For as long as I can remember, I have struggled to overcome feelings of worthlessness. I strive to be, do, achieve so that I might one day feel like a person of worth. But recently I wondered if there might be another way.
After some searching and researching, I came to realize (at least intellectually) that the whole struggle is within a false dichotomy. By seeking worth, I was reinforcing that my position began from a position of non-worth. How could that be overcome? It can’t. A paradigm shift was the only answer.
A passage in “Feeling Good” by David D. Burns, M.D., summed up the conflict and possible resolution quite nicely, so I include excerpts below:
“[H]uman ‘worth’ is just an abstraction; it doesn’t exist. Hence, there is actually no such thing as human worth. Therefore, you cannot have it or fail to have it, and it cannot be measured. Worth is not a ‘thing,’ it is just a global concept. It is so generalized it has no concrete practical meaning. Nor is it a useful and enhancing concept. It is simply self-defeating. It doesn’t do you any good. It only causes suffering and misery. So rid yourself immediately of any claim to being ‘worthy,’ and you’ll never have to measure up again or fear being ‘worthless.’” Page 341.
“You might wonder—‘What is the purpose and meaning of life without the concept of worth?’ It’s simple. Rather than grasp for ‘worth,’ aim for satisfaction, pleasure, learning, master, personal growth and communication with others every day of your life. Set realistic goals for yourself and work toward them. I think you will find this so abundantly gratifying you’ll forget all about ‘worth,’ which in the last analysis has no more buying power than fool’s gold.” Page 343.
Now, one could argue that of course humans have worth! Assuming this is true, then everyone has worth and no one has more or less worth than anyone else, which brings us right back to where we started . . . human “worth” has no concrete practical meaning. If you can’t change your inherent worth, then the only way you can feel worth-less is by believing it to be true, which is entirely subjective and not based in reality. Instead of berating yourself for “being worthless,” treat yourself as you would treat others.
“Self-esteem can be viewed as your decision to treat yourself like a beloved friend. Imagine that some VIP you respect came unexpectedly to visit you one day. How might you treat that person? You would wear your best clothes and offer your finest wine and food, and you would do everything you could to make him feel comfortable and pleased with his visit. You would be sure to let him know how highly you valued him, and how honored you were that he chose to spend some time with you. Now—why not treat yourself like that? Do it all the time if you can! After all, in the final analysis, no matter how impressed you are with your favorite VIP, you are more important to you than he is. So why not treat yourself at least as well? Would you insult and harangue such a guest with vicious, distorted put-downs? Would you peck away at his weaknesses and imperfections? Then why do this to yourself?” Page 345.
Good question! I guess the answer is to remember that "worth" is an illusion and to have self-respect—respect the self by treating the self with respect.