Feeling unworthy and undeserving is pervasive. It can touch every aspect of your life; your sense of self, your relationships and more. Here’s what Tara Brach, PhD and Buddhist meditation teacher says about feeling unworthy.
“Our most fundamental sense of well-being is derived from the conscious experience of belonging. Relatedness is essential to survival.”
We all need to feel we belong in some way. Humans are wired to connect, find security in each other and also be a part of something larger in whatever that means. But we can be blocked from this for so many reasons and a sense of inherent deficiency can result.
According to Tara, “When inevitable pain arises, we take it personally. We are diagnosed with a disease or go through a divorce, and we perceive that we are the cause of unpleasantness (we’re deficient) or that we are the weak and vulnerable victim (still deficient). Since everything that happens reflects on me, when something seems wrong, the source of wrong is me. The defining characteristic of the trance of separation is this feeling and fearing of deficiency.”
She goes on to say, “Both our upbringing and our culture provide the immediate breeding ground for this contemporary epidemic of feeling deficient and unworthy. Many of us have grown up with parents who gave us messages about where we fell short and how we should be different from the way we are. We were told to be special, to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to work harder, to win, to succeed, to make a difference, and not to be too demanding, shy or loud. An indirect but insidious message for many has been, “Don’t be needy.” Because our culture so values independence, self-reliance and strength, even the word needy evokes shame. To be considered as needy is utterly demeaning, contemptible. And yet, we all have needs—physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual. So the basic message is, “Your natural way of being is not okay; to be acceptable you must be different from the way you are.”
Consider the importance of your earliest connections, belonging and feeling held and kept safe by your family of origin, your “nest.” And this becomes your need to feel of value to friends, co-workers and the collective community. When you have this sense of worth, it is peaceful. When you don’t have sense of worth, it’s not.
Tara, “In the most fundamental way, the fear of deficiency prevents us from being intimate or at ease anywhere. Failure could be around any corner, so it is hard to lay down our hypervigilance and relax. Whether we fear being exposed as defective either to ourselves or to others, we carry the sense that if they knew . . . , they wouldn’t love us.”
Ultimately, feeling unworthy can be like a suffering loop. And when we get stuck in a persistent pattern of self-blame, how can we begin to break out of it? According to Tara, we first need to understand the beliefs and behaviors that fuel this pattern. The goal is to stop judging ourselves and instead develop a healing relationship with difficult emotions like shame, fear, and anger so that you can connect more fully with yourself and the people you love.1