The ‘Ten Commandments’ of Character Development, Number Three: Maintaining a Balanced Sense of Self-Worth

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Dr Simon’s series continues with the third of ‘ten commandments’ of character development: maintain a balanced sense of self-worth.

This is the third in a series of articles on essential life lessons that my experience working with character-disturbed individuals has taught me must be learned for a person to develop sound character. Past posts have included the “commandments” of overcoming our innate tendency toward egocentrism by recognizing the impact of our presence and behavior on the world around us, and striving to be grateful as a way of appreciating our obligations and debts and overcoming any destructive sense of entitlement:

This post addresses the issue of how to develop a balanced sense of self-worth.

For the sake of emotional, psychological, and spiritual health, it’s always a good idea to strive for balance in most areas of life. But when it comes to character development, nowhere could the need for balance be greater than with respect to one’s sense of self-importance or worth.

For a long time, well-intentioned but misguided professionals advanced the notions not only that most psychological problems stemmed from low self-esteem but also that whenever a person appeared to be too full of himself or herself, it was necessarily a “compensation” for underlying feelings of insecurity. Evidence has been mounting in recent years that these notions are deeply flawed. People can indeed think far too much of themselves, always with disastrous consequences for character development as well as for relationships, and not always because they feel insecure underneath it all.

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To quote from my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), there are some important caveats to consider when striving to develop a balanced sense of self-worth:

You are neither an insignificant speck nor are you so precious or essential to the universe that it simply cannot do without you. You need to rightly know where you fit in the grand scheme of things and to keep a balanced perspective on your sense of worth. Thinking too much of yourself is just as dangerous as thinking too little of yourself. Do not dismiss your accomplishments but don’t laud yourself for or lord over others any position or good fortune you’ve managed to secure. Avoid pretense, keep a balanced sense of self, and be genuine and humble to avoid false pride. (Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), Chapter 4)

By far, the most significant obstacles to developing a balanced sense of self-worth are the tendency of folks to equate their “gifts” with their value as human beings and the tendency for modern cultures to reinforce this notion. Hence, the third “commandment:”

You are not synonymous with your talents, abilities, or physical attributes. They are all endowments (i.e., fortunate accidents of nature, “gifts” of God, etc.) entrusted to you and for which you cannot rightfully claim credit. Recognize where things really come from and give credit and recognition where credit and recognition are truly due. Who you are and how you are defined as a character is in large measure not determined by what you have but by what you do with what you’ve been given. The credit for your life and your resources belongs to nature or, ultimately the creative force behind nature. The credit for what you do with all you’ve been given goes to you. This is the essence of merit. Honor the life force within you as well as all who might have nurtured your potential by using your gifts for the good of all. It’s not so much the outcome of your actions that matter either, for that’s also not entirely in your hands. It’s how you exercise your will that counts. Having appropriate reverence for what you’ve been given and honoring the creative force through your actions is the essence of genuine humility. And judging yourself on your merits instead of your endowments will enable you to keep a healthy and balanced sense of self-worth.

Developing a healthy sense of self is crucial to character development. Unfortunately modern culture really obstructs this process. We heap praise, attention, and financial reward on those who have physical beauty, brains, and talent yet display no integrity of character. And we are getting exactly what we have paid for — a character-deficient society. But we can reverse this trend. It starts one child, one family, one school, one community, etc. at a time. The next time you see your kid “trying” to do better and for all the right reasons, try recognizing and rewarding that effort. It’ll go a long way toward helping him or her develop integrity of character.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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