Why I Think “Worthless” Isn’t a Feeling AND Why that Matters

Why I Think “Worthless” Isn’t a Feeling AND Why that Matters

Have you ever been so dejected or depressed that you began to question your worth as a person? What triggered that moment for you? Was it:

  • A rejection, break-up, or abandonment?
  • A harsh word or critique that hit like an arrow in the heart?
  • A failure to live up to your own expectations?
  • Feeling in over your head, burned out, or unable to perform?
  • Something else?

As counselors, we often hear clients describe their feeling during these moments as “worthless.” It’s as if some lack of performing, achieving, belonging, or approval could strip away a person’s value as a human, leaving them with a sense of emptiness.

Do you have a sense of self-worth that goes up and down? A conditional self-worth that is dependant on being liked or on your achievements? As you’ve perhaps experienced, having a conditional self-worth can be risky:

  • Perhaps you overwork, overachieve, and compulsively climb ladders trying to prove yourself. Do ever really reach the finish line or are you stuck on a hamster wheel constantly striving? Does that cost you time with your family or friends? If a setback occurs, do you name yourself “failure” and pay a cost with anxiety, depression, or a suicidal urge?
  • Perhaps you base self-worth on the condition of others’ approval (which can go up or down). Do you have a good or bad day depending on if someone else’s reactions to you? Does that ever lead you to over-committing or people-pleasing? Do you hold back, minimizing your voice in relationships? If a subtle rejection occurs, do you notice yourself having a big emotional response?

Perfectionism is the embodiment of achievement-oriented or approval-oriented self worth. Brene Brown describes perfectionism and its cost best:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfet, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

It’s time to change how we think about WORTH. What if you could experience a form of self-worth that did not ebb and flow with your achievement or approval? Would you step off of the “conditional self-worth” rollercoaster? Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience security in your self-worth despite successes or failures!

I want to suggest two key strategies for revolutionizing your experience of self-worth.

  1. Clarify what you really feel when you say you feel “WORTHLESS.”

I want to suggest that “WORTHLESS” is a judgment NOT a feeling. It’s a proclamation of subjective self-assessment. It is more thought than it is emotion. These judgments are similarly not feelings:

  • Bad
  • Failure
  • Fat
  • Ugly
  • Stupid
  • Crazy

But, you might argue, “I DO feel strongly when I have those thoughts!” YES! A distorted negative self-evaluation would certainly evoke a strong feeling! Let’s see if we can clarify what you are really feeling in those moments. Perhaps one of these feeling words would more accurately describe the emotion that goes with that thought:

  • Disappointment
  • Shame
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Guilt

This perspective shifting skill is essential: Instead of going along with the “I’m worthless” judgment, NAME WHAT YOU’RE FEELING and WHY.

For example: “I’m feeling ashamed because I yelled at my kids.” “I am feeling afraid because I lost my job.” “I am feeling sad because she broke up with me.”

2. REDEFINE WORTH.

The striking reality is that there is no standard measurement of WORTH. There is not a test you can take, a medal you can earn, or a status you must reach. The concept of what defines self-worth is unscientific, self-determined, and deeply personal. YOU HAVE THE POWER to determine your own judgment.

What if you were to intentionally choose to believe WORTH is a birthright, something inherent in your humanness? I think that’s what the founders of our country believed when they wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

WORTH does not have to be conditional. You can found your self-worth on the powerful certainty that you have sustaining value that can not be earned nor lost.


HYPOCRICY CHECK: Do you apply unconditional worth to other people better than to yourself?  For example, if you’re a parent, your child might make choices that make you lose their trust, but could they ever lose worth in your eyes? Never! You might already believe in unconditional self-worth, as it applies to others. Are you applying the same concept to yourself? If not, now’s the time. Take the leap of faith. It’s worth it!

Now, if we combine the name-your-feelings skill with the concept of unconditional self-worth, you can see how it’s possible to make mistakes, have setbacks, and receive rejection without it meaning anything at all about your worth as a human.

If you’d like help building a secure sense of self-worth (or overcoming your achievement- or approval-oriented perfectionism), a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling is available to help.

