I have been hearing whispers of the same emotion all around me these days. A dear, dear friend, going through a terrible break up, speaks of how fundamentally awful and unlovable she really is. A blind patient, struggling her way through vocational training, tells me how biased I am when I commend her determination. If I really knew her, she tells me, I would know that she is destined for failure, and always has been. Another young patient, starting college at a prestigious and competitive academic institution, constantly compares herself to other students. “They are all so…accomplished. Beautiful. Smart. Capable. I just don’t belong here.”
I hear words like this, and I realize, over and over again, how profoundly unworthy we feel. Unworthy of love. Unworthy of respect. Unworthy of money. Unworthy of success. Unworthy of rest.
And yet, if I had to choose only three words to yell from the rooftops, three words that I want burned into the brains and hearts and souls and psyches of my children, all children, it would be this:
You Are Worthy.
End of story. Yes, I know you failed math or lost your job or lied to your mother or cheated on your girlfriend. I know all of those things about you, and I still believe you are worthy. You are worthy and deserving of love and kindness and respect, simply because you are a human being, a conscious being, here on this planet. You deserve to be treated that way, you deserve to treat other people that way, and perhaps most importantly of all, you deserve to treat yourself that way.
We don’t earn our worth. We are worthy of compassion and kindness simply because we are. I can hear the objections that are rising within you as you read these words. But the second we start to believe that we must earn compassion, that is the very second we start to believe that we will never be good enough, that we will never do enough, that we can never try hard enough, to receive what we need.
And although I don’t have a magic formula for how to believe in our own intrinsic value, here would be my three starting points:
Live with integrity: Or at least try to. When we do our best, when we try our hardest, when we have positive intentions, we can sleep well at night. The end result may not always be a good one. But we can live with mistakes and failures when we know our heart was in the right place. We can focus on the overarching journey of growth and learning, and accept that we all screw up along the way. We start to see the process as an important metric, perhaps even more than the outcome.
Forgive: When we forgive–whether ourselves or others–we acknowledge that being flawed is part of the human experience. We release expectations of perfection. We allow and even embrace that we all struggle and mis-step. When we seek to forgive, we ultimately unhook ourselves from unrealistic, unattainable standards. In my day in, day out work as a psychiatrist and parent, I find forgiving ourselves can often be harder than forgiving anyone else.
Be kinder than necessary: When we practice profound compassion for ourselves and others, we eventually come to realize that compassion is true grace. We can commit to loving ourselves, completely and fully. We can commit to giving and receiving with a truly open heart. We can practice deeply conscious self care. The very act of compassionate giving and receiving creates a sense of wholeness and value.
When we believe we are worthy, we will no longer seek our friends and partners who disrespect us. We will not tolerate being the victim of someone else’s aggression. We will stop self sabotaging and self soothing through destructive patterns of drinking, drugging, gambling, shopping, eating, not eating, and all of the other ways we turn against ourselves. We will stop pushing others down in order to pull ourselves up.
But perhaps most importantly, we will love ourselves for who we are, as we are. I am not sure what could be more important in this life.
Let us step into a place where we can acknowledge our fundamental human-ness, flaws, imperfections, and still stand tall in our shadowed light. In doing so, we can create a safe space for others to do the same. We can all be vulnerable, broken, strong, beautiful, interdependent, and most of all…
So in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing how unworthiness seeps throughout your life. Judgment? Comparison? Self criticism? What happens once we simply start noticing, or even better, not allowing ourselves to go there?
With gratitude, Monisha