Many people experience emotional wounds, pain and hurt by another person’s words or actions. I hope and pray 2021 is a year for people to explore pathways to heal emotional wounds. Research by Naomi Eisenberger from University of California, Los Angeles found that that social pain from social rejection is processed in the same brain circuits as physical pain. Another mindboggling research finding is that people taking Tylenol experienced less emotional pain as they would if they take Tylenol for physical pain. Eisenberger stated that taking Tylenol for emotional pain is not recommended as this is numbing the emotional pain without exploring root causes, and psychological healing of the wound.
There are emotional wounds which trigger many different types of maladaptive beliefs. This is a post on reflections investigating the nature of emotional wounds which trigger beliefs of self-inadequacy, and possible pathways of psychological and spiritual healing. Healing of deep emotional wounds need to be addressed in a therapeutic context with a licensed mental health professional .Emotional pain is harder because it may not have a visual cue like a bandage, caste on a leg or arm. It is real and yet we live in a world that is not always accepting of emotional pain and the messages are “Get over it” or “Emotional pain is a sign of weakness of character”. I have never heard of someone with a broken leg in a caste as receiving the message “he or she is weak in character”. I also want to add that I am writing healing of emotional wounds through cultivation of self-love post within the perspective of western psychotherapy models. This includes a more individualistic western definition of self. This piece may not be applicable to how self is defined in collectivistic cultures, where self is more relationally defined. Tara Brach reports a meeting where the Dalai Lama talked about his surprise that sense of unworthiness is so prevalent in his students in the west. I will also note note that in different cultures, people also express emotional pain in different ways, such as somatization of psychological pain (e.g. it may be more acceptable to express emotional pain through physical symptoms). I also invite readers to share their views on emotional healing and self- love in different cultures . Would love to hear from you.
The Emotional Wound
Why is it that when certain people say mean comments, we can shrug them off? Why is it that certain people get on your last nerve? Why is it hard to be in the same room with a certain person? There may be many reasons, such as, stressors we face, mental (e.g. depression, anxiety, emotional sensitivity) and physical health (e.g. chronic pain) states which influence how we respond to another person’s wounding words. There are also toxic behaviors of certain people, such as trying to control, manipulate, blame others, gaslighting, refuse to take any responsibility, which can wound us. One sign of toxicity is when you finish an interaction with the person and you leave depleted emotionally, your body’s stress response system is activated and you ask yourself, “What the hell just happened?”. Boundaries implemented to keep toxic people at a distance or out of your sphere of existence is key to protecting your mental health.
Wounds which Trigger Beliefs of Self-inadequacy
However, I wonder if the words of others, even toxic people, which wound us the most include words which reignite our old maladaptive beliefs. There are many types of maladaptive beliefs. I am going to focus on emotional wounds triggering beliefs about our inadequacies or unworthiness, which we never dealt with. Why would certain words of others sting if there was not a part of our psyche which had once had these old beliefs of inadequacy? After the implementation of boundaries with toxic people, we may need to work on internal old beliefs of unworthiness, which contribute to emotional pain. I am using cognitive-behavioral model assumption that beliefs of inadequacy contribute to painful feelings (e.g. sadness, depression) and behaviors (e.g. tears). Beliefs of inadequacy or unworthiness can be acquired from different sources, including childhood experiences in family of origin, being bullied in schools, or constantly being criticized or judged or compared to others by peers or colleagues, negative messages from socio-cultural factors .
Carl Roger’s theory: Conditions of Worth versus Unconditional Positive Regard
Carl Rogers, a famous humanistic psychologist, who developed client centered therapy, talked about some children growing up with conditions of worth. This means that the child experiences love or positive attention when he or she does something deemed “worthy” by family (e.g. great report card, excellent in athletics, won beauty contest.) So child learns that he or she will receive love based on achieving certain conditions. Carl Rogers defined this concept as conditional positive regard, where you are loved not for your personhood, but, because you accomplish something. The problem with equating self -love based on accomplishments is it conditions people to experience internal validation only by external accomplishments (e.g. I am of worth when I do…). This breeds feelings of inadequacy when one cannot accomplish the desired outcome.
