What screensaver do you have on your phone right now? Pictures of your kids, pets, last vacation?
Mine is the words “You are enough.” That’s right, I have a problem with feelings of enough-ness. I’ve been working on it with a therapist throughout the past year and recognize now how often my self-worth rises and falls based on what others think. When she said these 3 little words to me one session, I just kept repeating it all afternoon whenever those feelings crept in and realized how much I need to hear it over the negative self-talk. So now it’s on my phone as a daily reminder.
Apparently its not an uncommon sentiment. According to surveys, 8 out of 10 millennials (ages 22-38) believe they aren’t “good enough” in virtually all areas of their lives. 75% of the respondents felt overwhelmed with pressure to succeed – in careers, romantic relationships, and meeting others expectations. 70% said that daily tasks like working out regularly, eating healthy and making enough money were some of the top sources of pressure, even impacting their sleep and mental health.
So clearly, its not uncommon to experience a feeling of unworthiness on occasion – we feel we just aren’t worthy of care or another’s love and affection, respect or admiration. It can change over time with age or hardships.
Self worth is your inherent value and should come from within NOT based on performance, money, appearance, academic prowess, athleticism, helping others, relationships, or family approval. It differs from self-esteem that says “I got this.” Or “I’m the best.” Self worth says “This doesn’t define me” and “This is important and I’m going to do my best.”
Unfortunately, not feeling like enough can prevent us from taking risks we might otherwise take, neglect certain relationships out of fear, shame, or guilt, and even internalize the negativity until our body suffers medical and psychological consequences. It’s not the feeling that causes concern, it’s the inability to deal with it when it does.
Your problem is you’re … too busy holding onto your unworthiness.”– Ram Dass
So, where is all this pressure coming from?
- Attachment Style: If your childhood involved instability or a lack of consistent love and emotional presence from your primary caregivers, you may have an anxious or avoidance attachment style and struggle with intense emotional connections and develop reasons why we don’t want them, deserve them, or need them. Take a quiz to learn your attachment style here.
- Parental attention: Did your parents give you more attention on the field than for your art projects? Often achievement-based-worthiness starts based on parental reinforcement.
- Romantic partners: Past toxic relationships can impact future relationships. Being a survivor of emotionally or physically abusive romantic relationships can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.
- Peers/friends: Do you feel more favored in a group when your looks or talents are valued? Does your friend group worry about comparison to others?
- Media: The media tells us we aren’t enough. Advertising hinges on a lack or need to get us to buy more. Social media creates a constant comparison, often to perfection.
- Pressure to Succeed: American culture is one of achievement that highly values drive and ambition, assuming obligation to say yes – to work more hours, to join more groups, and to looking like we have it all together. We give our children participation medals and push them to graduate with top grades in advanced classes.
- Major Life Events: Living up to your own expectations or other’s standards during big changes and new stages in life can create pressure.
- Religion: In the Christian tradition, I often think that pastors and teachers tend to focus on our sinfulness and valuing others above yourself, which while honest and virtuous ignore the also important love of self and inherent value as a child of God. I would love to see more sermons preaching self-care in response to Jesus’s commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22: 37-39).
- A mood disorder: Feelings of worthlessness are a common symptom of depression. If they persist or are severe, please recognize that these feelings are not your fault and seek the help of a professional counselor as soon as possible.
So how do we recover our self-worth?
Feelings of guilt, self-doubt, and sadness can make it hard to stay motivated and accomplish what you want. While these feelings can be deep-rooted, you can work on freeing yourself from this thinking. With small changes to your daily routine to help beat those negative feelings and professional counseling, it is totally possible to recover your internal self-worth, even if it is a lifelong process.
- Acknowledge the feelings. Feeling unworthy is a natural reaction to some stresses in life. Acknowledging the emotion can help us access our natural resilience as humans to gravitate toward peace and wholeness.
- Deal with the past. Look back on other points in life when you felt this way. Somewhere along the way you concluded you aren’t enough because of how others reacted toward you. Every time these thoughts appear, let them float by. Learn more about attachment styles and how to grow in secure relationships. A Secure Relationship on Instagram is a great starting resource to understand attachment styles impact on relationships.
- Challenge your mindset. Ask yourself: Would you ever talk to your friend or your child the way you talk to yourself? Create new self talk to replace the current negative stories. Literally make a list of the things you tell yourself about your worth and enough-ness in the left column and then strike through them and replace them with the truth on the right. Challenge the self-critical thoughts: “I’m stupid”, “I will be laughed at”, or “I’m unlovable.”
Negative Story: I’m a bad mom if I don’t volunteer in my child’s classroom.
New Self Talk: My child is loved and taken care of and feels my genuine interest in their school day and schoolwork.
4. Start new habits.
- Every day when you look at yourself in the mirror say one nice thing to yourself about yourself. If you can’t say anything yet, start with a high five in the mirror. Check out Mel Robbins new book #ad on her habit that is revolutionizing people across the world. It is actually scientifically proven that you can’t think negative thoughts while doing the high five motion.
- Exercise can give you a rush of endorphins, boost your mood, and provide a sense of accomplishment.
- Mindfulness: Take a step back to consider your own thoughts and feelings in the moment through meditation, journaling, and relaxation.
- Pick a mantra to repeat and meditate on. It may be as simple as “I am strong, I am loved, I am worthy, I am enough.”
- Set reminders – sticky notes on your mirror, your phone background. I even bought myself a ring #ad with the above mantra because I need the reminder often.
- Get a new buddy. Surround yourself with others that don’t make you feel less than you should. They should encourage you and value your strengths and not perpetuate feelings of comparison.
- Do what makes YOU happy. Pick something and do it just because you enjoy it. Not because it’ll end up on your resume or make for a great conversation at your next dinner party or because you don’t want the boss or PTA president frowning at you at the next meeting.
- Focus on the little things. Take each day one step at a time. Set small, achievable goals for yourself, and take pride in reaching them. Remember, everyone’s journey in life looks different and no one can do everything at once!
- Create an introduction. Come up with how to introduce yourself that doesn’t involve your job, title, or other “labels.” Be justifiably proud of your talents and strengths. Everyone has things they’re good at and confident doing.
- Break the cycle. Respond to your loved ones successes and failures with love and acceptance. Model a new way for future generations.
- Therapy. Healing old wounds is the only way to ensure that negative experiences in the past don’t affect your ability to carry out healthy and happy relationships in the present. If paying for therapy out of pocket isn’t an option for you, be sure to check with your health insurance provider, college health center, employee benefits, or reach out to a community mental health center near you to find out about more affordable options. There are even online resources like betterhelp.com.
Impact on Self Care
While logically many of us believe the messages we internalize aren’t realistic, we’ve still let them condition our self-worth. Saying no, pulling back, going through a season of hard things doesn’t make you any less lovable, worthy, or capable.
It means your human.
And yes being human can be hard, messy, confusing, and unfair.
Do you feel like you don’t deserve to be taken care of? If you have an achievement based definition of success, your self-worth will also be about outcome – counting steps, calories, pounds – and you’ll feel less worthy of self-care.
But self care is about self-respect – you deserve respect. Regard self-care as something naturally part of your day for your wellness. Taking good care of yourself builds self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. It doesn’t mean lowering the bar on achievement, but it means that there is a baseline of worth that you cannot go below. As much as I appreciate those who are driven, you don’t need to earn your worth. It already and always exists.
It’s never to late to start loving yourself enough to take good care of yourself. The pattern of unworthiness might have been with you for decades. Be patient. Give it time and loving attention, and it will loosen its grip.
You are enough. You are worthy and loved BEFORE you achieve a single thing.
You have value – end of story.