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The Insidious Pandemic: Unworthiness.

It seems to me that we are experiencing a pandemic (ok, maybe an epidemic but see, I’m trying to play off of the current state of the world) of unworthiness. Everywhere I look and listen, I see and hear it: books, blogs, podcasts, meditations, conversations, posts. This feeling of not being enough. The core belief that there is something lacking, something wrong with us. At one time I thought it was only me, but now I know it lives burrowed deep in the seat of everyone’s sense of vulnerability.

Tara Brach, Ph.D, psychologist, author and teacher of meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening, who speaks on the practice of Radical Self-Compassion, calls this deep down feeling of being flawed, the Trance of Unworthiness. She uses the word Trance, because even while some of us are aware of feeling this way, many of us are unaware of it, or are unaware of the impact it has on our lives.

I refer to it here as a pandemic to underline the fact that it is a sickness that has dangerous consequences, and it is insidious because we don’t really realize how pervasive, deep, and dangerous it is. In fact, so much of how we deal with life, so many of our reactions, are ways of protecting ourselves from feeling this deep sense of unworthiness.


The Symptoms: Or, How this Virus Screws Up Our Lives.


Dr. Brach, describes the following behaviors as being some of our reactions to feeling deficient and as part of the trance: perfectionism, constant self-improvement projects, seeking approval from others, addictions, avoidance of risk, fear of failure, worry and mental obsessing, projecting our blame outward, needing to be right or better than others. We can begin to understand now the impact of this trance.

According to Sam Harris, [not an exact quote]:


I see an even deeper cost; it steals from us our power, our energy, and our life. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself, “who would you be if you did not think something is wrong with you?”

Think about all those times you have stopped yourself, gotten in your own way, reacted in a way you later regretted, given up on a dream, or simply given up on yourself because you were afraid. Think about the energy you have spent worrying, fearing, obsessing, dotting every “i”, and how that has stolen your joy. Think about the times you agreed when you didn’t really agree, choices you have made to please, receive love, be liked, or accepted, and how empty you have still felt after. Think about the times you have dug in your heels, suppressing doubts or hushed the quiet voice telling you to go another way, because it seemed better to be consistent than wrong. Think about all the things we do to not be faced with how we feel; the numbing, the endless chatter of our minds, the continuous treadmill set on high. Think of all this has cost you.

The Epidemiology: Or, Why The F*CK Do we Do This to Ourselves?

I wish I knew all the answers here because I need to social distance from this particular virus myself. I know there are likely many more reasons, but here are some of my thoughts on what may be contributing to this pandemic:

· Social Media. I am going to get on the “social media is bad for you” bandwagon here and say what we’ve heard said a lot: social media exacerbates our tendency to compare ourselves to the paragons of traits we covet. As a dance fitness instructor, in the days before social media, I could do my job and if 10 people came to my class, I could feel pretty good about myself. Now, I have access to tons of videos of other dance fitness instructors and can see how many people follow or like them. If I compared myself to them, I would tend to only measure myself against the best, there would be no way to feel good about myself.


· Societal norms. To add to the pressure of social media, we live in a society that constantly sends us messages of what our lives should look like, what would make us happy, but more detrimentally, what would make us worthy. Of course, these standards have nothing to do with real worth, but either we buy into them or everyone around us does, and if we do not measure up, well it doesn’t much leave us feeling like we matter.


· Bias. We are beaten down by discrimination of all kinds (color of skin, attention to only one kind of intelligence, gender, agism etc). We are sent so many messages telling us we are not good enough - how can we then feel good enough?.


· Productivity as Our God. Our current culture values productivity over relationships, well-being, spirituality, even sometimes morality. I believe that goes against our true nature and our true needs. Yes, it feels good to achieve and be productive, we all need that, but we cannot feel whole or truly thrive on productivity as a central value. We’ve turned outward and ignored the importance of our internal needs; deeper connections, developing a practice of the mind, and nourishing our souls.


· Discomfort with Discomfort. We’ve become unskilled with discomfort, we do not like to sit with negative emotions, but until we do, we cannot deal with how we feel in any real way. The first part of dealing with something is seeing it. Until we are able to recognize and sit with our painful feelings of unworthiness and to face it head on, all our attempts to deal will be reactive and keep us trapped.

