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How Compassion Can Free You From the Cycle of Unworthiness

hand drawn heartIn the foreword to Steve Flowers’ and Bob Stahl’s book Living with Your Heart Wide Open, psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach says that “If we cannot embrace our own frightened and vulnerable hearts, we cannot love our world.”  I think this sentence pretty much sums up the ongoing struggle most of us have with life.

In a world often devoid of a true sense of community, we grow up searching for how to belong. Social isolation is our greatest fear and many of us grow up with the mantra “There’s something wrong with me” feeding a cycle of unworthiness and shame. How we relate to our “frightened and vulnerable hearts” makes all the difference.

Imagine if you grew up in a world where the expression of your vulnerabilities and fears was met with someone just listening to you non-judgmentally and with a sense of really caring. How would you feel? If I had to guess, I would say safe and secure.

Imagine if you truly understood that deep down everyone shares these vulnerabilities and fears. How would you feel? My guess is connected.

The foundation of mental health is feeling safe, secure and connected.

In their book, Steve and Bob share with us how mindfulness training can help heal our shame and cultivate a sense of worthiness that can open up many doors of possibilities we may never thought existed.

Mindfulness isn’t only about cultivating a greater awareness of the inner workings of our minds and bodies; it’s about healing our past wounds (that are currently present) and experiencing the self love and compassion that deep down we have always needed.

When we run away from our fears and vulnerabilities by either shutting down, turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or checking out with our phones,  we send ourselves the message that we are “not worth” paying attention to, feeding a cycle of unworthiness. When we’re able to locate that feeling and wrap it around a caring awareness, we send the message that we are “worth” paying attention to, feeding a cycle of worthiness.

It’s really that simple, but the practice isn’t easy because it’s flying in the face of very old and rigid beliefs about how you see yourself.

Maybe your feelings weren’t validated growing up or you were neglected emotionally, leaving you with the belief that you’re not worth being loved.  Or maybe when you were young, being vulnerable was met with some kind of attack. Now your reactions of avoidance are operating on auto-pilot just feeding an unhealthy conditioning leaving you feeling stuck.

Gently beginning to open your heart with compassion and dip your toes into your vulnerabilities is the path toward healing. In my experience, mindfulness provides a very practical and gentle way to do this.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Photo by Oscar E, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

How Compassion Can Free You From the Cycle of Unworthiness

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is creator of the six month online program A Course in Mindful Living, author of the book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, E. (2011). How Compassion Can Free You From the Cycle of Unworthiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jul 2011
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