A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how we are all worthy, independent of what we do, earn, look like, or accomplish. I have been reflecting on this post since then, and the theme of worthiness continues to manifest itself with my patients, friends, and children. Yes, in theory, this sounds perfectly reasonable. We all know on some level that we should feel worthy.
But why is it so hard to actually feel that way?
A patient of mine, in the depths of despair, recently told me through her tears that she didn’t even feel “human.” My daughter has mentioned on several occasions that she is “too slow” at school and “is a really bad artist.” A good friend going through a break up insisted that she was never deserving of her ex-boyfriend, and that she was destined to be alone, forever.
Even when I examine my own internal dialogue, I realize how difficult it is to own my strengths. An expert at “imposter syndrome”, I continually feel under qualified to write, speak, teach, guide. I struggle with a sense of hypocrisy. I struggle to define myself as a writer when I do not earn money through my writing. I don’t feel like I can call myself a runner if I am having a particularly unathletic day. I often feel like I am failing as a mother, or failing as a psychiatrist by not seeing more patients.
I am never enough for myself.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we secretly whisper words to ourselves that we would never say out loud to another human being? Why do we trample on the fragile, delicate shoots of our self worth? Why do we continually see ourselves through the shards of a shattered mirror?
I think the answer lies in something so subtle that we no longer even notice when we do it. It is the insidious nature of comparison. We look at the people around us, and continuously measure ourselves by the standards of other people. We see ourselves relative to not just our friends and family and colleagues, but also relative to the shiny, polished lives on Instagram and Facebook.
Other people have it all together. They are beautiful, rich, successful, intelligent, creative, fit, happy, passionate, and in love. They have amazing cars and homes and partners and well behaved, smart, polite, athletic children. They are living the dream, and we are somewhere on the periphery, broken and vulnerable, looking in.
If we take it one level further, we might realize that we not only compare ourselves to other people, but to our imagined standards for ourself. I, for example, think I can justify calling myself a writer when I have a book on the New York Times best seller list or am earning enough money to support myself through my writing (“But what”, my heart whispers, “does that have to do with the joy of telling stories?”).
I have a magic number on the scale that is the “right” weight for me (“But what,” my heart whispers, “does that have to do with the beauty that lies within?”). Where do these ideas come from? Perhaps some mix of cultural, familial, and societal views that have seeped in through our skin, subtly, over time, and taken hold.
And finally–we are a goal driven, accomplishment focused society. We attach ourselves to titles and salaries and the number of letters after our name, rather than pausing long enough to reflect on what exactly we are striving for. Is there really a finish line? Is there really a meaningful goal to be had? Instead, perhaps there is an opportunity to focus on the joy of the process itself, the journey itself.
When I look back on my own life, every time I reached one goal, the celebration was quickly eclipsed by the next goal. Each goal, end endpoint, quickly becomes irrelevant, morphing into a stepping stone for the next one. But when I step back, I realize that I do not want my life to simply be a series of accomplishments that I have checked off of a list.
What matters most is this: Am I enjoying myself? Am I making time for the people and pursuits that I love? Am I slowing down long enough to notice the moments that build a life? Am I living a life that is aligned with my core values? Am I making a difference?
So yes, we are indeed all worthy, we absolutely are, simply because we exist as conscious beings, together on this beautiful planet. But it might be difficult to truly believe that, in every cell of our body, as long as we continue to compare ourselves to others, our ingrained standards for ourselves, and focus on goals, rather than process.
It is not easy to change these behaviors, as they can be subtle and stubborn.
But when we find ourselves wrangling to feel okay within ourselves, chances are, one of these patterns is part of the problem. And so we continue to shed the light of awareness on those parts, and practice new ways of being. We start over and over and over, until we create new pathways in our brain, and even then, we continue to practice and start over.
It is not easy, but it is certainly a most worthy endeavor.
With gratitude, Monisha