Yesterday, as I was driving around my neighborhood catching glimpses of the lilac bushes and the brightness of Spring’s greenery, I felt ambivalent about the whole scene.
Sure, it was pretty. But it’s not downtown where I used to live. In fact, it’s in an area that I never wanted to be in. And yet, here I am!
I can tell you what happened. I got here to please my husband. Plain and simple.
And why that bothers me today is because it is a clear example of my intrinsic sense of unworthiness. At the time, I didn’t feel I could say no to my husband. It would make him unhappy, right? My needs aren’t as important, right? I’ll adjust. I always do.
Unworthiness is tricky. I have had many successes in my life. I’m not unhappy, but I do often think that I’m not good enough. This leads to a tendency toward perfectionism. If I am not good enough then nothing I do is good enough, hence trying to be perfect.
It can also lead to self-sabotage when the fear of not being able to do something well enough causes me to shut it down before it even has a chance to fly.
Our deep beliefs about ourselves, such as “do I matter enough to be cared for?” are deeply embedded in our childhood history. Research shows that distant or neglectful care giving imprints on our nervous system. If it is prolonged, we learn we are not worthy of care and love. These experiences form the foundation for feeling unworthy as we grow.
In my case, my mother had something akin to post-partum depression. This condition is commonly caused by the huge ups and downs of pregnancy and birth. Include in that the fluctuating hormones and life changes for the mother, and you can see how it might lead to anxiety, mood swings, crying spells, and difficulty sleeping after the baby is born.
My mother’s condition was bad enough that they had to call in a nurse to take care of me.
I have often wondered how warm, caring, and comforting that nurse was. Did I feel cared for? And when my mother started to look after me, how was she? Well, I sort of know. She was hospitalized twice with what they called “nervous breakdowns” in the first 13 years of my life. I feel sad for her.
I feel sad for myself too, yet oddly comforted.
Knowing that feeling unworthy is a natural result of the difficulties my mother had bonding, connecting, and nurturing me is a bit of a relief. It means I can actually do something about it.
And what I have chosen to do is re-parent myself.
You see, psychology teaches that we often treat ourselves the way our parents treated us. These are habits and traits we learned from them. And so, if we learned them, we can unlearn them. If my mother was limited in her ability to be there for me, I must learn to be there for myself.
Here’s how I do it. I am careful about what I say to myself about myself. I used to say hurtful things, like “you look terrible,” “you don’t measure up,” “you can’t do it.” Now, I am careful to change those thoughts to more loving thoughts. “I know it’s hard, but I believe in you little one.” “I know you are scared, but I will help you.” It is surprising how comforting that is.
I also don’t let the inner wounded child run my life. I am mindful and intentional to call upon the adult in me to take charge. When I want to give up on something because it doesn’t seem perfect enough, I stop, breathe, and calm that wounded child down. And then I intentionally call upon the adult in me to take over. The adult in me has accomplished a lot of things in my life. She knows what she is doing. Things always work out better when I call on her.
I have come a long way managing my feeling of unworthiness. There is still a way to go. But I find being aware of it rather than avoiding it, or worse acting out because of it, helps.
My marriage? It’s good. The move out of the city’s core has worked out well. I am growing to love it more and more. Still, I have to be conscious—all the time—of the ways I put myself second. Even little things like choosing what to watch on TV some evenings is an exercise in me stepping into worthiness. My first response is to watch what he wants. Funny, isn’t it? But my commitment toward healing my unworthiness takes hold, and I tell him what I want. And then, like all good marriages, we negotiate.
It’s nothing earth-shattering, I know. But I feel good when I do it. My understanding is that most change happens in small, consistent steps. And that is what I practice, small, consistent actions that reflect a growing sense of self-worth.