"What if you found a better messenger?"
I was talking with a friend recently who's been in a dark place. She's been plagued with a lot of self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. At the same time, common tasks of her work are harder for her to complete.
I can so relate to what she's going thru. The stories of "not good enough" we are quick to internalize and use to harm ourselves when we are already down are deeply ingrained in our society.
On principle, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Yet in practice, I had a habit of holding myself to an unreasonably high standard where I never felt I did enough to be worthy.
It is one of the more painful disconnects I've had to face in my life. How is it that I can hold onto this aspirational belief while simultaneously inflicting emotionally debilitating wounds on myself by constantly questioning my own worthiness?
The answer is, I couldn't. My darkness was a wake-up call for me to get in right relationship with myself.
I remember when I first verbalized this awareness to a trusted advisor. Tears streamed down my face. I choked on my words, as though a part of me preferred to swallow them rather than say them out loud, "I don't believe I am inherently worthy."
Saying it was so hard. Because in saying it, I could no longer deny the truth. In saying it, I could no longer hide behind my ideals that were clearly on a surface level only in this instance.
I doubted my own worthiness because I had internalized messages from society that I was not accomplished nor achieved enough. I didn't make enough money. I didn't receive enough awards. I didn't get enough recognition. I wasn't busy enough. I didn't deserve the things I had. I wasn't working hard enough or doing enough. I wasn't a good enough mom, or wife.
I received messages that reinforced this storyline from all around me. Advertisements, the news, random people I met at networking events, social media. All of them equated my self-worth with doing more, having more, achieving more. The message I internalized was clear as day - "you're not good enough."
And so, darkness surrounded me. As long as I tried to fight with it or ignore it, I gave it power over me. The darkness grew. My confidence and drive shrunk. The daily tug of war to get out of bed, go to work, and simply live, was exhausting.
What's interesting about being in this space is how experiencing darkness fuels the story of not good enough. Chief among the messages we have received repeatedly is that there’s something wrong with you if you’re not happy. Especially if you have no “reason” to be sad or depressed. Or if the cause of your darkness occurred more than a month ago, “you should be over it by now!”
But navigating such challenging experiences is hardly like flipping a light switch. Even in bringing my awareness to this massive disconnect, I continued to struggle day-in and day-out.
I remember one Saturday morning in particular. I was a wreck. I felt incredibly disappointed in myself. We had plans to meet up with friends, but I was resigned to stay in bed because I couldn't stop crying.
While my family was out, I cried every last tear I had. Then, I consciously choose to find a different messenger; someone who would reinforce a message of inherent worthiness.
I looked up books by Pema Chödrön, whom my therapist had introduced me to. I borrowed an electronic copy of her book, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. And I started reading it on my phone in bed. Little bit by little bit, I emerged from my own darkness. I started to feel my long-lost friend, hope.
That moment was a turning point in my journey. I realized we get to decide which messengers we listen to. I sought Pema Chödrön by choice and in doing so said no to all the other virulent messengers out there who reinforce the story of "you're not _____ enough."
A few months later, in the summer of 2019, I hit a new low. The vast majority of the work I had lined up for the summer evaporated before my eyes for reasons beyond my control (it’s as though the universe was preparing me for 2020 but I didn’t know it at the time). I felt devastated.
Normally, when faced with such circumstances I fixate on a story of not being good enough. And I put all my energy into finding new work. I deny myself any new expenditures until I’ve lined up my next gig. No money out (except for the necessities, which includes paying myself) until I know when more money is coming in.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my logic was extremely limiting. There was no need to add to my struggles by judging myself. These circumstances were not a sign of my inadequacy - that was the old story of not good enough. I wondered, what if I looked at this setback as an opportunity?
Instead of following my normal practices, I decided to invest in myself. I had time on my hands, money in the bank and a yearning I could not deny.
I signed up for a training with the HeartMath Institute and took myself on a trip that combined work and play. By making those investments in myself I realized I was doing something quite powerful. My choices said, "you're worthy no matter what."
A circumstance that had caused me to go into a tailspin before no longer had a stronghold on me. Sure, I still struggled with occasional thoughts of doubt and feelings of inadequacy but they were fleeting. Because deep down my actions reinforced the belief that I too am inherently worthy.
This notion of inherent worthiness came up in conversation with my friend. Her voice faltered as she confided her own feelings of doubt. "How can I believe I am worthy when all my life I've received messages that say I am not unless....?"
To which I responded, "what if you found a better messenger?"