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Undeserving

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Today I was reminded of how difficult it is for me to take in good things about myself. I had several small things happen: A friend who said he would miss me. A reminder of how much my parents love me. A client who said I had helped him. In all 3 cases, something in me wanted to resist believing that these things were true. Which is puzzling, because I want them to be true. Why is it so hard to believe good things about myself?

I can give you all of the psychological theories that attempt to explain this paradoxical phenomenon, but I won’t, because people don’t seem to find them as interesting as I do. So I will just say that from my personal experience, I believe it comes down to a question of my worth.

I would say that it’s a universal thing to question our self-worth, but perhaps my perspective is skewed, since my observations are primarily based on my clients and from people who ask me for help. Perhaps there are people who know their worth, but if there are, I’ve never met them.

Lately I have noticed how much the word deserve comes up in my self-talk. You don’t deserve to have a coffee because you slept late. You don’t deserve that compliment because you didn’t really do anything to help that client. You don’t even remember who he is. You deserved to lose your ex because you weren’t a good wife. It sounds terrible to write these things out loud, but they’re true. This is what I hear in my head.

I am often struck by how much more easily many of my clients can be persuaded that they deserve good things because I tell them they do. My therapist tells me the same things, and has done so for years, but I still don’t completely believe her. Why is it so hard for me to be convinced? Do I feel more worthless than my clients do? And if so, how is it that I am able to help anyone?

I saw a client last week who talked about how she feels like she has some fundamental flaw. A crack in her foundation. I said the exact same thing to my therapist several years ago. I didn’t tell her this, of course, but I reassured her that many people feel the same way. Eventually she was able to reframe this metaphor as the cracks that result when a house settles. The cracks that make it unique and give the house character. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

This is a good example of how sometimes you learn as much from clients as they learn from you.

Perhaps it is my client’s comment that has inspired me to be more mindful of when I use the word undeserving. From now on, when I catch myself using it, I’m going to replace the word with something else. I’m not sure what that word is yet, but I am open to suggestions, if anyone has ideas.

About Christy Barongan

I didn't know it at the time, but I wanted to be a psychologist so that I could figure out how to be normal. I think many people come to counseling for the same reason. What I've come to learn is that feeling good about myself is not about trying to be normal. It's about trying to be me. But it's a constant struggle for me, just like it is for everyone else. So I thought I would approach this task with openness and honesty and use myself as an example for how to practice self-acceptance.

13 responses »

  1. I can so relate to this, Christy. I actually have the same problem before. I used to believe I am second rate, I am not capable of doing something excellent and that I’m not smart enough. I used to cringe at compliments and though I am polite enough to thank the giver, deep inside I feel so unworthy. There goes the word.

    It was a struggle. Sometimes, I still feel the same. But abundance mentality or change in belief has change me through the years. Now I feel genuinely good about myself.

    Hope you’d ge there soon.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your struggle with self-worth here Christy. I think clients sometime forget the person sitting opposite them often shares the same struggles and human afflictions!

    I walk the same path as you when it comes to not believing I am good enough. With the help of my therapist, I’ve realized it has a lot to do with shame. Shame underpins so many things. I feel like I have to slowly chip away at the shame that surrounds me in order to uncover the core feelings. At the moment that still feels too scary.

    I believe no can really tell us we are worthy, as you have said here. It’s about internalizing it somehow through looking after ourselves and doing things which make us feel light and happy. Now if only the practical implementation were as easy 😉

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  5. Hi Christy, great post and I appreciate your point of view as a professional who is supposed to “know all the answers” ( no one does, of course!) Two things come to mind: one, the work of Brene Brown, who with her books and TED talks has done tremendous work shedding light on shame and how we can heal from it. Very helpful for me and thousands of others. Also the word “grace” instantly popped into my mind as I read your post, as my faith has certainly helped me with the things you speak of. Thank you for your honesty and insight:)

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  6. This was a great post, thank you for sharing. I have gone through phases of feeling undeserving but it was after I wrote this blog http://makupsy.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/butterfly/ that I realised I had gone past that and realised my worth.
    Everyone deserves to be happy, to be complimented, to get that promotion, whatever good thing that comes our way we should not be too hard on ourselves and accept it with open arms and realise that we are all worthy 🙂

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