Our sense of worthiness lies at the root of almost everything that happens in our lives. It affects the way we relate to others and ourselves, the way we hide from life or throw ourselves into it, and the way we pretend to be weak or exert disproportionate power onto others. In the name of feeling worthy we will often betray our values and ourselves. Losing our sense of belonging simply feels too risky compared to listening to what we know to be true.
Outside compliments and attention serve as a compensation for our inner sense of value. Most moments of feeling valuable are derived externally, from other people’s praise rather than an innate understanding of our own significance. However, when we look outside ourselves for the value we betray ourselves and pay the high price of mediocrity. We’re continually challenged to choose between the outer and inner forces to establish our own self-worth. Self-respect, self-love, and a belief in our basic goodness have to fight against giving in to feelings of social anxiety and shame, the fear of isolation, and the expression of suppressed anger. Our need to belong is the core trigger and nourishing force behind our tendency to give in to these pressures.
Life presents us with many mountaintops of success and valleys of failure. In these valleys, we face embarrassment, exclusion, shame, and guilt. So how can we retain a sense of worthiness, especially during times of distress? Particularly when we feel guilt and shame, it seems almost impossible to reclaim our innocence and give ourselves the chance to start over.
Shame and guilt create strong dynamics of self-punishment and often reinforce an endless cycle of choosing the wrong route to happiness and healthy self-esteem. An extreme example is the struggle of convicted criminals. Once a person has broken a significant rule, our opinion of him changes. He moves to the other side of the line, the dark side, even if it was a momentary lapse in judgment. He is now marked by that bad choice for life. From there the opportunities to return to normalcy are limited.
But the same dynamics apply to all of us. When we fail, or see others fail, a shadow is cast and it is even harder to move on. We fight to forgive ourselves and we fight to remember the goodness that is now buried beneath the failure. But regardless of our failures, our natural right is to be here even when we’re excluded from certain parts of society for breaking their norms, rules, or values.
Tell me who I should be, in order to be worthy
Our sense of worthiness is lost in childhood through experiences that may have felt like the rejection of who we were. This was especially painful when we were being compared to others and didn’t seem to measure up. The resulting inner struggle is an expression of the unworthiness we felt and continues to reflect our personality.
On the path to claiming a true sense of worthiness, there cannot be any principles or ideologies. These will only further limit our understanding of this complex theme. What we really need is a deep understanding of our humanity and how it got distorted for us along the way, but achieving this is indeed a huge undertaking.
True Worthiness is found in Simplicity
Real worthiness is essentially about allowing ourselves to belong to something that is bigger and not limited to values of family, culture, or religion. Whenever we base worthiness on “exclusivity,” it cannot be real. Whenever we are inferior or superior, there cannot be a truthful sense of worthiness. Therefore, it’s much more about simplicity and it is not about being special. Ironically it is our wish to be “special” that keeps us from feeling worthy.
Interestingly enough, the “self” in us is very simple. However, according to our societal norms, simplicity is a judged and shunned characteristic, and in our endless efforts to be “someone” in order to be noticed, we create this everlasting repetition of unworthiness. Instead of being our natural selves, we learn to be righteous and moral, feeding off of values based on other people’s experiences rather than trusting our own. We learn to emphasize our body and outer appearance while neglecting our essence. Taking this approach to life leads us to try to use power over the people and the world around us. This can take on seemingly endless shapes and distort our sense of reality, making us believe we’re in control.
Finding your pace again
A true sense of worthiness can be felt when we are present. This means allowing ourselves to move at our own pace, even though most of us are used to letting others shape that pace for us. We mostly move according to the pace of others and have lost touch with our own. This “availability to our self” needs time and practice. Remembering that we have boundaries and natural needs are important cornerstones of the process.
Patiently deepening our understanding of simplicity
On this path of gaining our true sense of worthiness, we must learn humility. The kind of humility that accepts our humanity and which allows room for doubts and failures, as well as moments of greatness. A humility that accepts our dark side as part of our confrontation with the complexity of life. A humility which also accepts the limitations of our body and mind. And most of all, we need patience.