The third obstacle to having positive thinking skills is feeling unworthy of good things happening. At times, I find this obstacle hard to escape myself.
This is what I find myself thinking and believing: “Other people go through such hard times; I do not deserve to ask to get out of my suffering. They deserve it more than I do. I actually deserve to endure this suffering to make up for all the good things I have.” By what, then, do I rate my worth– by amount of suffering I’ve done? It seems somewhat humorous from this perspective, but I comprehend it at the same time. I was indoctrinated by this notion since I was little as I grew up in a Catholic household and giving value to suffering can be directly traced to Christian history.
Standards of worth always come from the contexts of our lives. Our cultural context regulates how much we are worth depending on our race, gender, sexual orientation, thinness, beauty, youth, abilities, socioeconomic status and intelligence (among other things).
Our worth is always in question
Our family and close relationship contexts also, as you can imagine, set standards for worth and let us know how we measure up. The voices in our head often reflect what another has said to us. I have heard a young person say: “I am not worth feeling better, I don’t deserve it”. She didn’t offer a reason, just stated it like a fact. It had truth status in her head. Through careful questioning, I found out it held that status because the voice in her head repeated it over and over so often that it was hard not to believe. Once we investigate this a bit more, invariably we’ll find out this voice represents an actual person or persons, and /or that this meaning was deducted from a particular situation.
It can be significant to locate where in the context of our lives that our notions of worth come from. It is when we discover how we created meaning around our worth that we can counter that meaning with other stories of worthiness. Because there are limitless stories in our lives, it stands to reason that whether they are or aren’t visible to us in the moment, everyone has some accounts of worthiness. We have to have some familiarity with ‘worthiness’ to even know to call ourselves ‘unworthy’. It is when we find these stories of worthiness; we are able to continue to talk about moving past this obstacle to continue on our path of positive thinking.
I was speaking to a young person about her current partner’s past infidelity. The event happened 18 months ago, but the consequences of this confound her daily in nightmares, distrust and worry which continually cause conflict in the relationship. She asked me what I do when negative thought come to my mind.
It takes positive thinking
I told her that I first locate that ‘message’ in the context it came from. This gives me a bit of distance from the situation. Like a ‘standing back and looking at it all from a distance’ perspective. From this position, I can make a different decision on how I want it to affect my life presently. Do I still want that event or that person to maintain control over me? Do I want to give it the power to make me miserable? I know from this position that it is not happening presently and in the present I am OK. To let it still bother me, I am only attacking myself. I am the one suffering for it.
Another client sent me a quote from an anonymous bumper sticker: “It’s not what people do that hurts us, it’s our response to what they do that hurts us.” When someone hurts me, I have pain, but the suffering is when I lament over it for months or years. It is only me that is suffering. I am not even getting back at that other person. I’m allowing that person to remain in control over my peace and happiness. Do I want someone or an event that hurt me to be in control of my peace and happiness?
Some people would call this suffering an ‘illusion’ because it is not happening in the present moment. (I worry that calling it an illusion could invalidate many people’s experiences of trauma which I do not mean to do.) We cannot change that the trauma happened. However, in moving toward peace in our lives, we are interested in changing how the trauma affects us now.