Read more of our blogs on self-worth:

7 Top Mental Health Podcasts

7 Top Mental Health Podcasts

Are you looking for a podcast to help you take better care of yourself and your mental health? I love the convenience of a podcast— It’s self-care you can access in your car, while you wash the dishes, or take the dog for a walk. Self-care is critically important to a well-rounded and satisfying life!  Podcasts help with self-care in a way that only modern technology is able to do.

Let’s have a look at seven popular mental health podcasts that are waiting to show you the way:

1. The Hilarious World of Depression: Calling it out like it is, this podcast series is intended to bring the light to the often too-dark world of depression by combining it with humor.  If you’re looking for a education on mental health, specifically depression, and you want to enjoy it even on your darkest days, this free podcast is something to check out.  Find more information waiting for you at:https://www.facebook.com/thwod/

2. Headspace: Finding inner peace could be as simple as finding the right podcast to lead you down the path to relaxation.  Headspace is a popular due to its mobile app focus.  It offers guided meditation in both short and long sessions to fit every part of your life. It’s a favorite podcast for those struggling with stress and anxiety. Podcasts and blog posts can also be listened to and read, respectively, for free if looking for a more immersive experience.  Find more information at:https://www.headspace.com

3. Good Life Project: Listen to uplifting conversations with some of the biggest names in wellness– Brene Brown, Gretchen Rubin, Tim Ferriss, and more! The Good Life Project shares a new interview every week. When looking at something that is going to fit into your social media world and offer you a community to support you on your rough days, Good Life Project has got what you want.  They also offer a Facebook-based mental health group is a just that: a private community of people at all stages in mental health focus and you can belong to it and give and take within the group for free.  Offering a little bit of everything in focus, this is great for those that need to see the community they’re a part of. Learn more at: https://www.goodlifeproject.com/about/

4. Feeling Good: When you want a book to start you off on an adventure of podcasts centered on understanding mental health and depression in a positive and immersive way, look no further than the world of Feeling Good to offer it to you.  With many years of experience, Dr. Burns shares advice in his book,Feeling Good, and combines this with podcast material for free on his website.  Great for a dash of traditional meets modern.  Find more waiting for you at: https://feelinggood.com/about/

5. The Mental Illness Happy Hour: In hour-long sessions you’ll find helpful advice and uplifting messages focused on addiction, depression, and more.  You can listen to podcasts for free that are up to a year old and subscribe via Stitcher to listen to new ones for a monthly fee.  Take a look at it for yourself at: http://mentalpod.com

6. Food Psych: A first step to feeling good is fueling your body.  More and more people are stuck in chronic dieting, leading to weight cycling that is harmful to your physical and mental health.  Find relief from diet culture, fat shaming, and other disturbing societal norms.  Food psych takes firm hold on these concepts, using the latest research, helping each listener learn about having a healthy relationship with food that spills over into accepting and loving your body in a way that is healthy on all fronts. Have you been curious about the Health at Every Size movement or Intuitive Eating approach? Learn more here.  It’s waiting for you with a membership of $47 for access to two seasons of this innovative podcast and bonus content, or simply enjoy the free weekly interviews.  Find more at: https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/

7. Body Kindness: What if loving yourself was as simple as learning to love yourself for all of your good and bad parts?  That’s exactly what Body Kindness offers.  From talking about food to relationships and everything in between, this podcast will help you on your way to a better understanding of yourself.  You’ll learn to love your body and practice respectful ways of caring and nourishing it.  Weekly podcasts are free to listening and you can also look for one-on-one consultation or invest in a $20 book on body kindness.  For more information, please look to: https://www.bodykindnessbook.com/podcast/

Before the internet-based world, mental health was something that you needed to struggle with on your own, but these seven option offer you seven ways to get in charge of yourself and your mental health in healthy and accessible ways.  Pick you favorite podcast and start transforming your life for the better today!

 

Here are some of our other blog articles you might like:

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5 Benefits of Mindfulness

5 Benefits of Mindfulness

There are a lot of terms floating around the online world out there and it can be difficult to determine which ones to trust as the real deal and which ones are simply trigger words or click bait.  One of the up-and-coming ones is mindfulness.  As more and more experts start to discuss it in relation to its positive effects with both depression and anxiety, it’s important to understand what’s really waiting behind this term.

 

What is mindfulness?

