How to Define and Cultivate Your Sense of Self-Worth

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 four principles define your sense of self-worth? How can living wholeheartedly help cultivate your worthiness?

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines what it means to have a sense of self-worth. She explains the four principles of worthiness and shares the three values you need to cultivate worthiness.

Continue below to learn what having a sense of self-worth means.

The Theory of Worthiness

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explores the concept of “Wholehearted living.” This way of life is all about cultivating a sense of self-worth. It’s about accepting that you’re flawed, but recognizing that this doesn’t impact your worth as a person. 

Brown claims that living Wholeheartedly has improved her life in many ways. She feels less anxious; happier; healthier, both physically and emotionally; and more accepting of herself.

Defining Worthiness

The first step in exploring the theory behind self-worth is to define the term itself. In simple terms, worthiness is the conviction that you are good enough as you are, flaws and all. This conviction is underpinned by four key principles:

Principle #1: Accepting yourself unconditionally. You shouldn’t set prerequisites for being worthy—for example, “I’ll be good enough once I’ve lost that weight” or “I’ll be good enough once I’ve found a romantic partner.” Instead, you need to embrace the idea that you’re enough now, not if or when

Principle #2: Abandoning 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: Rejecting the notion that you need to work for worthiness; that you need to earn self-worth by proving yourself or pleasing others. Your worthiness isn’t rooted in your actions—for example, being nice and making everybody like you. It’s based on who you are, not what you do

Principle #4: Believing that you deserve love and belonging. Brown’s research suggests that people can’t feel loved or like they belong unless they feel that they deserve love and belonging. In short, unless you cultivate worthiness, you’ll never fully experience love or belonging—and you’ll suffer accordingly. Love and belonging are innate human needs. If you don’t fulfill these needs, you’ll struggle emotionally and physically. 

Cultivating Self-Worth

Now that you’ve learned what worthiness is, it’s time to explore how you can cultivate it. Brown’s research has suggested that there are three key values that you need to practice to generate worthiness. These are courage; compassion; and connection. These three values impact all ten guideposts for living Wholeheartedly. 

According to Brown, these three values are the gifts of imperfection—gifts that we only have access to because we’re flawed. If we all lived ideal lives free from struggles and mistakes, we’d never need to put these values into practice—and we’d never reap their benefits.

How to Define and Cultivate Your Sense of Self-Worth

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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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