Of the many factors that shape our lives -- geographical location, family dynamics, resources and influence, beliefs, self-concept, support systems, motivation, relationships, luck, karma or fate -- our sense of self-worth is the single most important determinant of the health, abundance, and joy we allow into our life.
To the degree we doubt our worthiness, we limit or sabotage our efforts, and undermine our relationships, finances or health. Ever wondered, for example, why so many young actors, who gain sudden wealth, fame, and celebrity, go on to self-destruct with drugs and erratic behaviour? Or why many able-bodied people live on the streets, reduced to begging for spare change. Or why some people continue to accept abusive mates or undesirable work conditions?
Once we understand the lessons of self-worth, we are in a better position to help such people -- but first we must help ourselves. So, as we proceed, note the following points:
No one else can give you an improved sense of self worth. Self-worth comes from doing what is worthy.
Your innate worth has never been lowered, compromised, or touched by fate or circumstance. It exists as a fact of life, like air and trees, and doesn't need to be raised, revitalized, or earned.
To make this topic relevant to your own life, let's start with:
Self-Reflection on Self-Worth
Consider the following questions, and answer "Yes," "No," or "Sometimes."
When fortune smiles on you, do you think, "This can't last?"
• Do you find it easier or more 'natural' to give than to receive?
• Does your life feel like a series of problems?
• Does money seem scarce or hard to come by?
• Do you find your work or relationships fulfilling?
• Do you work long hours and lack leisure time?
• Do you resent or envy people who take frequent holidays?
• Do you feel driven to work more, do more, be more than others?
• Do you overeat "comfort" food, smoke, drink alcohol daily, or use other drugs?
• Do you feel uncomfortable when you receive praise, applause, lots of attention, gifts or pleasure?
• Have you turned down or passed up opportunities in education, work, or relationships and later regretted it?
• Do you seem to get sick or injured more than other people?
• If someone asks the cost of your services, do you price yourself lower than others in your field to be "fair"?
If you answered "Yes" to a number of questions, did these circumstances or situations just happen to you solely through bad luck? Or is it possible that the choices you made, and actions you took, led to where you are? By acknowledging your role and responsibility in your current life, you find the power to make different choices.
That is not to say that someone who is robbed at gunpoint or run into by a drunk driver somehow "attracted" or "drew" such experiences due to low self-worth -- such ideas are superstition or magical thinking.
But when we make choices that lead to difficulties, it is worth understanding in this context. For example, if you were abused as a child, the abuser was responsible -- not you. But if you are abused as an adult (say by a troubled spouse), the abuse itself is not your responsibility -- but the choice to stay with that person may point to low-self worth. (This is not about blame, but it is about acknowledging our role or responsibility, which leads to the power to change.)
Discovering your unconditional worth can help you expand fully into the world. It begins with a first step -- awareness of the problem is the beginning of the solution.
Taking Charge by Taking Responsibility
Sometimes bad things just happen -- a toss of the karmic dice: a hurricane or freak storm, or earthquake or other natural disaster -- we may become a victim of circumstance. We can only make the best of those circumstances and learn from them and grow stronger.
But much of the time, our lives are shaped by the choices we ourselves make, and the actions we take. So if life isn't going well, ask yourself this question: "Who's doing this to me?" If the answer is "someone else" -- if your boss or spouse or partner or another person appears to be the cause of your suffering -- then ask yourself, "Who chose to be around this person? Who chose this job. Did I truly have no other options? Or do I believe that 'beggars can't be choosers'?"
Maybe it's time to take another look.
We end self-sabotage only by taking responsibility for the choices and actions that created it. Only when we stop blaming our boss, the government, our parents, spouse or partner, children, circumstances, fate or God can we change our lives and say with conviction, "I chose where I am and who I'm with, and I can make other choices."
Taking responsibility has nothing to do with blame or finding fault. Rather, taking responsibility is taking control, because it represents the power-moment when we recognize the degree to which our difficulties are self-generated, and that what we created, we can also change.
The Heart of Self-Worth
We don't always get what we deserve in life; we get what we believe we deserve. So the problem is not your actual worth, but your perceived worth. Most of us have lost touch with our intrinsic goodness -- our courage and humanity -- allowed our worth to be covered over by memories of a thousand transgressions, real or imagined, so that we feel only partly deserving of life's blessings.
Ask yourself: "How deserving am I?" Then give a numerical rating, somewhere between 1 to 100, based on how deserving you believe you are. Come up with whatever rating feels right and true for you. 60? 70? 80? 90? 95? Why?
Bear in mind that you have been subconsciously rating yourself since childhood. Now we bring it into the light, and consider how this self-perception has shaped your choices and your experiences.
Our sense of self-worth (or deservedness) comes from many influences, beginning in our early years -- how we were treated by parents or other caregivers (as judgments placed upon us by others become internalized). Abused children, as well as people from stable and loving households, but with extremely high standards, may both grow up with self-worth issues. The source of self-worth issues is complex, and does not come exclusively from how well or poorly we behaved.
