve their situation in life. In addition, if we focus on their setbacks, we often miss their amazing accomplishments. Most clients can find something positive when asked, “Tell me something good that happened since the last time we met?” Starting meetings off this way are great ways to set a positive mindset for both you and the client.

While a sense of self-worth will take time to build and strengthen, this critical first step to change and healing often starts when someone else sees value in themselves as a person, and hope for a better future path. The helper shouldn’t force this or make things up – instead, it is important to see our role as being a miner. As a miner we are always digging for positive attributes and the good aspects in any situations. This not only brings light into the clients’ dark narratives; it also is a great way to keep ourselves in the positive mindset that is so critical to keeping ourselves healthy.

For those of us lucky enough to watch someone reclaim their self-worth, we know the power of this process. Some of my favorite moments have been helping someone find the worth that they have within them. I want to open up the comment section to you all. Where have you found success in either finding worth within yourselves or helping client find it in their life?

12 responses to “Importance of Self-Worth in Personal Narratives”

  1. katy howe says:

    Thanks Matt for this post. This is a really great reminder when working with clients who are struggling with finding hope/value/self-worth (or when we’re struggling with helping them to find it). I appreciate the reminder of the importance of reflecting back strengths and positive attributes of our clients. Sometimes the most success I have with a client is in just taking the time to recognize that they showed up and are present, and exploring how meaningful that is, in and of itself. Thanks for the Friday morning motivational read!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Katy, I agree. For so many people “just” showing up takes a great deal of motivation and some courage as well. So many people feel the stigma of their situation and services can be retraumatizing. Add in that so many people have been let down by the “system” in the past and it is really amazing people do show up!

  2. katy howe says:

    Thanks Matt for this post. This is a really great reminder when working with clients who are struggling with finding hope/value/self-worth (or when we’re struggling with helping them to find it). I appreciate the reminder of the importance of reflecting back strengths and positive attributes of our clients. Sometimes the most success I have with a client is in just taking the time to recognize that they showed up and are present, and exploring how meaningful that is, in and of itself. Thanks for the Friday morning motivational read!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Katy, I agree. For so many people “just” showing up takes a great deal of motivation and some courage as well. So many people feel the stigma of their situation and services can be retraumatizing. Add in that so many people have been let down by the “system” in the past and it is really amazing people do show up!

  3. Ryan Porter says:

    Many times it has been finding small moments to be human with others. I have found myself tearing with clients recounting stories of hurt and resilience, reaching across the table to take an outstretched hand while they are speaking to me and physically reaching out for a hand to hold. We show people their intrinsic value in affirming our shared humanity. Stating that there are times when we are clients, though 95% (an arbitrary percentage) of the time we are all humans on this rock together.

  4. Ryan Porter says:

    Many times it has been finding small moments to be human with others. I have found myself tearing with clients recounting stories of hurt and resilience, reaching across the table to take an outstretched hand while they are speaking to me and physically reaching out for a hand to hold. We show people their intrinsic value in affirming our shared humanity. Stating that there are times when we are clients, though 95% (an arbitrary percentage) of the time we are all humans on this rock together.

  5. Matt says:

    Beautifully put my friend!!

  6. Matt says:

    Beautifully put my friend!!

  7. […] of both relationships and the greater worlds, to a narrative where trauma robs one of a sense of worthiness and a being safe with one’s self. Out of this reality, there is also a loss of autonomy, or the […]

  8. […] of both relationships and the greater worlds, to a narrative where trauma robs one of a sense of worthiness and a being safe with one’s self. Out of this reality, there is also a loss of autonomy, or the […]

  9. […] helper can also reflect back worth they see in the client. As mentioned in a previous post, trauma can steal the client’s sense of worthiness as a person which destroys motivation. When […]

  10. […] helper can also reflect back worth they see in the client. As mentioned in a previous post, trauma can steal the client’s sense of worthiness as a person which destroys motivation. When […]

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