Unni Turrettini: “Self-worth”

Self-worth: Social isolation or disconnection is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. Paraphrasing Brené Brown, when someone says they are lonely, what they are really saying is “I don’t believe I’m worthy of love and connection.” What that means is that the foundation for connecting with other people is connecting with ourselves first. To […]

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Self-worth: Social isolation or disconnection is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. Paraphrasing Brené Brown, when someone says they are lonely, what they are really saying is “I don’t believe I’m worthy of love and connection.”

What that means is that the foundation for connecting with other people is connecting with ourselves first. To be connected means you understand your worth, which gives you the power to be yourself in different situations instead of trying to fit in. Self-worth also gives you the ability to be alone and feel good in your own company.


It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Unni Turrettini.

Unni is the award-winning author of Betraying the Nobel: The Secrets and Corruption behind the Nobel Peace Prize (Pegasus Books, 2020) about trust and leadership, and The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer (Pegasus Books, 2015), which examines Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik from both a psychological and sociological perspective and focuses on what we can learn from that tragedy to prevent rampage killings spurred by loneliness. With law degrees from Norway, France, and the United States, Unni is a member of the New York Bar, and worked in law and finance for nearly a decade before becoming a full-time author, speaker, and facilitator.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Norway, but I look at myself as a global and multicultural citizen. For the longest time, I was searching for belonging and connection. Growing up, my family moved several times and I often felt as if I didn’t fit in anywhere. Even within my own family. As a young woman, I was eager to travel and find my home. In high school, I went to the United States as an exchange student, which was the first time I was separated from my family. I remember loving being in a place where my individual success was encouraged — very different from Norwegian culture. My host family had four adopted children, two black and two Asian, which taught me a lot about diversity. Later, I moved to France to study law, went back to the United States again, and then to Switzerland where I got married and founded a family. But even with a family on my own, I felt that something was missing. That’s when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to fill my emptiness with more material things, people, social status, or titles. I had to come to terms with me, my wounds, and reconnect with the young girl inside of me who was not only hurt and angry — but who is strong, courageous, and tells the truth. The final part of this healing came when I moved back to Oslo in 2016, after twenty years abroad.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

On July 22, 2011, Norway experienced the most horrific attack since World War II, when Anders Breivik single-handedly killed seventy-seven people, most of them teenagers.

I needed to understand how Breivik could become a mass murderer and what we can do to stop the next lone wolf. As difficult as it was to study the mind of a killer, I also felt compassion for the boy and young man Breivik used to be. I could relate to some of his pain growing up, feeling like an outsider. My research led me to writing and publishing The Mystery of The Lone Wolf Killer in a hope to create awareness of the warning signs and to cultivate a culture of belonging. All everyone wants is to feel seen, heard, and valued.

With the publication of the book, I was thrown into media interviews and public speaking. I continued my research into loneliness, which has a massive impact on our physical and mental health and can make us dangerous toward others and ourselves.

Very much linked to loneliness is trust — or rather the lack of trust. My most recent book, Betraying the Nobel, focuses on the secrets and corruption behind the Nobel Peace Prize and what we learn from Nobel laureates and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee about trust in organizations and leadership.

In addition to writing and speaking about loneliness and connection, I have developed a unique method that helps professional women and organizations increase relational energy, performance, and productivity. Having a background in law and finance, and having lived with disconnection and burnout myself, I feel called to help.

