050: Why Do I Feel Worthless When I’m Told I Need to Improve?


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A performance review that didn’t go as expected.

I had my first performance review at work this week.

After receiving feedback that I needed to improve in certain areas, I felt my self-worth drop. However, my supervisors weren’t unhappy with me nor had they delivered an ultimatum that I either improve or lose my job.

I left work with a big question:
Why does our competency in certain areas of life dictate our level of self-worth?

In this episode, I take a walk through the city and break down what was behind my feelings of worthlessness. I also share my thoughts on how particular parenting styles serve to connect a child’s actions with their sense of worth, and how this connection can be broken by practicing self-acceptance.

Show Notes

Click on a time marker to hear the full podcast

The Performance Review 01:32

  • The performance review required my supervisors and myself to fill out the same form. If a certain area of feedback didn’t match on the two forms then we would discuss that area of the job.
  • I felt good about the work I’d done over the previous two months and was feeling positive about the review.
  • There were four ratings for each area of the job
    • Requires improvement
    • Satisfactory
    • Good
    • Outstanding
  • About 10 minutes into the performance review, I realised there were quite a few areas of feedback which differed.

“These Areas Need Improvement” 03:46

  • My supervisors had rated me as ‘requires improvement’ in quite a few areas.
  • I knew I wouldn’t receive positive feedback in every area but I didn’t expect to rate in the ‘requires improvement’ section as I have been putting in a lot of effort at work.
  • They weren’t unhappy with me, they were simply stating these areas of your job require improvement.

The Reaction 05:18

  • I went into shutdown mode.
  • They were talking to me but I wasn’t able to process the feedback they were giving me.
  • I was familiar with this shutdown feeling as it happened a lot to me as a kid.
  • While doing maths homework as a kid, I remember desperately wanting to understand how to work out the maths problem to ease the tension of the parent who was trying to help me, and who had become frustrated that I wasn’t understanding how to work it out.

They Weren’t Angry 06:51

  • The feeling I had during the performance review was very similar, the only difference was my supervisors weren’t becoming stressed or freaking out.
  • They continued to give me feedback but I realised I still wasn’t able to process what they were saying.
  • I had to ask them to repeat what they’d said as I was still processing the initial feedback they’d given me.

I Became Proactive in Receiving Their Feedback 08:51

  • It felt good to let them know what was going on for me. They had no problem repeating their feedback and I realised they still weren’t freaking out or getting mad.
  • I began actively taking notes on the feedback they were giving me and ensured I’d recorded all of it. Actively taking in their feedback on the areas my areas of improvement took me out of feeling like I was just little kid who was always making mistakes and needed to try harder.

Why Is Our Self-Worth Attached to Our Ability to Do Things? 09:53

  • Why does my level of self-worth drop when I’m told I need to improve something I’m doing.
  • I’m reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Brené is a shame researcher and has completed a lot of research on why we feel inadequate.
  • Dolphins!

How Shame is Created 11:17

  • Brené makes a differentiation between guilt and shame.
  • Shame is about who we are as people and is connected to our self-esteem.
  • Guilt is about our actions.
  • In childhood, we connect our actions with our self-worth when we receive strong negative feedback from a parent who’s indicating that what we’re doing is making us less lovable and less worthy of positive attention.
  • I was experiencing shame when receiving feedback that I needed to improve on certain tasks at work.
  • I can see parents have a difficult job of not shaming their child when they may be screaming, shouting or throwing things.

Breaking the Shame Cycle at the Source 14:01

  • In order not to create a fusion between a child’s actions and their self-worth, it requires the parent to talk to the child’s behaviour and not the child’s value as a person.
  • Silencing a child’s undesirable behaviour with a threat of violence or a threat of something bad happening, provides a short-term solution which carries long-term consequences.
  • As such an experience is so unpleasant for a child, they are likely to shut the parts of themselves down which they feel were responsible for the parent’s unpleasant reaction occurring in the first place.
  • Parent’s have the really tough job of taking care of all a child’s needs AND staying cool when the child is acting in unpleasant ways.
  • I’ve realise kids are often acting in unpleasant ways for a reason. They are not simply trying to be loud and annoying, there’s a reason which is behind their actions.
  • I want to talk to the reason behind their unpleasant behaviour.
  • Children don’t have an understanding of the social etiquette we’ve become used to. If they don’t know about social etiquette then how I can I punish them as if they know all about it and are choosing to be deliberately annoying.
  • When we react in this way, that’s when we let them know “You’re not so good right now.” It’s highly likely for them to come away from the experience feeling shame, and as a result, they may shut down that part of themselves to stop that painful experience from ever happening again.
  • I’m not asserting that parents are required to be perfect. That’s an impossible task.
  • It’s my hope that I can talk to my child’s behaviour and let them know their behaviour is unacceptable, and it’s not themselves as a person which is unacceptable.

The Things I Don’t Accept in Myself Are The Things I Have Difficulty Accepting in Others 19:34

  • The qualities I find annoying or unacceptable in another person, are usually qualities that I don’t accept in myself.
  • I see the connection between the level of my parents’ self-acceptance and the qualities they accepted of me and my sister.
  • The parts of me which I push away and don’t accept is me keeping my shame alive.
  • I’m not accepting those parts of myself because I’ve been told that love and affection go away when I behave that way.

The Way Out of Shame 20:59

  • In order to not shame my future kids, I need to accept the parts of me which I feel should be better and are unacceptable as they are.
  • This does not feel like an easy task because there are some parts of me which I have difficulty accepting. These aren’t crazy behaviours, they are simply parts of who I am.

Suggest a Topic

  • If you have a topic you’d like me to talk about on the podcast, send me an email and let’s see what we can do!

Mentioned in This Episode

Featured image by
Karen Christine Hibbard

Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Podcast

The B is for Being Podcast is a collection of conversations with friends, psychologists, and thought-leaders on the most effective tools for uncovering authentic expression and navigating the obstacles we may encounter on the way to discovering ourselves.

About Benjamin

Hi, I’m Benjamin. I podcast and blog about authentic expression and self-discovery. I also make slow-videos for rest and reflection. You can read more about me here.

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