Yesterday I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was worthless. We’re talking about that deep, earth-shattering, stop-everything-now-because-nothing-matters kind of worthless.
To be blunt: it sucked.
Worthless is a heavy word. It's so heavy that most bloggers and self-help writers will only refer to it's less-aggressive counterpart: worthiness. You’re not feeling worthless, they'll say. You’re just feeling UNworthy. Same thing, one is just a lot easier to swallow.
We have to make it easier to swallow because we’ve so strongly associated the idea of feeling worthless with having low self-esteem. Just do a quick Google search of “feeling worthless” or “worthiness” and you’ll inevitably find a slew of articles with tips on improving your self-esteem and 'crafting a path to unwavering self-confidence!'
Call me incendiary, but I’m going to argue that these occasional feelings of being unworthy do not equal poor self-esteem. Hmm? I know it sounds crazy but if we’re going to pick apart words, let’s take a deeper look at what I just said: “We have to make it easier to swallow because we’ve so strongly associated the idea of feeling worthless with having low self-esteem.” … “The idea of feeling worthless with having low self-esteem.” In these moments you are feeling unworthy. You are not actually unworthy. You have worth. Your self-esteem is still there, it's just a little bruised.
The thing about self-esteem is, in my opinion, is that you can be oozing with it and still have doubtful days. We can all be shaken, even if it's just a passing tremor. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, #nailedit when he said (or said something that loosely translates to) “everything flows, nothing remains.” The question of your self-esteem is not if it is unwavering, but if – and how – you will come back to it. Sure, it would be a lot easier if self-doubt was totally avoidable, but I just don’t think that’s realistic. Feeling unworthy or unsure doesn’t mean your certainty in your self is gone for good.
Feelings of unworthiness suck but they happen to the best of us. They happen to those of us who write blogs about self-acceptance and fight for people to know their own worth. It just happens and, when it does, maybe the trick is to simply acknowledge that you’ve been shaken and to start working on ways to reclaim your worthiness.
As I sought comfort and vented the ugliness of my feelings to my best friend yesterday, I came to the calming truth I’d been looking for all day: worthiness (and self-love) is a practice. And, just like with yoga class, some days it is harder than others. Some days the flow is a bit more challenging. Other days it's rooted in poses that I know and feel steady in. Then, some days, I sleep right though it.
There are going to be days where you miss the alarm on loving yourself. It’s going to suck but, like we said, it happens. Here’s a few ways I’ve found to wake back up and re-claim my worthiness:
1. Own It
I think the most powerful thing we can do in the face of unwelcomed feelings is to own them. So often we sweep the ugliness under the rug or give it an easier-to-swallow name when, in reality, we just want to admit that we feel bad. A lot of my ED and food issues come from hiding the fact that I ever feel unworthy. When I have a bad day, one of the most powerful tools in my recovery has been to share or write down my feelings. Admitting, looking at, and owning these moments keeps me from avoiding them or, worse, burying them beneath caloric restriction and attempts at perfectionism.
If you’re afraid that admitting something like “I feel a little worthless today” might make you look weak to your loved ones, perhaps there’s room for a value change in your relationships. In the meantime, seek out alternative safe spaces like journaling, the internet, or even therapy.
2. Don’t Panic
Worthiness and self-love are a practice and you’re not always going to nail every drill. Don’t quit the game just because you have a rough night. Some passing feelings of doubt are normal. One bad day or even a week doesn’t necessarily mean you need to re-read all your inspiration books — though thumbing through your favorite chapter might not hurt! — or start Googling life coaches. Forget about the implications that these feelings might have and first focus on processing them. Like I said, it happens to all of us.
If it’s lasting, though, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Therapists, clinicians, coaches, podcasts, exercise, meditation… there’s plenty of resources just like this one to help.
3. Stop Evaluating What You Do:
I struggle with rooting my self-worth in my accomplishments, work, and way that others perceive me. Practicing self-love challenges us to move the foundation of our worthiness from our actions to our existence. We do not deserve because of the things that we accomplish in life. We are deserving simply by the fact that that we exist. When we fall into the "worthiness woes" we start to panic and, like a drowning person, we grab at anything in arm’s reach to keep from sinking further into misery. We start looking at our jobs, families, finances, bodies, etc... This rarely helps.
Any lifeguard will tell you that a drowning person in such a panic is a huge risk — because when they grab hold of the lifeguard in their flailing panic, they’re risking pulling both people under. When we start picking our lives apart in a desperate need for worthiness, we risk drowning everything else in our lives. By looking outward for help, rather than inward, we make it harder to save yourself. Not to mention that we'll start casting that negative perspective wider and wider, until it covers everything we do.
4. Ditch the Devices
I’m rolling my eyes at myself as I write this, but it works almost every time. I’ve trued to curate my social media feeds to be positive and encouraging spaces, but on days of low worthiness I still struggle with comparing myself to others. Rather than tempt myself, I’ll just lock my phone for a few hours when I’m feeling low and seek some alternative outlets like movement, reading, or connecting with a friend instead. This is a tool that works in two ways. First is that I'm pushing myself to do something that’s likely going to reaffirm my feelings of worth and love — like calling a best friend. Second is that by the time I’ve come back, I’m in a higher place and thus less at risk of playing the comparison game.
What do you do when you're feeling low? Have you tried any of the above or have any tips to add? Let's hear it!