I recently developed The Fully Connected Method, which is an online version available to everyone, as well as an online community.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

When I decided to write a book about Anders Breivik and other lone wolf killers in 2011, I quickly realized that my skills writing legal documents would not help me if I wanted my book to have a wide readership. That’s when I found Bonnie Hearn Hill, a wonderful author and human being who lives in Fresno, California. Every Sunday, we would meet via Skype and go through parts of my work. Occasionally, when I was traveling to California, I would attend her weekly writing group in Fresno. Through Bonnie I met former FBI profiler and author Kathleen Puckett, who became a dear friend and who wrote the foreword to The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer. Bonnie not only taught me how to write, she helped me find my voice. Without her, I would not be where I am today.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Although I’ve come a long way on my own healing journey, I still have a worthlessness wound that can get triggered, and which has created the most interesting (and painful) mistakes in the course of my career. For example, a couple of years ago, I met a woman through an online event where I shared a story that I feel come shame around. She resonated with my story, reached out, and we became friendly. After we had spoken a few times, she suggested to help me fill my group coaching course by reaching out to her network of professional women, and we entered a collaboration. Unfortunately, she didn’t do her end of the job and I finally had the courage to end the collaboration. She got very upset and called me some nasty things, which triggered my old beliefs about being a bad person. It took me a couple of months to get over the episode and to realize it was my wounding pattern that made it so difficult to honor myself, and painful to let go of people. Luckily, I recognize one-sided and toxic situations and people quickly now, give a pep-talk to my wounded part, and move on.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Right now, I’m created a program about loneliness and eating disorders in collaboration with the eating disorder association in Norway. Loneliness is closely linked to our physical and mental health, including eating disorders, and we can’t solve the disorders without dealing with loneliness. The goal with this program is to help the participants discover their self-worth, trust themselves, build emotional strength, and increase their relational energy. This will boost their confidence, their health, and make them feel more successful in life.

I’m also developing a new program for professional women who have too much on their plate trying to balance work and family, feeling exhausted, empty, disconnected, even bored. The program is a result of hearing so many women talk about how they “have it all,” but there is no fun and joy; and how they want to be the best, but it’s killing them. I’m really excited about this program, it’s a leadership reset, reconnecting the women with themselves and their true feminine power, restoring from exhaustion, and integrating more joy. When the pandemic allows, I’ll be able to organize off-site retreats to amazing locations as well.

I’m excited for the women, and I’m excited for us as a society. We need more women to step up into leadership, not as replicas of men, but fully owning their true feminine power. A woman who owns her power has authority while bringing more empathy, collaboration, and intuition to the table. She doesn’t burn out because she knows how to choose herself, to delegate, and to balance work with family and friends.

As a side project, I’m developing the idea for a limited docuseries about loneliness and connection that I dream will end up on Netflix.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Persistence. When I look back on my life, I realize that I’ve accomplished the things I have because I have not given up. When I have an idea, I usually follow through until the end, even if it takes years. Persistence is a combination of being patient, moving forward, while staying flexible so you can tweak the how to get there when necessary. Without persistence, I would not be where I am today.

Courage. It takes courage to stand out and to tell our truths. The tall poppy syndrome is still prevalent in our culture. Although taking a stand is something I sometimes struggle with, because a part of me wants to fit in, I know I have a job to do, I have a mission, and my commitment is stronger than my wish to be liked.

Service. There are times when I get disheartened and want to go get a 9–5 job. What keeps me going is reminding myself that it’s not about me. My commitment is to be of service to others — helping them reconnect with themselves and transform their lives so that they can have the relationships, happiness, and success they want and deserve. I am convinced that, in turn, they will pay it forward and be better people and better leaders. Happiness is contagious.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

I struggled with loneliness and disconnection for so many years. I was deeply unhappy. I read books, went to therapy, coaching, healing, meditation, yoga — I’ve tried it all. It was only after I wrote The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer that I realized I was disconnected, just like Breivik. That shifted something in me. I decided to find a solution, which was to reconnect with myself and discover my inherent worth. Only when we know and own our worth is it possible to fully connect with others. Since then, I have developed my unique method — The Fully Connected Method — which I have used to help hundreds get to the other side of loneliness and feel restored, connected, and alive.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

In most of the Western world, we’ve lost a sense of community. The American culture especially, is focused on individual freedom and success, which are good things. We want both! However, in the process we lost what a tribe can provide: people looking out for each other, a common goal, and a sense of belonging. In the aftermath of 9–11, we saw Americans coming together despite their differences as one people. But we shouldn’t need an outside enemy to unite. Our leaders must take their share of the responsibility to restore trust by being more transparent, honest, and by owning their mistakes. All everyone really wants is to feel seen, heard, and valued — whether that’s the veteran coming back from service or the single mother living from paycheck to paycheck — and our leaders seem to care more about reelection and saving face than being of service. Having said that, we can all do our part to create stronger communities and to look out for each other.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

The most common misconception is that you can find joy and happiness outside of yourself. That someone or something else is responsible for making you happy. That’s a recipe for a whole lot of frustration, because it means you have given away your power.