At its most basic level, mindfulness is exactly how it sounds: the idea of knowing your mind at the minute detail level within the present moment.  Being mindful means that you are listening to your thought process, acknowledging and identifying your emotions and simply being aware of what’s going on inside of you.  This is often combined with the idea of meditation or yoga or something that can help your focus on what’s going on within yourself.

The reality is that mindfulness can be present in many forms and on its own or in combination with meditation.  Regardless of how it is present, it is a healing process that has many benefits to its name.

 

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

  1. It’s free:Maybe it’s not the first benefit you’d think of, but mindfulness is totally 100% free. You can do it as often as you need to and it won’t charge you per use or per dosage.  For those that really enjoy it and find it helpful, this is a major perk.  It is also free from addiction or dependency in an unhealthy way.

 

  1. It’s easy to do wherever you are:Whether you are in the privacy of a bedroom or meditation space, a crowded shopping mall or anywhere in between, mindfulness is something you can practice just about anywhere and it is going to be able to offer you that comfort when you need it.  It’s also discrete which is good when you need a little bit of help in a busy spot.

 

  1. It has quantifiable results with both anxiety and depression:There are proven results – with more studies being done currently – on its positive effects with anxiety and depression, both. When used in combination with other therapies or even in place of medication, there are substantial increases in quality of life for those with anxiety and/or depression.  This is particularly helpful in teens who are not looking to engage with medication right away or adults with addiction concerns.

 

  1. It treats physical symptoms as well:There are also benefits on the physical side when it comes to practicing mindfulness such as with IBS and psoriasis.  While a lot of dependable studies have still yet to come, it seems as though mindfulness can be helpful across many playing fields, offering an actual option for those who suffer from both mental and physical health concerns.

 

  1. Can be a long-term additional therapeutic option:While mindfulness may not be considered a full treatment on its own for depression, anxiety, PTSD and more, it can be used in accordance with other therapies to offer prolonged relief and help in times of crisis from common mental health illnesses.

 

Mindfulness is popular online in social and professional circles for all of the right reasons.  As it continues to enjoy an online presence, more and more quantifiable research is going into its healing effects in mental and physical health to see how it can be exercised as a professional treatment option.  Time will tell just how useful it can be long-term, but it clearly has got a lot going for it already and makes it something that you’re going to want to know about.

Authentic vs. Inauthentic Shame: Why It’s Essential to Know the Difference

Authentic vs. Inauthentic Shame: Why It’s Essential to Know the Difference

The feeling of shame has a reputation of being the vampire of emotions–the feeling that will suck the life right out of you. Because it comes with it a very physical discomfort, heat, and pain, it’s probably on your list of emotions to be avoided at all costs.

In this blog, I’m going to ask (and attempt to answer) the hard questions: Why do we experience shame? What utility does it have for us? What’s a person to do when they’re feeling trapped in a shame spiral?

First, to understand why we experience shame, we have to explore what triggers it.

 

Shame happens when you’ve broken an agreement that you’ve made with yourself. It is a faithful (and loud) reminder that you’ve strayed out of bounds and broken an internal “rule.” Sometimes shame goes ahead of you, before you’ve actually done the “wrong” deed, preventing you from taking an action that would be out of alignment with your values.

 Our internal “rules” are a mixture of AUTHENTIC and INAUTHENTIC shame, a concept pioneered by Karla McLaren in her book, “The Language of Emotions.”

 

AUTHENTIC SHAME:

AUTHENTIC shame happens when you’ve broken the code of your character or integrity. These “rules” are the moral code that you would apply NOT ONLY to yourself but to other people as well. For example, a part of my moral code is to not gossip. Every single time I find myself participating in gossip with a friend, a feeling of shame creeps up, informing me with its icky feeling that I’m out of line. My “rule” about gossip is one I would teach my children and one I’d hope all people would embrace.

AUTHENTIC shame helps you live a value-drive life. It acts like a curb, nudging you back to alignment with your deepest sense of integrity.

