How To Overcome Feelings of Unworthiness

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

Feelings of unworthiness will creep up on us from time to time. However, when you feel like you can’t shake off these feelings and you’re constantly feeling like you do not deserve good things in your life, then this article is for you. Let’s look closer at what exactly does it mean to feel unworthy, how to shake off feelings of unworthiness, and what the Scripture has to say about these feelings. 

What exactly is unworthiness (and what is it not)?:

“Unworthy” means that something or someone is not deserving of effort, attention, or respect and has little value or merit. When you feel unworthy, you think that you are not deserving of respect, attention, and/or love. The root causes of pervasive feelings of unworthiness can come from negative experiences from childhood such as verbal, physical, or emotional abuse from parents or neglect. It can also come from experiences later in life such as bullying from peers, rejection, traumatic events, and more.

Feeling unworthy is the internalization of thoughts such as: 
– “I am bad.” 
– “I am not enough.”
– “I don’t deserve to be happy.”  

These thoughts are about us, our core beings, and something that we really believe to be true.

Feeling unworthy is NOT the same as guilt. Thoughts of guilt include: 
– “I did something bad.” 
– “My actions were not in line with who I want to be.” 
– “I need to apologize to someone because I may have hurt them.”

These thoughts are about our mistakes, our past actions. It does not necessarily mean that we think we are bad or unworthy – we simply feel guilt because we think we made a mistake. 

When our thoughts of guilt go from “I made a mistake” to “I am the mistake” that is when we start to have feelings of unworthiness. Feeling guilty is normal if you’ve made a mistake, but feeling unworthy is not.

Why silence, judgment, and secrecy lead to persistent feelings of unworthiness:

For more than a decade, Dr. Brené Brown (professor, author, and clinical social worker) has been researching how shame and vulnerability impact our lives and says thoughts of self-doubt and unworthiness, what she calls “gremlin thinking” can prove dangerous to our well-being and to our relationships. “Gremlin thinking” is also known as your inner critic, your personal demon, or your own worst enemy – whatever we call it, these inner voices downplay our strengths, hype up our fears, and prevent us from going after what we want and feeling good about ourselves. 

When we give into these gremlins in our head, the feelings of insecurity or worthlessness start to win day after day. Dr. Brown uses this analogy in her book The Power of Vulnerability: “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”

Feelings of shame and thrive when we try to keep our shame secret, which causes us to not speak about it (silence) and internalize our feelings of unworthiness, and we spend our days in silence judging and beating ourselves up over perceived (lack) of worth. When we feel unworthy and ashamed, we do not go after our goals or pursue the relationships that we want, or we push the people we love away.

Ways to overcome feelings of unworthiness:

Dr. Brené Brown shares that feelings of unworthiness cannot survive being spoken about and being in the presence of empathy and compassion: “You put the same amount of shame in a petri dish and you douse it with empathy, you’ve created an environment that is hostile to shame. Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy. If I call you and something very shaming happens to me, and I call you…and I tell you, and you express empathy, shame cannot survive it.”

Here are a few ways you can show yourself some more empathy and compassion – as well as towards others when they confide in you: 

– Acknowledge your feelings. Feelings of unworthiness can manifest in a few different ways. Some of us will feel so ashamed that we will try and bury it deep inside of ourselves and never talk about it. Even though we try to hide it, it will still affect our daily lives. These buried feelings of unworthiness will prevent us from having the confidence to go after what we want, and pursue the relationships that we desire.

Write down moments in the past that cause you to feel unworthy. Feelings of unworthiness come from your past. Childhood neglect, bullying from peers, rejection from a loved one – all of these are potential causes of persistent unworthiness. Whatever causes you to feel the most shame, write them down in your journal so you can identify the root cause. If writing them down will cause you too much pain, consider speaking to a therapist to help you work through these painful memories.

Find productive ways to work through these painful memories. It is important to identify painful memories that are causing you to feel unworthy – and then work through them in a productive way by reframing these painful memories. You can reframe them by giving yourself a bit more compassion. Perhaps you made a mistake that you are still ruminating over? You have to realize that you were younger and did not have all the information and life lessons that you do now. Were you recently laid off from a job? Reframe it as a challenge to overcome – know that this has nothing to do with your self-worth and more to do with external factors. If the memories cause you distress and you are suffering from PTSD, we highly encourage you to speak with a therapist to work through these traumas.

– Show empathy and compassion for yourself. When you find yourself spiraling in a swirl of negative thoughts, try and take a deep breath. Show empathy and compassion for yourself by speaking kindly to yourself and saying encouraging words. Think about and write down your strengths and the kind things you have done for others. Try and forgive yourself if you feel that you made a mistake. Remember that you are human and that we all have room to grow.

– Speak to someone you trust about your feelings. When we are silent and secretive about our feelings of unworthiness, they tend to fester and worsen over time. Do not let this happen. Take the time to stop and share what you are feeling with someone you trust – whether it be a trusted friend, counselor, or therapist. Actually talking about your shame and feelings of unworthiness is one of the most powerful ways to overcome it. 

How does God measure my value/worth?

If I have Jesus in my heart, how can anyone actually try to place a value on me? It’s like a jewelry box carrying the rarest diamond of immeasurable worth. 

My value is not based on what physical things I possess, what accomplishments I have achieved, or what human characteristics I display. God doesn’t measure my worth by how much I do for him, or how much I prove my faith. My worth is defined by the fact that I am a beloved child of God for whom His son Jesus Christ died for.

Luke 15:4: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

If you have not believed and accepted Him into your heart, He is knocking at your door. If you have received His gift of salvation, know and remember your precious worth – bought with a price (1Corinthians 3:20) which was the life and death of Christ. Sure, we were born a sinner and unworthy, but we are made worthy now. When the enemy throws lies at me and accuses me of being worthless or makes me feel unworthy, I can call him out on his futile attempts. He may make you “feel” but feelings are not facts. Truth stays constant despite our emotions. The truth is that God loves you and me, period. Unworthiness – not in our vocabulary anymore.

You can watch the accompanying Anchor of Hope video here.

Do you find yourself succumbing to negative thought patterns? We are licensed psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists that believe in integrating the Gospel message into mental health treatment and counseling, as well as reducing the stigma and prevalence of mental health disorders. Contact us now to learn more about treatments, or just to receive a brief consultation about the need for treatment.

Found this post useful? Please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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