Knowing your Sense of Self-worth: a cheatsheet to your own psychology [Frameworks]

Vichar Mohio
8 min readAug 1, 2018

TL;DR Notes:

  • Darwinian Behaviours form the basis for a majority of the day-to-day feelings you experience. These behaviours have their basis on the need to monopolize apparent scarce resources.
  • Feelings derived from Darwinian Activities are dependent on two things: (a) how important is this activity to me (“Sense of Self Worth”), and (b) am I doing better or worse than competitors (“Prism of self-preservation”)
  • “Sense of self-worth”accounts for all the difference between people in the world. The Prism of self-preservation is identical in everyone.
  • Four things determine whether you add things to your sense of self-worth: (a) your natural talent in a particular pattern-recognition (b) time & effort spent on activities, ideas or stories (c ) inherited values from caretakers at an impressionable age (~3–15 yrs of age), and (d) physical in-group markers

We live in a world where people have wildly different opinions. They also tend to do different things when faced with the same choices. But despite all the differences, people are more similar to each other than we care to admit. We all follow similar algorithms but end up with different results — focusing only on the results tends to exaggerate the differences between us.

This may feel intuitive to some, and blasphemous to others; but through this article, I would like to showcase why I believe this to be the case.

Knowing the algorithms we follow can also help you understand your own opinion and reaction better. In the best of cases, it can help you gain control of your inner state of being.

What makes you different?

Let me first propose a simple three-step mechanism that all humans go through when dealing with the world (at least for a majority of the time). In many ways this is the algorithm that we all follow.

1. “You” encounter external stimuli (people, things, events) & the interplay between you & the external stimuli results in a “reality”

2. The “you” part of this reality is defined by a “sense of self-worth” — often a combination of narratives & traits that one identifies with

3. Important realities (i.e., realities that align with what your sense of self-worth aligns with) pass through the “prism of self-preservation”. Namely, how much better “you” are doing in comparison to your peers. The better you are (versus them) the happier you feel.

Let’s now dig deeper into each step to see how we get from a common algorithm to such a variety of opinions, experiences and reactions.

Step 1 & 3 are rather mechanical in nature. By itself they don’t explain why humans seem to act so differently when faced with the same external stimuli.

The only piece left is Step 2, i.e., the combination of narratives, stories & traits that you identify with — i.e., your Sense of Self Worth (SoSW). This really is the magic sauce that leads to all the differences we observe. Each human’s sense of self worth is different — and thank god for it.

A world where SoSW were standardized would be a depressing place to live — where EVERYONE had the same opinions and motivations. But let’s discuss this in greater detail below.

How is your Sense of Self Worth formed?

Understanding how your SoSW is formed is a complicated area. But one that needs to be investigated, because so much of your life will suddenly start making sense.

There are certain ideas and perceptions (related to the way you perceive your relationship to the external world) that you will defend with all your might. These form the stable core of your SoSW.

In your case it could be being book smart, or fair, or emotionally understanding, or being great at basketball, or being a good Christian or a being a patriotic Azerbaijanian… the point is it could be anything, but it just makes sense to you at a personal level.

Woe be onto whoever tries to take this away from you. And woe is upon you if they succeed.

An strange SoSW might even lead to seemingly strange behaviors. For example, labeling an orthodox Christian hedge-fund manager as being terrible at poetry could have different reactions from the said manager. Most would (probably) not care, but there would be some managers who would feel bad — because for this sub-set of people writing poetry is as important as being a good Christian and being great at investing.

Each of us has different unique combination of things that define our SoSW — they’re probably not obvious to us & we may not even think about them much. But they’re there, ready to come out and dictate our mental / emotional heath when the situation demands.

So the next obvious question is this: how does this SoSW get formed for each person …and why is it so seemingly different for different people.

Deep-dive into SoSW formation

I propose that as you go through life, you start forming your SoSW based on four factors (they’re all quite linked to each other but still subtly different).

1. What are you naturally great at –Are you very creative? Do you have a wicked sense of humor? What about physical characteristics — are you considered beautiful?

Basically, it is those attributes that naturally set you apart from others and give you an edge when it comes time to judge yourself on the prism of self-preservation.

In a bit of self-serving logic, your brain starts associating dearly with characteristics that it thinks will set you ahead of other (especially with minimal effort involved).

This is because your brain instinctively knows you’ll be competing against others. So why not assign importance to things that you are already good at!

