How Brené Brown Defines Worthiness: The 4 Principles

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is worthiness according to Brené Brown? Is it possible to improve your sense of self-worth as an adult?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines worthiness in a way that is similar to self-esteem. She claims that many people today don’t feel worthy and believe that they will never be good enough. She also says that you can improve your sense of worthiness.

Keep reading to learn how Brené Brown defines worthiness and what you can do to improve your self-worth.

Defining Worthiness

Brené Brown defines worthiness as the conviction that you are good enough as you are, flaws and all, and that you deserve to be loved. In simpler terms, we might conceive it as having high self-esteem.  

Brown develops the idea of worthiness organically through anecdotes, advice on how to feel worthy, and descriptions of love and belonging, and it can be hard to pull out the main ideas about worthiness. We’ve synthesized the four key principles that seem to underpin her idea of worthiness:

Principle #1: Accept yourself unconditionally. Don’t set prerequisites for being worthy—for example, “I’ll be good enough once I’ve paid off all my debts” or “I’ll be good enough once I’ve got a college degree.” You don’t need to meet these arbitrary requirements to be worthy because you’re enough as you are, today

Principle #2: Abandon the idea that to be “enough,” you need to fit societal standards or other people’s expectations. You’re worthy as you are, no matter how well you “fit in” or what anyone else thinks. 

Principle #3: Reject the notion that you need to earn self-worth by proving yourself or pleasing others. Your worthiness isn’t rooted in your actions—for example, succeeding at work or making lots of friends. Who you are, not what you do, is at the center of your worth. 

Principle #4: Believe that you deserve love and belonging. During her research, Brown found that it’s impossible to fully experience love or belonging until you’ve cultivated worthiness. People with a lack of self-worth often believe that they don’t deserve to belong or receive love, and when we feel we don’t deserve something, we reject it.  

The Low Self-Esteem Epidemic

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown acknowledges that many of us struggle to see our worthiness. But why do so many of us have low self-esteem? 

Many writers and researchers have attempted to answer this question. For instance, in his seminal work 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson approaches low self-esteem from an ethical angle. He argues that since humanity has repeatedly revealed its propensity for evil—for instance, through atrocities such as the Holocaust—it’s become much easier for us to hate both humanity as a whole and ourselves (presumably for being part of the fundamentally “evil” human race).

Meanwhile, writer and speaker Rachel Hollis writes in her book Girl, Wash Your Face that low self-worth is often a result of childhood trauma. Psychological research supports this theory. Childhood trauma is widespread—the US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that, by age 16, almost 70% of young people have experienced some form of trauma. Therefore, it’s no wonder that so many adults have low self-esteem.

The good news is that, whatever its cause, low self-esteem—or, as Brown may frame it, a lack of worthiness—can be improved, as she discusses next. 
How Brené Brown Defines Worthiness: The 4 Principles

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Gifts of Imperfection summary :

  • How to stop feeling like you're not "good enough"
  • How shame affects your self-worth
  • The 10 guideposts to living Wholeheartedly and cultivating worthiness

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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