Don’t Tie Your Self-Worth on Others’ Actions

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Allowing ourselves to get sucked into the emotions of others is one thing … but one of the more difficult problems is allowing the actions of other people to affect how we judge ourselves.

A good example: your boyfriend dumps you, so you wonder what’s wrong with yourself. Why doesn’t he love you? You opened yourself up to him, you shared your innermost self, you gave all your love to him … and he rejected you. This must mean he found you unworthy, right?

Actually, no: his actions have nothing to do with you, really.

Let me emphasize that because it’s really important: the actions of other people have very little to do with you.

If your boyfriend rejects you, or your boss gets mad at you, or your friend is a little distant today … that has very little to do with you (and your value as a person) and everything to do with what’s going on with them. They might be having a bad day, a bad week, are caught up in some story going on in their heads, are afraid of commitment or being rejected themselves, fear failing in the relationship, and so on and so on.

There are a million possible reasons someone might do something, and they are not a judgment on you. They are more a statement of what’s going on with the other person.

Let’s take a few examples:

Those are just a few examples, but you can see how we often take other people’s actions personally even when they have very little to do with us. And we can often interpret their actions to be a judgment on us, and so feel bad about ourselves, when really it’s nothing to do with us.

So how do we deal with other people’s actions instead? Let’s take a look.

How to Deal with Others’ Actions

So someone rejects you, gets mad at you, is indifferent to you, is rude to you … what do you do?

There are many options, of course, but here’s what I suggest generally:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Their actions don’t have anything to do with you, so if you find yourself taking it as a personal affront to you, or a judgment of your worth, be aware of that, and let it go. Tell yourself that this has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.
  2. Reaffirm your value. If you feel yourself doubting your value because of their actions, recognize that your value isn’t determined by their actions or judgments. It’s determined by you. So reaffirm that you believe you have great value — appreciate the things about yourself that are good and that have value. Even if no one else appreciates you, be the one person who can see those good things and is grateful for them. That’s all you need.
  3. Be compassionate. If that person is mad, rude, irritated, tired or afraid … they are in pain. They might be lashing out at you, or withdrawing from you, because of that pain. See if you can help relieve the pain. You’ve already checked in with yourself, and realized you are good to go. Now go help the other person. If they don’t want your help, that’s OK too. Your worth isn’t determined by whether someone wants or uses your help — it’s the fact that you tried to help that’s a statement of your value. You can’t control whether other people receive your help or are grateful for it … but you can at least make the attempt.

These three steps, by the way, don’t just help you with your self worth … they help your relationship with the other person. Often we react to others as if they personally injured us, and the other person doesn’t understand why … and so they in turn take our reaction personally, and get mad or hurt. If instead we don’t take their actions personally, and instead seek to help them, they are more likely to be grateful than mad or hurt. And so we’re better friends, co-workers, partners, parents if we take things less personally and are more compassionate.

This takes practice, of course, like all skills. It’s important to recognize what’s going on, so that you can then practice these skills whenever possible.