July 31, 2022
Self Worth
I like to think of self-worth as a golden staff that aligns with the very core of our body. Made strong by our own recognition of our previously disowned parts and the experience of each of them as valuable. We have proven, through our choice of self-reclamation, that all of who we are is worthy, from the inside out.‍As our parts become more integrated, we naturally share more of ourselves in our communities. We learn with who and in what situations we'll be appreciated, and with who and in what situations we won't. This might mean that our social circles change, which is always scary and uncomfortable. Yet, the more we stay connected to who we are rather than removing some of our parts, the more we cultivate our self-worth. The more we stay whole in our social experiences, the more we say to ourselves “I am enough just as I am.” 

Self-worth is one of my favorite subjects, but I understand why I may be in the minority here. Although it's a feeling I'm positive we’ve all suffered, not feeling "enough" is nasty and difficult, and it would make sense why we’d want to avoid looking at it. That said, I’m diving into it this month, and I hope you join me for the ride. I can tell you for certain that it’s worth it, for many reasons. So… here we go!

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Where it starts | the disownment

It’s an experience we’ve all had: being left out, feeling excluded, told we're too much or too little of something, looked at a certain type of way, out-right shamed or made fun of, laughed at, or simply shown by media/ culture/ our communities that we don't fit in. 

Am I right, or am I the only one?

Starting at a very young age, we go through a process of social assimilation - a necessary conditioning, but also one that teaches us that some parts of ourselves are acceptable and some parts of ourselves are not. As we learn to separate these parts - the preferable and palatable from the unacceptable and un-valuable - we develop what many psychologists and now energy workers call the "the shadow self."

In his essay The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us, author Robert Bly likens this shadow self to a bag that we carry with us everywhere we go. It grows as we get older through the many experiences where we're told or shown that pieces of ourselves will not be accepted. These pieces can vary from expressing sadness to chewing a certain way. Do you have some thoughts about what could be in your bag?

Eventually it's possible that we only show a facade of who we are, as so much of ourselves we've thrown into our bag. On the outside we are the socially acceptable vessels of moving parts, with limbs and faces and features that can carry us through our world - but our uniqueness, our quirks, our original thoughts and ideas - those all get tossed into the bag, becoming more and more sensitive to being exposed the longer they're in there.

The truth about all of those discarded parts is that they are our most authentic selves and they are our metaphorical gold mine to living a fulfilled life. They're the parts that define why we're distinctive and different, and they're the parts that are necessary for us to integrate and express if we're ever to feel truly accepted, loved, fulfilled, and worthy. And they’re still with us at all times, but we’ve disowned them by pretending they don’t exist - keeping them hidden in that bag.

Without accepting and integrating these pieces, how will we fill our vessels?

“...what is disowned does not go away. It lives on within us–out of sight, out of mind, but nevertheless real–an unconscious alter ego hiding just below the threshold of awareness. It often erupts unexpectedly under extreme emotional circumstances. ‘The devil made me do it!’ is the adult euphemism that explains our alter ego behavior….[and yet] when the ego assimilates the disowned self, we move toward wholeness.” - Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Meeting the Shadow

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The process of self-reclamation | the work

At some point in our adult lives, we begin to identify the ways in which we've been told or shown we’re unworthy, and as we do so we’re given an opportunity to heal and reclaim the parts we’ve abandoned. 

When we choose to look at a part that has been shamed and disowned, we can take hold of it, understand why it was or feels shameful, choose to accept it, and then thoughtfully integrate it into ourselves and our lives. We can start to pull things out of our bag, and learn how to interpret and express them. We can begin the process of cultivating our self-worth as we start to discover and accept who we truly are.

For example, many of us have been shamed for expressing anger, especially from a young age. As a mindful adult, rather than continuing to deny this piece of ourselves exists, we can choose to recognize anger as a natural part of being human. We can accept that it will arise in certain situations regardless of if we want it to or not, therefore we can begin to accept it as part of ourselves. 

Then, we can look at it, and begin to understand why and when it shows up. We can ask ourselves key questions, such as: is a boundary being crossed or is a part of our identity being challenged? We can learn the nuance of the emotion, discover its motivation and purpose, and uncover our key needs for processing the emotion. 