2. What have you invested in? No one likes to feel they’ve made wrong decisions. And an investment (of time, reputation, resources etc.) is often the best way to signal your true feelings about something.

In that context, people will become very attached to ideas or traits that they have invested in. Imagine realizing that what you had invested in as important & life-guiding principles, are actually terrible ones. No one wants to go through that.

The role of “time spent on an activity or with an idea” stands out as an especially important investment. Perhaps it is because death seems so inevitable that we care a lot about the time we have left. To think you’ve spent years doing something wrong makes most of us uncomfortable.

The corollary to this is that you start to include all activities/thoughts/philosophies that you have spent a lot of time with in your SoSW.

3. Role-modelling of “success” at a young age — Another independent element of SoSW are traits that were “sold” to you as important ones when you were impressionable. Usually between the ages of 3–15 years of age.

Most of us have role-models within our in-groups. These are often members of the in-group that we look up to and want to emulate. And as children these dominant members are usually teachers, parents or family members.

An impressionable child will start emulating the SoSW of these role-models.

We usually refer to these traits as “values” we inherit from our caregivers.

Even though you had no role to play in what your role-model thought was most important to distinguish themselves from others; their thoughts have most likely had a big impact on you.

As an aside, I believe that this point is also the primary source of our insecurities. Our insecurities arise because we’ve inherited/adopted certain traits into our SoSW that we are naturally not very competent in. This is because we’ve decided to adopt someone else’s SoSW even if our natural talents/tendencies run counter to these ideas. Doing this will likely lead to a tumultuous emotional state when a reality goes through the prism of self-preservation.

The above three elements help form your SoSW, and become part of your identity. But it doesn’t stop there — they also help you determine who your in-group or tribe is.

One of main drivers of evolutionary actions are demarcation of in-groups. This then helps inform who to co-operate with versus who to compete with. As you can imagine, the decision to demarcate a in-group vs out-group boundary could have huge implications on your survival — because your tribe (in-group) is constantly in competition with other tribes.

4. Other in-group markers. There is usually one final piece that can be added to your sense of self-worth. But unlike the others, it flows the other way. I.e., the points mentioned above got you from an individual SoSW to your tribe. The fourth point identifies strong tribal markers & adds them to your SoSW.

For example, you may feel an affinity to the same race or the same sex. Or with people who share your cultural beliefs or religion.

These are usually markers that are “gifted” to you at birth itself. For example, you may not have given a lot of thought about being a man or a woman, but subconsciously you feel yourself to be part of that “tribe”. Continuing to be a part of this in-group (with all its perceived privileges) is another building block of your SoSW.

Each trait that makes up an SoSW starts as a small seed and is watered through repeated exposure due to (a) environment, (b) societal norms, ( c) luck.

The “seeds” that get the maximum exposure bend up become the core part of your SoSW —unlikely to change over the years.

The non-core elements are still there — waiting for a chance to get reinforced based on the stimuli encountered.

In fact, one way the core sense of self-worth (for both kids and adults) could change over time is through repeated exposure to different stimuli.

So what does it all mean?

Oftentimes, the feelings that we experience are the result of the algorithm described above. Once an important reality (one that aligns with your SoSW) goes through the prism of self-preservation, you either feel good or bad.

Good ties to you being better than others & bad is related to you being worse.

Sometimes the bad becomes too much for each of us handle. But guess what? Knowledge gives you control.

The next time you feel bad (about anything at all!), I encourage you think about your SoSW. I have no doubt that your SoSW is attached to a context-specific idea (that you may not even be aware of). Furthermore, your sadness/anger is related to the fact that you’ve been made to believe on of two things:

a. This particular idea (which you’ve attached your SoSW to) is not important or even a useless metric to judge yourself by

b. You’re just not as good at executing or understanding something as your peers

Sometimes contemplating what it is that we’ve attached our SoSW is the most enlightening thing you can do.

Not only do you realize a bit more about yourself, but verbalizing things clearly takes away the sadness/anger.

Often, you can even see that your SoSW (and all SoSW) seem haphazardly put together to begin with. Something that emerged naturally but had no strong reason to take shape the way it did.

This in itself allows you to gain a level of control over your SoSW (and emotions) which wouldn’t be possible otherwise. You can even choose whether you want to continue to feel bad, or just switch what your sense of self-worth is tied to.

Happy living!

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Vichar Mohio

Writing about topics I find interesting & original. Usually a mix of philosophy, evolutionary psychology & technology