When did you first learn that you were unworthy? When did you learn that your worth was contingent upon certain things—your looks, your ability to please, your ability to stay silent, how much money you made, the position you held, the size of your bank account, the size of your house, the width of your thighs?
When did you learn that your worth was not inherent? That it wasn’t what it truly is: a birthright?
Author Jennifer Weiner began feeling unworthy when her father abandoned their family, when he filed for bankruptcy, and when debt collectors kept calling their home. As Weiner writes in her beautiful, heartbreaking essay, “Worth,” in the book Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living: “We’d spent years by then knowing our father didn’t want to be our parent. That summer, we heard daily from people who told us we had nothing, that we were worth nothing—to them or him or anyone. No matter where you go from there, what you do with your life, what you get, what success you achieve, it is hard to unhear that; hard not to believe it, hard not to find yourself—or, at least, hard for me not to find myself—nodding in agreement when someone says that you’re worthless.”
Weiner’s critics reinforced these beliefs. She writes: “Throughout the course of my career I have been told by critics and by the literary establishment that my work is trivial and meaningless; dumb, numbing comfort food for silly, frivolous women; empty calories at best, poison at worst; something noxious and toxic and actively injurious to the body of literature. When I hear it, it never sounds like new information, doesn’t carry the sting and slap of a fresh insult. It is, instead, the reopening of an old, deep wound; confirmation of a judgment rendered long ago, now motioned and seconded and voted into law.”
She also writes: “Every time someone says, You have nothing that matters, you’ve done nothing that we want, a piece of me nods in agreement, because they’re only affirming what my father taught me, what his creditors confirmed, and it’s easier to believe something you already know then it is to try and make yourself believe something new.”
What did you learn about your worth? Maybe, like Weiner, you learned that you didn’t have anything that matters. Nothing of value. Nothing to love. Maybe you learned that you had to earn people’s love, friendship and even decency by bulldozing over your boundaries, by forgetting yourself. Maybe you learned that you had to be a specific weight to be acceptable.
Do you still believe what you heard, what you were taught years ago? Are there people in your life who affirm and confirm these beliefs today?
As Weiner notes, it’s hard to make ourselves believe something new. But hard doesn’t mean impossible. We can write new stories. We can rethink, revise old, damaging beliefs. We can surround ourselves with people who know our worth, whether we see it for ourselves or not.
We can remind ourselves of our magic. Anneli Rufus includes these powerful words in her book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself: “You are astounding just for being human, merely for belonging to this species that is capable of language, laughter, creativity, and love. With just one hand, you could soothe a child, play a tune or stitch a wound. With just one eye, you could signal warning or friendship, read the entire contents of a library, or find your way out of the woods. And your brain is the universe’s greatest creation.”
Yes, you are an incredible creation. For proof watch a baby learning to roll over, to hold objects, to crawl, to finally walk after so many months of trying. Remind yourself that the acts you perform every day, even every minute, are actually remarkable.
Of course, this may not be enough. This may read like an empty, annoying affirmation.
If that’s the case, write about it. Write about why it’s an empty, annoying affirmation. Get it out. Get out all the feelings you have about yourself, your self-worth or lack thereof, what others taught you about your worth and anything else that’s on your mind. And start working on improving it. See a therapist if you need to. Turn to helpful books. Keep writing. Keep exploring. Keep trying. Because even though you don’t believe it right now, even though you think you’ll never ever see it, you are worth it. You are worth the work. The effort. The time. You are worth it. Inherently.