I Am Worthy, No Matter What

self-love1I’ve been on the hunt for days, poking around the internet to find an intelligent article on how to strengthen our self-worth. I struck gold today, discovering a powerful speech delivered by comedian Amy Schumer  at a Ms. Foundation gala. She cut to the core of the issue, illustrating how regrettable decisions made in youth can diminish our self-worth, but reversely, how courage and self-compassion will set us free from the belief of “never good enough.”

The root cause of low self-worth varies greatly, just as the image it projects. It can result from blatant neglect, abuse or abandonment, but also from subtler experiences that cause us to doubt or diminish ourselves. It’s inflicted on mass through cultural condemnation — by racism, sexism, or ageism.  It’s fueled when society proclaims, “You gotta be a rock star, a billionaire, a stud, or a stunner” to be valued in our time. “You gotta work yourself to death to make yourself ‘big’ or starve yourself to death to make yourself small.”

The reality of “never good enough” drives us hard on the outside as it drives us crazy within. We want to fit in, be loved, and feel valued. When we don’t, especially as youth, we develop strategies to hide our flaws or compensate for feeling insecure. As we grow into adulthood, many learn to numb the pain of unworthiness with alcohol, drugs, sex, food or other addictions. Some of us start putting others down in an attempt to build ourselves up. We approval-seek, strive for perfection, or jump from one self-improvement project to the next. Like Amy, some of us fall into bed with men we want to want us, only to discover that we feel worth-less after the dirty deed is done.

Buddhist psychologist, Tara Brach, Ph.D., illuminates the “trance of unworthiness” in her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of the Buddha.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years away trapped in the same old patterns. Entangled in the trance of unworthiness, we grow accustomed to caging ourselves in with self-judgment and anxiety, with restlessness or dissatisfaction…the behaviors we use to keep us from feeling the pain only fuel our suffering. Not only do our escape strategies amplify the feeling that something is wrong with us, they stop us from attending to the very parts of ourselves that most need our attention to heal.

Recently I found myself, like Amy, reliving an experience that happened during my freshman year. I sensed some danger going “there”, but I also knew that if I paid attention to my thoughts, feelings, and actions, without judging myself, I could rewrite my story of unworthiness into a story of abiding self-love. I decided to go for it, carefully. With each step forward, I remained mindful of my choices. I didn’t escape into old patterns; instead, I watched them play out with a curious eye. In the process, I garnered the courage to face what I feared most as a child — rejection. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t resist. I knew I had to feel what I’d buried long ago.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s still a kid inside of me who doesn’t want to feel rejected. Who does! But I’ll never succumb to a strategy designed to mask my childhood pain. The pain is gone. The pattern’s been replaced by a belief that proclaims, I am worthy, no matter what you do or say.

I must conclude with Amy’s words, because her thoughts are definitely worthy of your time. She writes with power and humor…

I can be reduced to that lost college freshman so quickly sometimes. I want to quit. Not performing, but being a woman altogether. I want to throw my hands in the air, after reading a mean Twitter comment, and say, ‘All right! You got it. You figured me out. I’m not pretty. I’m not thin. I do not deserve to use my voice. I’ll start wearing a burqa and start waiting tables at pancake house. All my self-worth is based on what you can see.’ But then I think, f**k that. I am not laying in that freshman bed anymore ever again. I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.

Shhh! Quiet Your Inner Critic

Last year at this time I wrote a post titled, A Sensational Summer Ending. I used the game of baseball as an analogy for overcoming adversity, and since it’s that time of year, I’d like to do it again. I was reminded of the parallels when I watched the movie Moneyball last week and discovered that Oakland won their division yet again. If you’ve never seen the movie, you should. It’s really good! Based on a true story, the A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, builds a winning team despite a meager budget, the loss of his three most prominent (and expensive) players, and the constant barrage of criticism from just about everyone except his new Assistant GM, a Yale Economics graduate, whom Billy recruits to prove a theory that will revolutionize the game.

At a crucial juncture in the story, the naysayers’ voices rise to a soaring crescendo as the A’s fall to last place. Beane’s confidence wanes, his conviction withers, not only because of what’s happening at present, but more importantly, because of what happened in his past. Maybe they’re right? What the hell am I doing? I’m striking out now like I struck out then. Louder and deeper, the voices weaken his resolve, You can’t win, you won’t win, it’s impossible to win in the majors, you failure! You never made it as a player, so what makes you think you’ll win as GM?

NO! he screams under his breath as he spins his car around. I watch the movie entranced. Something inside the character has shifted. The critical voice that’s weighed on his psyche is no longer in play.

Like most of us, Billy has an Inner Critic, a voice within that tells us we’re not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough–or whatever enough. It dwells on our failures and reminds us of our mistakes. It develops early in life and grows ever stronger as we absorb the judgments of people around us and the expectations of the society in which we live.

In the film, Billy recalls his failures as a rookie while the A’s struggle to dig out of last place. The scouts said he was destined for greatness, but to his dismay, he never made it big. The critics hammered away then as they hammer away now. It feels all too familiar to Billy, the past playing out in the present. As I watch, I imagine his inner dialogue, I chose wrongly in my youth. Have I made a grave error again? Are the critics right? Am I doomed for failure?  In addition to Billy’s thoughts, I imagine his feelings–worry, anxiety, desperation, fear. Negative thoughts fuel negative feelings, that is, until Billy confronts his fear of failure and faces his demons head on.

In an instant, Billy changes. Prior to that time, he kept his distance from his players. It’s easier that way, he coaches his Yalie, if you ever have to cut them. It’s apparent that his rationale has been devised for self-protection; the haunting hurt of being cut is a hurt he doesn’t want to relive. So he buries it behind a wall that is now derailing his efforts. AHA! Insight strikes. It all becomes clear. He realizes that he can’t win with just a theory; he’s got to stop distancing himself and get closer to his players. He has to teach them what he’s learning, encourage them to play to their strengths, and most importantly,  show them that he believes in more than a theory, he believes wholeheartedly in each of them, no matter how they’ve been “valued” by the league.

No longer listening to the critics, inner or outer, the A’s dramatically change course. I’m on the edge of my seat, albeit in my living room. I know it’s just a movie, but what can I say, I’m a sucker for feel good stories, especially when people beat the odds and accomplish great things. The A’s did just that. They beat the record for most consecutive wins in the American League—20 in a row–and prove the critics wrong.

This week Billy’s winning again. His team is unexpectedly in the playoffs as American League West champs. Interestingly, he’s also in the press for a different reason. A San Francisco columnist is suggesting Beane run for mayor of Oakland given the downtrodden state of that city by the bay.  Nice that Billy’s being recognized for his talents, don’t you think? Nicer still if everyone, especially the undervalued, could receive much more of the same.

We all deserve encouragement. We all deserve to win. To learn how you can beat the odds by quieting your inner critic, read an excerpt from the book, Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset or call me to schedule a Voice Dialogue session. It’s an amazing process that will accelerate your growth.

P.S. This Atlanta girl who grew up in Pittsburgh hopes to see one of those two teams play the A’s in the World Series. Go Billy!!!