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Like many people, I’ve been fighting a long battle with feelings of low self-worth. I’ve spent years trying to ‘big up’ my sense of worthiness or do things to make myself appear worthy in the eyes of others. All that has of course failed…

Until recently, when a breakthrough in clearing an old trauma led me to grasp the mechanics of self-worth.

What is worthiness?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘worthiness’ as how suitable someone or something is; the quality of deserving respect or attention. Unworthiness is its opposite: how unsuitable or undeserving of respect or attention.

With this definition embedded in our psyche, it’s no wonder we try to artificially inflate our sense of self-worth, or needily seek the respect and attention of others.

What this definition doesn’t explain is that you can’t increase worthiness. You can only reduce unworthiness.

That’s because complete worthiness is an inherent part of being human. It’s not an add-on or a graduated scale. It comes for free in the human psychological starter kit—or should do.

In reality, our natural, 100% worthiness is diminished by a variety of negative emotional inputs. Difficult family situations. Bullying. Self-defeating, shame-based addictions like self-harm and eating disorders. Traumas, whether inherited or incurred in our own lifetime.

The more sensitive we are, the more we tend to be affected.

So, the question becomes…

How do you reduce unworthiness?

The fact that you can only reduce unworthiness tells us that something is in the way of our natural, inherent worthiness.

Our formal intellect tends to work in a positive, additive, make-something-happen kind of fashion. That kind of thinking gets us nowhere in this situation. We must figure out what’s blocking our sense of worthiness and remove it.

Like so much psychological healing, this isn’t about doing; it’s about undoing. It’s a three-stage process:

  1. Identify the blocking factor.
  2. Remove the blocking factor.
  3. Consciously accept our natural worthiness.

The problem here is that the blocking factor resides in our unconscious where, by definition, we can’t identify it, let alone remove it.

The key lies in being conscious that the blockage exists. Here we tap into another psychological rule: That which you make conscious cannot remain unconscious.

If you consistently hold the thought that something is inhibiting your self-worth and firmly intend to resolve it, that something must eventually peep its head above the parapet of your unconscious.

At that point, it’s up to you to recognise that something has surfaced for resolution and be willing to step outside your comfort zone to face it. (See 7 Steps to clear emotional blocks for a simple healing framework.)

Once it releases, bask in the conscious acceptance of your full worthiness.

Generational trauma

My recent breakthrough came through resolving a very old and deep generational trauma. Yet it surfaced as something completely mundane—a bit of mechanical work going awry.

My motorcycle recently failed its annual Ministry of Transport (MOT) roadworthiness test. Notice how an issue with worthiness surfaced as an issue with roadworthiness.

The problem was a bulb not working. I tried to dismantle the headlight assembly, but this is a fairly new bike for which I didn’t have a workshop manual. I found myself undoing more and more screws without knowing exactly what I was doing.

Seven and a half screws into the job I plummeted into extreme, almost suicidal levels of unworthiness. I knew my response was disproportionate to the situation but couldn’t figure out why. Until that night, when a family trauma from the 1930s blew out of my unconscious into conscious awareness.

After my grandmother’s death, my grandfather remarried. The marriage didn’t work out, and one day he simply walked out and disappeared—abandoning my father to his stepmother and her family. They treated him very well, but the damage was done.

The walkout was a hammer blow to my father’s sense of worthiness, from which he never recovered. I felt it like a heavy thump in the solar plexus as the unconscious came to light. Over the following days, my lifelong unworthiness melted away.

The irony is that when I got a workshop manual for the bike, I found I was right on track. Two more turns of a screw, the 8th screw, and the job would’ve been done. Yet I wouldn’t have won my lifelong fight with unworthiness.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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