Having a sense of self-worth means you value yourself and having a sense of self-value means that you are worthy.Courtney Ackerman – www.positivepsychology.com
Until recently, I thought I had a handle on the whole ‘self-worth’, ‘self-value’ thing but over the last few weeks, some questions surfaced for me.
Why do I feel the need to push myself so hard to achieve more?
Why do I compare my children’s traits and abilities to those of their peers?
What makes me hide some parts of who I am and make more of other parts?
Where did I learn these things and how do they shape my behaviour?
Emotions as the guide
Last week I spoke about how our emotions can guide us if we pay attention to them. When we feel bad, it usually indicates some need for change while feeling good usually indicates we’re on track.
But over the last couple of weeks I started questioning why I only feel good if I’m achieving things. Theoretically, if I simply keep achieving, I should keep feeling good but this hasn’t turned out to be the case – largely because I simply haven’t the energy to keep going at the required pace to keep the self-doubt at bay and the more I increase the pace, the more I end up having sleepless nights, overeating and feelings a lot worse.
More to the story – the measure of worth
This week, I watched a documentary on Gaia, titled Transcendence, Ep. 2 – Recovering your True Self. Not only did it help me think about the “requirements” against which I measure my self-worth, it got me thinking about the requirements I’m imposing on my children as well.
I say, “you can do, be and have anything”, but what I’m really saying is, “you must do something great, have more than average and be more than most”.
- Be good
- Be kind
- Be happy
- Earn lots of money
- Be slim
- Always try your hardest
- Never give up
- Be creative
- Try new things
The list is endless. This is what they must do and be and have – all the same things I must do and be and have.
Surely there is something wrong with us if we don’t want these things? Surely falling short of achieving them is something about us? Something lacking? An unwillingness to give our best? An indication that in the measure of life, we are not enough.
The ball of unworthiness
In the documentary, Shelley Lefkoe, co-founder of the Lefkoe Institute, explained how most of us spend our lives doing things to push our feelings of unworthiness out of sight.
When our efforts work, we feel good. When our efforts fail, we feel bad.
She describes the feelings we’re pushing down like a ball being pushed under water. It takes effort to push the ball below the surface and there is constant pressure to keep it there but inevitably it pushes back up. The energy it takes to keep this going is exhausting.
The tracks of beliefs
The rest of the documentary was all about the beliefs we internalise as children – basically, how our experiences lead us to draw conclusions about what is good and bad, worthy and not worthy, essentially the beliefs that create the ball and the beliefs about the required behaviours to keep the ball below the surface.
At the risk of introducing one too many metaphors, the image of railway tracks came to me as I thought about how those beliefs run in our minds.
Imagine a small piece of track getting laid in the mind of a child each time he draws conclusions from his experiences. Once the tracks are formed, the beliefs run freely and automatically so it becomes difficult to change direction.
For example, lets say a boy concludes he is “stupid” because his mum shouts at him when he repeatedly makes the same mistakes on his homework.
This is an understandable conclusion to draw but is neither accurate nor useful. Once the track is down, other tracks attach to it – “when I make mistakes it’s because I am stupid,” “I must never make mistakes,” “I have to show I’m clever.”
I think we all have tracks like this in our minds, faulty tracks upon which our beliefs run unchecked. I have yet to meet someone who has no faulty tracks and that got me wondering…Is the ripping up of faulty tracks a natural part of development?
I used to think the presence of faulty tracks was an indication that something had gone wrong in childhood but what if they’re completely normal and expected and the goal isn’t to avoid laying them. What if the goal is to find them, learn from them, rip them up and lay new ones – perhaps with a view to pass the lessons of this process to the next generation?
What do we do about the tracks?
For my money, we have to approach this from two sides:
- Look at our own tracks and rip up the faulty ones
- Talk to our kids about how tracks get laid and pass on the lessons we’ve learned. Help them see our vulnerabilities and fallibilities so their conclusions about their experiences become more balanced.
A life worth living
I realise that most of the ‘do, be and have’ things I’ve been striving for were born out of my efforts to hold that ball of unworthiness below the surface.
I also realise the beliefs that keep the ball in play are running on tracks that may be faulty and if I pull up those tracks, I could potentially free myself from many stresses of my own making. I’m also aware that, as simple as that sounds, I’m not sure who I’d be without those tracks. If I’m not striving, what happens next?
I guess that’s the question we all have to ask if we’re to accept our self-worth rather than seek to prove it.
I’d love to hear from you with comments, questions or stories. Please comment below or, if you’d prefer to talk in person, visit bighappylife.co.uk and book a discovery call.
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