But whatever the reasons or sources for your internalized level of worth, the purpose of this week's session is to draw it up from the depths and into the light of awareness.
Self-Worth and Self-Sabotage
As I've noted, self-worth is a subconscious self-assessment of your perceived value, goodness, and deservedness. You allow yourself to receive only those people, experiences and blessings that reflect your sense of worth.
Success involves talent, effort, and creativity. But first and foremost, it requires a willingness to receive. As the saint Ramakrishna once said, "Rain or blessings may pour down from the heavens, but if you only hold up a thimble, a thimbleful is all you receive."
The Choices You Make
The central theme of self-worth is that you subconsciously choose (or allow into your life) the level of people and experiences (both positive and negative) that you believe you deserve. Until you come to realize that life is full of cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.
In any moment, you are free to choose the high road, by being kind to others, working hard, finding supportive partners, and following good role models. Or you may burn bridges, use drugs or alcohol, or choose destructive relationships. Through your choices, your sense of self-worth influences whether you choose to learn easy lessons or more difficult ones, to strive or to struggle.
These choices are not conscious. We don't wake up one morning and say to ourselves, "I think I'll sabotage my relationship today -- oh, no, I already did that last week; today I'll sabotage my finances."
Some of us get in our own way and block success or abundance -- we start but don't finish that schooling or training that leads to a better career opportunity. Or we experience great success but self-sabotage, self-destruct, or don't allow ourselves to ride the wave and enjoy it in perspective.
Looking back on your life, have you wondered, Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Have friends or loved ones advised against a choice or action, but you did it anyway because you just felt you had to? Now you understand the source, and can finally get out of your own way, and make more positive, empowering choices and to take actions to build a new life -- whether in the realm of exercise, diet, rest and recreation, travel, improved working conditions, more education or training for a better income -- the world opens up to you.
Your Innate and Unconditional Worth
Coming to appreciate your innate worth has nothing to do with entitlement or putting yourself above others. Rather it involves a basic recognition of your essential value as a human being -- realizing that you have done the best you could and made the best choices you could see at a given point in your life. More important, unconditional worth does not have to be earned; it belongs to you just as it did when you were a young child.
Let's say someone invited you in to gaze upon their newborn child or month-old infant. Most of us would gaze into that infant's wide eyes and rate it 100 on the deservedness scale. You were that child once. When did you start subtracting, and why? Because you made mistakes? Said unkind things? Weren't always respectful or kind? Had slips of integrity? (Well, if you were already perfected, you wouldn't be living on this planet!)
Each of us is a H.I.T. -- a human-in-training. It's time you recognize that you've done the best you could each day of your life, taking into account your own baggage, information, limitations, wounds, and struggles. You made the best choices you could see at the time. And now the time has come to appreciate your innate worth and choose the higher roads of life.
The Power of Grace
Even when you don't feel very kind, or brave, or deserving, the roof over your head continues to shelter you from storms, the sun shines upon you, your chairs keep supporting you, and so does your life. Life itself is an unearned gift. This is the hidden meaning of grace.
If you have debts to pay, then pay, then pay them forward in the currency of kindness to others -- not by punishing yourself. Not ever again. It is not necessary. It never has been.
Daily Life Assignments:
(1) Remind Yourself: Write out the following words on a post-it, or piece of paper, and post it on your bathroom mirror so you see it each and every day: How good can I stand it today? (Because that's how much good you'll allow)
(2) Just Imagine: Let your imagination drift to a better life. Fantasize yourself as the star of a new movie of your life. You no longer have to be an extra or bit player, being told by others where to go and what you can or can't do. In this exercise you become the director, the writer, and the star.
• Imagine, just for a moment, how specifically you might have an improved relationship (it may be with your current partner, but with some different elements); or, if it is a troubled relationship, then with another partner.
• Now do the same in the workplace -- your current work, or another career or calling. What kind of work situation might you wish for?
• Let your mind drift to another area of life -- what possibilities might await you there?
For any and all of these areas:
• Is it possible to draw closer to your dreams? Why or why not?
• What steps might you take?
• Who is stopping you? (If the answer is "me," then this "me" can instead become a friend and supporter.)
Most of us have been our own "worst enemy" sometime in the past. Can you recall a choice you have made or action taken that you now see as a subconscious act of self-sabotage? What will you do to avoid such sabotage in the future?
How have you responded to favors, gifts, or opportunities? How might you respond differently now? What advice might you give yourself, as your own best friend, about allowing yourself to live a more abundant, enjoyable life?
The next time an opportunity arises that might interest you, or someone offers to give you something or do something for you -- instead of the reactive, "Oh, thanks, but I couldn't" open your arms and heart and mind, and say, "Yes! Thank you!" (Even if you don't feel deserving.)
When you are alone, in quiet moments -- as odd as it may feel -- every once in a while, open your arms wide and say to an imagined person, or to life itself: "Yes! Thank you!" And let this be your approach to living -- from now on!