Looking back at my early years of being married, I now realize that expected my husband to make me happy. When he didn’t (because it’s not his job), I resented him. Even now, I have to remind myself that I am the only one whose job it is to make me happy. I have to choose myself, and I do it as a daily practice.

Another misconception I hear often is that if you’re feeling lonely, you must get over yourself and call your friends. Although that may seem like logical advice, it doesn’t take into account what loneliness does do our brain. Social isolation makes us want to isolate more. It’s proven that when we don’t use our social skills, the hippocampus (which is the part of our brain for learning and memory) shrinks. What that means is that when we are socially isolated over time, we forget how to interact successfully with others. The way to connect is to reconnect with ourselves first and then easing ourselves into creating fulfilling relationships with other people.

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

Nature doesn’t like emptiness. If there is a hole, it will be filled. The same is true for us people when we feel empty inside. But we need to be careful and conscious about how we fill that empty space.

I used to try to fill my emptiness with material things. I collected degrees, titles, and even people. I got married, thinking that I would finally be complete (thank you, Disney!). When our first baby was born, I entered a depression, and I didn’t understand why I still felt so empty. I mean, I loved my family more than anything. I also felt shame for not being happier during that time.

The problem, as I would discover later, was that I didn’t love myself. I was always trying to prove my worth and finding my place in the world through other people’s recognition. If you had asked me back then if I felt lonely, I’m not sure I would have resonated with that word. My life was filled with people. But I was disconnected.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Many don’t realize they suffer from loneliness. Loneliness is a disconnection that often lurks underneath other emotions, including emptiness, sadness, depression, anger, anxiety, and burnout.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

The foundation for joy and happiness is connection. Connection is what we live for. Connection is the ultimate performance enhancer and key to our happiness and success. When we are connected, we feel as if anything is possible.

Here are the 5 things or elements for connection, which lead to more Joie De Vivre:

  1. Self-worth

Social isolation or disconnection is directly linked to our sense of self-worth. Paraphrasing Brené Brown, when someone says they are lonely, what they are really saying is “I don’t believe I’m worthy of love and connection.”

What that means is that the foundation for connecting with other people is connecting with ourselves first. To be connected means you understand your worth, which gives you the power to be yourself in different situations instead of trying to fit in. Self-worth also gives you the ability to be alone and feel good in your own company.

Because loneliness is a belief of not being worthy of love, it’s crucial to work on increasing our self-worth. The first thing we need for this kind of work is to be grounded and fully in the present moment. We live in a world, especially now with this pandemic, where it’s hard to stay grounded. We are bombarded with news, fake news, information, and opinions. It’s constant and never-ending, and all those things take us further away from ourselves. We’ve also been taught to look outside of ourselves for happiness, racing for careers, money, and social status. Being grounded is how we reconnect with who we truly underneath the conditioning.

In addition to grounding, I always recommend my students to practice loving themselves a little more every day. When I’m feeling down, I take my journal and I write at the top of the page: How can I love myself more right now? Then I write whatever comes. It’s a powerful exercise that shifts my energy.

2. Trust

When I studied mass killers worldwide for my book The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer, I found that all of them — including Norway’s Anders Breivik — had serious trust issues. This distrust fueled their loneliness. Trust is an essential element of connection. Without trust, we live in a constant state of vigilance, which create anxiety and stress. Trust the glue that holds our society together. When trust is low, we get polarity, political unrest, even extremism and violence.