This self-understanding then creates more informed language that we can use as we express and communicate our anger and advocate for our needs. We integrate and alchemize the part that has been disowned, rather than deny its existence and force it back into the bag. We prove to ourselves that this part of us is valuable and worthy.

This is the process of accepting (and eventually loving) all the parts that make you you. It’s the process of turning the un-valued into the invaluable. It is not easy, but healing rarely is.

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How we experience self-worth | the nuance

The experience of self-worth is muscular and nuanced. It’s a living and breathing process that invites our participation on a regular basis. Becoming familiar with our relationship to self-worth requires us to understand its qualities and building blocks, the most important of which are:

1. The experience of feeling “not enough”, or what triggers our sense of being un-valuable or unworthy. 

2. The experience of leaning into our vulnerabilities to reclaim our disowned parts, or building the proof that we are valuable and worthy through all of our parts.

Knowing the physical sensations of both experiences can allow us to catch them in real time, and gather information within the moment - information about ourselves and what's triggering the feeling.

Step one: Define what “not enough” feels like

Brene Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, defines shame as “the intense painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging… Shame is the fear of disconnection.”

Not feeling enough often comes with the emotion of shame and/or embarrassment. Perhaps even those words stimulate a sensation for you. You might feel a constriction in the belly, chest or throat. You might feel heat in your face, or a tightening in your jaw. 

To clarify and know this feeling specifically for yourself, think about a moment where you've felt embarrassed or were shamed. You might have expressed statements similar to “I don’t belong here.” or “I would be a better person if only I could do/be _____.” etc. Identify clearly where you felt this in your body and what it specifically feels like. Does it feel hot, cold, heavy, like pressure, cutting, constrictive, sinking, frightening, of all of the above? 

Get very clear about your sensation by turning up the metaphorical brightness, but also know that this is just a feeling and it will pass. We're simply ID-ing it for the future.

Step two: Define what vulnerability feels like

Now let's switch gears and think about vulnerability. Brene Brown again gives us the definition, revealing its difference from weakness: 

“According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word vulnerable is derived from the latin word vulnerare, meaning ‘to wound.’ The definition includes ‘capable of being wounded’ and ‘open to attack or damage.’ Merriam-Webster defines weakness as the inability to withstand attack or wounding. Just from a linguistic perspective, it’s clear that these are very different concepts, and in fact, one could argue that weakness often stems from lack of vulnerability – when we don’t acknowledge how and where we’re tender [those pieces in our bags], we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

Keeping this definition in mind, think of a time when you felt nervous or afraid to express yourself, but did so anyway. Perhaps when you apologized for a mistake you made, or expressed affection for someone without knowing how they would respond. What did that experience feel like in your body? Did it feel like a lump in your throat? A racing in your heart? Did you feel hot or cold in certain areas of your body? What sensations are you feeling now as you contemplate that memory, and where do you feel them in your body? 

Once again, get very clear about your physical experience.

Step three: Define the difference

Some of the physical sensations between feeling not enough might feel similar to the sensations of expressing vulnerability because they are inherently connected. It is the parts we have been told to hide that are sensitive to the touch because they’ve been unaccepted for so long. Opening up those parts and asking for them to be accepted will naturally conjure up the feeling of vulnerability when expressed.

That said, can you sense a difference between the feeling of "not enough" and the feeling of expressing vulnerability? What are those differences for you?

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Visualization practice | the masterpiece

Imagine that you're carrying this weight of your bag around with you, and how it feels to only show the "acceptable" sides of yourself. 

Now think about what it feels like to open that bag, start taking out parts, and integrating them back into yourself. 

Maybe you envision it as puzzle pieces being brought back and placed into your body, just in their right spot. Or maybe you like to think of it as a color by numbers, and you’re coloring in your own, unique self-portrait. 

Remember, you’re reclaiming the parts that make you uniquely you - the imperfect, curious, funky, silly, crazy, sensitive, uninhibited parts of you that for so long you’ve been scared to share.

No matter how you visualize this process, I invite you to consider it as Carl Jung did - you’re taking all of your pieces and creating your master-piece.

What does it feel like?