 

INAUTHENTIC SHAME:

On the other hand, INAUTHENTIC shame happens when you’ve broken internalized rules that apply ONLY to you. Here are several examples:

  • A student to has to get all A’s and feels shame for that lone B+ on their transcript.
  • A teen girl feels shameful disgust for the fat on her body because she’s taken in messages that fat is abnormal/wrong/shameful
  • A woman has a miscarriage and feels shame, believing this wouldn’t have happened to her unless there was something bad/wrong with her.
  • A man looks in the mirror at his receding hairline and feels a twinge of shame, as if he’s broken the rule that a man must have a full head of hair.
  • A professional’s voice shakes while giving a presentation at work, feeling shame because they believe it’s bad/wrong to display any form of anxiety in public.

INAUTHENTIC shame is triggered by breaking the “rules” you have for yourself that you would NEVER intentionally pass on to other people.

With INAUTHENTIC shame, there is likely a part of you that recognizes the harmful nature of your “rules.” You might recognize that it contributes to your experience of depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, or toxic perfectionism. AND, you might still feel stuck, buying into those “rules” despite your recognition of the double standard at play.

 

HOW DOES INAUTHENTIC SHAME DEVELOP?

INAUTHENTIC shame springs forth from messages you’ve received from the outside (a critical comment from someone or maybe even messages from the media about what an ideal person is like). It’s as if you’ve taken someone else’s garbage home with you, accepted it as your own, and lived with its stench day after day.

THE REALITY IS: Whether your experience of shame is AUTHENTIC or INAUTHENTIC, 100% of the time it is informing you about internal rules that you are breaking.

 

4 STEPS FOR BREAKING OUT OF INAUTHENTIC SHAME

  1. Start by labeling the shame as INAUTHENTIC, as something that has been applied to you and caused you harm.
  2. Identify clearly what “rule” you are breaking. What are the specific details of the rule? For example: The rule that I’m not allowed to make mistakes OR The rule that I have to do X, Y, and Z by the time I’m 30 or else I’m a failure.
  3. Ask yourself: Where did this rule come from? What has allowed this rule to take root in you over time? Whose garbage is this?
  4. Try out Karla McLaren’s CONTRACT BURNING visualization skill for a powerful and effective way of releasing that old “rule.”

 

If you’d like help shifting out of INAUTHENTIC shame, a counselor may be able to help. The counselors with Star Meadow Counseling love helping clients explore and alter the “rules” that have kept them stuck.

 

References:

Alexander, S. (2018). Mind Body Connections.
McLaren, K. (2010). Language of emotions. [United States]: Sounds True.

How to Ruminate Purposefully

How to Ruminate Purposefully

Do your thoughts ever end up stuck in the past, replaying a conversation or event in your head?

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema from Yale University describes ruminating as “a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences of these symptoms.”

You’ll know you are ruminating when:

  • You replay the same old memory over and over, like watching a video on a loop
  • You examine the memory in detail, play-by-play
  • You think (and re-think) about what you could have said or done differently to cause a different result
  • You try to remember exactly how another person reacted in order to evaluate yourself

Most people do not enter into ruminating thoughts on purpose. Instead, ruminating tends to be an automatic response and force of habit. You might even ruminate without realizing it consciously until you start feeling slightly (or a lot) embarrassed, anxious, disappointed in yourself, or guilty. Because the thoughts operate on auto-pilot, they are often unproductive. The thoughts can leave you with hyper-judgmental inner thoughts that have gone nowhere to propel you forward.

Have you ever paused to wonder: WHY ARE THESE THOUGHTS HAPPENING TO ME? WHAT’S THE POINT?

In her book, “The Language of Emotions,” Karla McClaren suggests ruminating might not only be replaying the past, but is in fact is the brain looking for NEW information. This new information might be of help to you in future, similar circumstances.

What if ruminating thoughts bring with them a powerful GIFT? What if you could channel their efforts into something that DOES help and DOES move you forward?