The Cure: Or, Give Me the Damn Vaccine.

Again, these are simply my thoughts, but I guess the first thing would be to recognize how ridiculous it is for us to feel unworthy. Listen, we are built of the same damn atoms that actually come from stars that lived a gazillion (I don’t really know how many) years ago. I mean, just think about that! We did not make ourselves, the universe did, and the universe creates miracles. Our very existence is a miracle. Imagine all that it took for us to come into being. All the things that had to happen, had to go right. How can we be so arrogant, then, to think we are nothing? That we are unworthy?

Second, the universe also created each of us to be unique. Our individual self is unmatchable and irreplaceable. There is not a single person quite like us. Not even identical twins are identical. Our uniqueness makes us special; it means we each offer something no one else can, not in exactly the same way. We have a unique impact and a unique part to play. Big or small, who are we to decide we don’t matter?

Third, we are awful at judging others, but we are the worst at judging ourselves. I had an "aha" moment when doing one of my first speeches. I just had to give a 5-minute speech but I was absolutely terrified. As I spoke, I stumbled a little on my words. I looked into the audience and saw blank faces. I thought to myself, “I blew it, they are utterly bored!” At the end of the speech as I was getting off the stage I saw my husband rushing toward me; He always gives me the “real” after I do something public, and I thought, ”uh oh…here we go!” He ran up and hugged me and said “You were amazing! The audience was riveted!” I was stunned. What I thought was disengagement and disinterest, was an audience being moved. It hit me then - how I see myself is not how others see me. How YOU see yourself, is not how others see you. We are our own harshest critics (well most of us; some of us have an inflated sense of self but that’s another blog). How you see yourself is not how others see you. We focus on our assumed flaws and underestimate our overall impact.


Fourth, embrace the fact we are not perfect. The truth is when you really put yourself out there, your cracks will show, but the world doesn’t respond to them the way you think it will; they may in fact be the parts of you people most connect to and are inspired by. So, put your true self out there. As Paul Dalton put it, “Dare to show up unedited.” When we don’t die, or everyone doesn’t run in the other direction, we will know we are more worthy than we think. Of course, not everyone is going to like you. If everyone likes you, chances are you are playing it safe. BUT when you are your authentic self, the right people will.


Fifth, be nice to yourself and practice self-compassion. Tara Brach offers a powerful tool for healing from unworthiness which is a 4-step process of mindfulness and self-compassion based on the acronym R.A.I.N. There are a lot of resources to look deeper into R.A.I.N, including her website https://www.tarabrach.com , but here is a quick summary. The healing power of R.A.I.N, is making the subconscious conscious, bringing the Trance of unworthiness to light, holding it there in our awareness and in the warmth of self-compassion.

  • R = Recognize what is happening inside you in the moment when you are in any place of emotional difficulty. Naming it makes it loosen its hold, its power.

  • A = Allow or let be what’s there. Don’t try to fix it, just allow it to be. Add a mental whisper of “yes”. Ex. I feel anger…“yes”. When you allow space for something, tenderness opens up towards it. It is the beginning of being unstuck, the beginning of freedom.

  • I = Investigate deeper, not intellectually but feel into your body. Ask yourself, “What are you unwilling to feel?” This is where we need courage to look deeper into our truth and vulnerability. Here you are likely to come face to face with soul sadness – a recognition of how much our sense of unworthiness has taken from us.

  • N =Nurture the vulnerability. Ask yourself what does this part most need? Then put hand to heart and give it what it needs. Ex. It may need you to say, “I forgive you, I love you.”

It takes a lot of courage to expose the wholeness of who you are; your truth...flawed, scared, unsure, needing, passionate, irrational, believing, hopeful, emotional, limited, shameful...your fully human self. But unless we have that experience of showing up as ourselves, we will never feel truly seen; and true connection can only happen between people who really see (and accept) each other.


I have been saying to myself “all I have to offer is me. If I fail, I will still be ok. At least I showed up”. I find the more I share my truth and show who I am (flaws and all), the more I am able to connect with, affect, and be affected by others. And the more I do this, I realize, “I am enough.”


And Now You.


Here is my final question to all of you:

What if we loved ourselves? What if we just liked ourselves? Can you imagine your life? Instead of trying to be something, we could just be. How powerful would we feel then?


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