It’s important that our leaders take trust issues seriously, but we can all contribute to restoring trust around us. Here are three things you can do:

  • Be you. Allow people to see who you really are, don’t try to change to fit in.
  • Be responsible. If you make a mistake, own it. Say it out loud and apologize.
  • Make a point to be clear and honest in your verbal and non-verbal communication.

3. Contribution

One of our basic human needs is to contribute. Giving of ourselves makes us feel like we matter. It gives us purpose.

Part of contributing is allowing ourselves to receive. In our culture, it is viewed as weakness to ask for help and to need others. I used to think that I had to do it all by myself. Looking back, I know I missed some opportunities for connection because I refused to let people help me.

When I started allowing myself to receive, I was scared at first. Receiving means we open ourselves up and become vulnerable. But there was no need to be scared. To this day, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t appreciate being reached out to. It turns out that when we make a thoughtful request, we are perceived as strong, confident, and even competent. It makes people respect us more. And, most important, by allowing someone to help you, you are giving them a gift. Why? Because being able to help makes us feel seen, heard, and valued. Contribution takes focus away from our problems and satisfies our basic human need to give of ourselves and feel that we matter.

4. Relationships

Research done by Gallup shows that positive personal relationships make us feel less stressed and more connected to and trusting of our coworkers, and therefore less likely to quit our job. Relationships are essential to joie de vivre and our overall wellbeing. What’s interesting is that these relationships don’t have to be close friends or family. They can be acquaintances or office colleagues, or even be random people we meet on the street. What matters is that they are high-quality connections — meaning the encounters are warm, kind, and generous.

Years ago, when I was working at a Swiss investment bank, I was sent to a conference in Moscow. I was relatively new at my job and I knew no one at the conference. One morning, as I was riding the elevator down to the hotel lobby, a man entered the elevator and said, “Hey Unni, how are you this morning? Did you have fun last night?” referring to the welcoming dinner the evening before. He remembered my name! I remember feeling amazing. My boosted confidence and energy paid off. I had fantastic time at the rest of the conference and came back with a list of new connections, many of which became clients of the bank.

That’s the power of relational energy. Relational energy is the emotional energy created in every social interaction, not just with our family and friends. By showing kindness and consideration in all our encounters, we can increase our own and others’ relational energy and create a lot more happiness.

According to Dr. Wayne Baker, faculty director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, relational energy sparks a chain of reactions: It makes us feel good, gives us clarity, and improves our memory and performance. All this makes us more productive. I like to call relational energy a secret weapon, because once you are aware of it in all your encounters, it really is that powerful.

5. Decision

The final step to creating more happiness and joy is deciding to step into connection. Every day, I make a conscious decision about how I’m going to love myself a little more, showing up authentically, responsibly, and being more thoughtful in all my relationships. In our busy lives, it’s easy to forget to prioritize connection. That’s how we end up disconnected from ourselves and losing our connection with other people.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

It can be really hard to help someone who is down or depressed. The final decision is always up to them. What we can do, is checking in on a regular basis, showing them we care, and that we are there for them. Listen more than you talk. If possible, get them involved in a project where they can helping others and make a difference. Contribution does wonders taking us out of our own head with all our problems and shifting our energy by making us feel like we matter.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire a movement where every single adult or family mentors another person or family, allowing them to be part of our lives and vice versa. An organized global mentorship would create a sense of community, restore connection and belonging, without depriving us of our individualistic freedom. I also believe a lot of the integration issues we have with refugees would be eliminated if they had mentors in their local community.

A movement of mentorship would be a fantastic way to boost our self-worth, restore trust, and make us all feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I have a dream of creating a television show or documentary series about loneliness and connection. I admire

Reese Witherspoon, and would love to have coffee or breakfast with her and tell her about my project.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I love making new connections and can be reached through my website www.unniturrettini.com where I have a free guide to end loneliness that anyone can download. I’m also active on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UnniTruthTeller

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/unnitur/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/unniturrettini/

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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