What if you came to believe that you were born complete? That as a person, there is nothing for you to prove to anyone about your worth, and only for you to give back? Better yet, what if you came to believe that you were born with the ability to influence the world around you, starting with your immediate community?
In my last post I posed this question;
“How does a person who struggles with lethargy come to be inspired and adhere to a commitment, when he or she already feels so low about his or herself?” The answer lies in helping to change the person’s message to his or herself. A genuine and healthy sense of self worth doesn’t come from what how we feel about ourselves (our feelings are how our minds communicate with us about our environment), instead self worth comes from what we believe about ourselves.
Consider this story, I once worked with a orphan who lived at a group home. This young man presented with significant depression, and during the first two weeks I met with him, he would simply sit across from me and remain silent. Furthermore, he refused to attend school, it was a classic case of dragging a horse to a pond. Regardless of what tactic we tried, he refused to even open a book.
The home had a strict rule of no dogs on the property, until one day a dog wandered unto the grounds. This kid took to a liking to the dog, and almost immediately began taking care of the dog. The dog looked like a border collie mix and judging by her coat, it looked like she had been wandering for quite some time in the desert. This young man on the first day this dog wandered into the program, bath and fed her.
Despite the program administrator’s announcement that the dog would be given to the humane society, this kid continued to bath and feed that dog every day and every where he went, the dog followed him. Then it occurred to me, sending that dog away would be a huge blow to him emotionally and after a closed door debate, the clinical team voted to keep the dog. I then pulled my client aside to talk to him, and this is how I remember to conversion going.
“We decided to keep the dog, ” I had said.
” Yeah? Why? ” My client responded.
” Because of you, ” I said.
” What do you mean? “
” Because of you, this dog now has a home. This dog came to us with no where to go, out of fear it would bark at anyone who approached her, but you showed her nothing but love, and now she is considered a member of the community. “
” Na, she was just hungry,” he blushed.
” Your story about how you lost your parents is a sad one. However another reason you struggle is because you see yourself as only being helpless and of no use to anyone, instead of someone who had something of value to give to the world. The way you brought value into this dog’s life is a testimony of your ability to make a difference in the lives of others.” I remember looking at him and there were tears welling in his eyes.
“Hey, the only reason I get at you for school, is because it can provide you with the tools you need to make a difference in the world.”
The next day, my client was first in line to board the bus for school and as it turns out, he did not know how to read or write properly. In four months, his teachers reported that his reading and writing skills had improved from a second grade level to a fifth grade level, it was like he picked up from where he left off and never looked back. He would later tell me that while his feelings of sadness would catch him by surprise from time to time, he no longer felt sorry for himself. For the remainder of his stay in the program, he was considered a leader among his peers and with the staff.
Self worth is a tricky subject, but this experience laid the foundation for how I now address low self worth with clients, which is primarily by helping them see proof of their value to the world. No one likes to be labeled as useless, if people come recognize their value, even in the smallest of ways, the sky is the limit.
Humans are social animals, and we evolved to survive and thrive in small to mid size communities. It’s in inherent in our nature to want to feel useful to the communities we belong to, as it is from our usefulness that we achieve a sense of meaning and purpose.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions, a professional counseling private practice located in Tucson AZ.