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Self-worth in social circles | the integration

"Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for, to take up space." - Adia Gooden PhD  

I like to think of self-worth as a golden staff that aligns with the very core of our body. Made strong by our own recognition of our previously disowned parts and the experience of each of them as valuable. We have proven, through our choice of self-reclamation, that all of who we are is worthy, from the inside out.

As our parts become more integrated, we naturally share more of ourselves in our communities. We learn with who and in what situations we'll be appreciated, and with who and in what situations we won't. This might mean that our social circles change, which is always scary and uncomfortable. Yet, the more we stay connected to who we are rather than removing some of our parts, the more we cultivate our self-worth. The more we stay whole in our social experiences, the more we say to ourselves “I am enough just as I am.” 

Brene Brown articulates this so clearly when she defines belonging:

“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

It is by continuing to express the parts that feel vulnerable, sensitive, imperfect and scary (aka the previously unaccepted and unintegrated parts) that we experience true and sincere connection to others in ways that honor who we honestly are. In a sense, it becomes easier to find our people, simply by showing up as all of ourselves. We find more honest connections through our honest acceptance of ourselves.

I invite you to imagine this for yourself. Imagine yourself free in your ability to express who you are, and being loved and accepted not just by others, but by yourself. What does this feel like? How can you take one step to make this more of your reality? What part of yourself right now is asking for your love and acceptance?

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Love and acceptance practice | the energetics

Using this fill-in-the-blank practice developed by Georgia Jean, we can verbally and energetically start to own the many parts of ourselves.

Start by verbally or internally stating "I love and accept the part of me that_______",
Then fill in the blank with:

  1. The parts of yourself that are easy to love and accept
  2. The parts of yourself that are not as easy to love and accept
  3. The parts of other people that you love and are naturally connected to, but identify their parts as your own. For example, you witness humor in a close friend, and you love their sense of humor. You would say to yourself: I love and accept my sense of humor.
  4. *The parts of other people that you don't connect with as easily, but identify their parts as your own. For example, you witness hostility in someone, and you feel your adversity to their quality. You would say to yourself: I love and accept the part of me that feels hostile and sometimes lashes out with hostility.

*Although it may seem counterintuitive, this last practice is the most powerful. The toughest work is recognizing that we also own the parts of ourselves we find difficult and painful in others. As we love and accept these parts of ourselves, we reclaim our most abandoned and orphaned characteristics, the parts of which when integrated will, in fact, make us whole.

Observe what comes up in the process. How does it feel loving and accepting the parts of yourself that are difficult to love and accept? What do you notice happens when you love and accept the parts of other people that you may usually pass judgment on or criticize?

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Healing for the whole | the value

The wounds of self-worth are wounds we’ve all experienced, and that means it is an innate part of being human. We all share this process of disownment, reclamation and reintegration - it is not unique to just one of us. Each of our experiences are 100% unique, but the experience itself is collective, which means it is an experience that connects and binds all of us. 

To me, this also means something even more important. I believe that as we each do the work to heal the wounds of our own self worth, it is by way of our demonstration, sharing through our social communities, and our allowance of space for self acceptance, that we also heal the wounds in others. Eventually, creating a community full of individuals empowered with the knowledge of their innate worth. 

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Contemplations:

  1. How does your body respond to embarrassment? How does your body respond to vulnerability? What physical sensations do these feelings elicit in the body? Can you sense a difference between the feeling of "not enough" and the feeling of expressing vulnerability? What are those differences?
  2. Visualize what it would feel like to be your most honest and authentic self. What characteristics are you leading with? Are you currently trying to hide or quiet any of these characteristics? What would it feel like to embrace them? 
  3. When was the last time you felt truly proud of yourself? When was the last time that you felt truly proud of another? What do these feelings of pride have in common? How do they differ?
  4. How can you motivate and celebrate yourself day to day?
  5. Imagine what it would feel like to be completely embraced by yourself. How can you use positive self talk and physical touch to encourage lasting feelings of worthiness?
  6. What fills your cup? Are there specific activities, people, music, dreams that lead you to a feeling more whole?

Lunar Series No. 1 - January 2024

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Cultivating Pleasure