Here are some tips for ruminating more effectively and purposefully:

  1. Notice when you are ruminating and name it: “I’m ruminating.” This will help you shift into on-purpose self-reflection and away from a spiral into automatic negative thinking.
  2. Reflect back looking for learning points. What would I have done or said differently if I had a do-over? What did I miss that I’d want to watch for in the future?
  3. Avoid judging yourself. Labeling yourself harshly (Example: “failure”) serves no practical purpose and only causes you harm. In fact, rumination that is laden with negativity about yourself amplifies your experience of depression or anxiety.
  4. Be kind to yourself and intentional about practicing self-compassion. That means assuming the best about why you did or said what you did in those moments. In that moment, you probably did the best with what you knew. If practicing self-compassion is difficult for you, a counselor may be able to help.
  5. Some events we ruminate on were not in our control. Don’t take ownership of stuff that’s not yours, especially if it’s related to an experience of abuse.
  6. Know when to stop. The moment you realize that reflecting back is not helpful (HINT: You’re finding no further learning points), call it quits. There are a number of different strategies you can take to help you let go of unhelpful intrusive thoughts. Try out a cognitive defusion technique, prayer, or confirm to yourself out-loud: “These are just thoughts. They’re not helping anymore. I’m letting them go.” Some intrusive thoughts are harder to shake than others, especially if they’ve been around for a long time or if there’s trauma involved. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask a counselor for help.

 

If you’d like assistance shifting out of a destructive pattern of rumination, a therapist at Star Meadow Counseling might be able to help. We love to see clients shift ruminations into something more constructive, useful, healing, and less self-critical.

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

THOUGHT DEFUSION: An Alternative Approach to Handling Intrusive Negative Thoughts

Automatic negative thoughts are a natural part of the human experience. For the most part, we don’t conjure them up or think them on purpose. They happen instinctively.

 Negative thoughts get directed toward ourselves (“I can’t believe I’m running late again today! I’m going to get fired!”), toward others (“There’s Jim, walking in late; he’s so lazy.”), and toward our environment (“Stupid Portland traffic! It’s making me late!”). Sometimes negative thoughts are so pervasive that they can tank your mood for the day, or leave you stuck in a spiral of worries. These natural, instinctive thoughts can take on a life of their own!

In the book, “The Happiness Trap,” Steven C. Hayes describes what happens when we become “fused” with our negative thoughts:

  • Thoughts are reality: as if the awful thing we are imagining is actually happening
  • Thoughts are the truth: we completely buy-in
  • Thoughts are important: we treat them seriously and urgently, giving them our full attention
  • Thoughts are orders: we must obey them
  • Thoughts are wise: we assume they know best and we follow their advice
  • Thoughts are threats: we let them bother us or terrify us

He suggests that some “fused” thoughts may be helpful and others might not be as helpful. Those thoughts that ARE helpful and constructive are worth giving your time and emotional energy. For example, the thought that says “I can’t believe I’m running late again today” might prompt you to examine your morning routine, adjusting it to allow for more margin.

On the other hand, some thoughts are downright self-defeating and serve no useful purpose but to shame you, worry you, or leave you feeling stuck. It’s up to you to determine which thoughts are, in fact, not helpful. Those will be the thoughts you might be ready to “defuse” or disconnect from.

Here are some creative strategies for creating distance for those pesky negative thoughts that you need some space from:

  • Label your thoughts as thoughts (Example: “I’m having a thought that I’m worthless” feels different than “I’m worthless”).
  • Imagine your thoughts like clouds in the sky, just passing by. They can come and go as fast or slow as they please, simply watch and observe them without judgment. Become a fly on the wall observing thoughts, labeling them (“there’s a thought”), and letting them go on their way. Some thoughts are recurring visitors, appearing over and over. That’s okay! You can simply notice them and watch them pass on by.
  • Try out one of your particularly “fused” negative thoughts using the voice of a movie or cartoon character (how does it feel differently to say the negative thought using the voice of Micky Mouse or the voice of Al Pacino from The Godfather?).
  • Try singing the thought to the tune of “Happy Birthday” or “Jingle Bells.” Does it still feel the same?
  • Don’t only observe your thoughts, but also try shifting your focus to observing your body. Notice your breath–See if you can track your breath from the moment it enters your nose (cool and refreshing) to the moment it exits your mouth (warm and rushing). Notice how your feet feel in your shoes, where you feel tension, and where you feel at ease.

If you’d like to learn more about thought defusion, “The Happiness Trap” is an excellent resource guide. Thought defusion skills are an integrated part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another therapeutic approach that has been specifically designed for helping shift unhelpful, negative thought patterns in a more direct manner. A professional counselor can guide you in customizing coping skills so that you can shift out of negative thought ruts and feel free from their persistent haunting.