Unconditional Worth

Unconditional worth is the recognition that all people have infinite, eternal, equal, unchanging worth as human beings. Unconditional worth is to be distinguished from market or social worth, which clearly can change and which varies from person to person. Unconditional worth goes much deeper. Consider a newborn baby. Like the seed of a flower, that baby possesses in embryo every attribute needed to flourish. Were that child to fall into a well, parents would spend untold effort and resources to rescue that child, not because of what the child had accomplished in the world, but because of the child's innate worth.

We also like to compare each person to a beautiful cut crystal. Each facet represents an attribute that all people have—the capacity to love, make fruitful decisions, create, have a sense of humor, elevate others, laugh, beautify, etc. These capacities exist in embryo. Each person develops these skills in different ways and patterns, but each person has all the attributes needed to live well. For example, some people may manifest their creativity artistically, while other people may show it in the way they cope with stress, make people laugh, earn a living, or clean the house. In some people, creativity is relatively dormant for a long time, but then flourishes later in life. Mistakes, rejection, criticism, poverty, or disrespectful treatment— these are all externals that do not diminish the core worth of a person. Think of the crystal being covered by a dirty film. When so surrounded, the core self (represented by the crystal) does not shine, but the crystal's worth remains intact. Conversely, compliments, successes, love, respectful treatment, popularity, financial security— these are also externals. They are like a halo that shines and brightens the core. These do not increase core human worth, which is already infinite and unchanging. They only help us to experience our worth with more joy.

Again, the analogy of a newborn helps us to understand why each person has unconditional worth. A baby is pure potential. There is also something very lovable about each child—it is a thrill to see them laugh, discover nature's beauty, respond to love. Do they irritate us at times and make mistakes? Of course. Yet we love and treasure them just the same. That love gives them the security to grow. A similar attitude toward ourselves helps us to grow.

If one considers human worth to be unchanging, then self-esteem will not fluctuate with life's ups and downs. For example, if one equates one's worth as a person to one's portfolio or market worth, then self-esteem might rise and fall with the stock market. If one equates one's worth as a person to one's appearance, then self-esteem will fall as one ages or gains weight. It is satisfying and invigorating to maintain physical conditioning, but it is wise to separate core worth from one's appearance. Appearance and wealth are externals.

You might have noticed that many of the distortions of cognitive therapy (in Chapter 4) relate to threatened worth. For instance, a person might think, "It's awful to be wrong; I must be right," because being wrong is erroneously equated to diminished worth. Also, self-esteem is not image management. Core worth is independent of stylish clothes or the opinions of others (otherwise it would be other-esteem).

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