Kendra Cherry (2020)beautifully describes unconditional positive regard, concept developed by Carl Rogers, as a condition where people can share their goodness and worst feelings and experiences, messiness of being a human being, in close, safe relationships and find they are loved and accepted for their personhood, devoid of any achievements. Unconditional positive regard is something one may receive in healthy intimate relationships from others, but, also one needs to cultivate that unconditional love in one’s relationship with self. This is when you are your best friend, cheerleader and strongest advocate.
Tara Brach: Trance of Unworthiness
Tara Brach’s Article: Awakening from The Trance of Unworthiness is a powerful piece regarding the notion that many people struggle with a sense of unworthiness. The trance of unworthiness for some people, including me, may start with an internal or external trigger (someone saying hurtful words) which activates a thought, “I am not enough”, and a million pieces of reasons to justify unworthiness and inadequacy. Once this unworthiness belief is triggered, it flows like the unfiltered flow of a gushing river, contributing to different negative feelings (e.g. sadness, sorrow, anger) and less motivation to practice self-compassion. One of my “go to” mechanisms or autopilot strategies to deal with the unworthiness trance previously had been to please people to seek their approval or achieve more so that “inadequacy belief” is deactivated. As I have grown older and worked on myself in therapy and other practices of self -compassion, I have learned to not go on autopilot “pleasing mode”. I love Tara Brach’s recommendation that when you notice the trance of unworthiness, you engage in the “sacred behavior of pause” . I also think Tara Brach’s model of R.A.I.N , a model that outlines self care and breaking out of the trance of unworthiness, is powerful. Tara describes R.A.I.N. as:
“Recognize what is happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion.”. (www.Tarabrach.com)
The R.A.I.N model is wonderful and Tara Brach has developed meditations on this practice. One thing I would add is to recognize and experience feelings in a safe place and examine what core beliefs about unworthiness may be contributing to the feelings. It is also important to identify triggers: internal triggers (frustration about something) or external triggers (words of another person) which activate beliefs of unworthiness.
Sister BK Shivani : Self-Love
In her talk about Loving Yourself when Other people Disrespect you, Sister BK Shivani discusses the powerful act and development of self-love and knowing the self so that other’s opinions of us do not impact us. Her talk highlights the need to practice unconditional positive regard in one’s relationship to self. She discusses other people’s disrespectful views and comments as based on their experiences and little to do with us. She also discusses strategies of self compassionate thoughts to promote self- love. Sister Shivani reminds people they have a powerful soul with a will. She summarizes three strategies when you are faced with disrespectful behaviors from others:
1. Absorb the negative comments,
2.Reflect it back to the person which may create to more hostility
3.Transform the disrespectful behavior. Sister Shivani stated that when one has self-love, one realizes that other people’s comments are low energy vibrations coming these people’s experiences. Sister Shivani talks about not reacting to the disrespectful comments but choosing to respond intentionally with high vibration, positive response. This is consistent with Eleanor Roosevelt’s brilliant and insightful quote “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. When we cultivate true unconditional positive regard for self, we are less likely to be reactive to other’s comments, but intentionally decide on a effective course of action.
Power of Self -worth and Self-love
In working with people in psychotherapy and observations of my own growth, I have noticed powerful changes in the psyche as self-worth and self- love crystallizes. There may be initial negative feelings, such as sadness, anger and frustration, regarding the suffering that one has experienced from the emotional wound. Working with a good therapist is important in creating a safe space to discuss feelings and learn to manage negative feelings. There may be frustration about adoption of old erroneous beliefs of “not enough” which led to suffering in the past and present. Often we adopt these old beliefs unconsciously. Part of healing is conscious identification of false beliefs which drove our behavior. We have to remind ourselves why these old beliefs developed? What purpose did they serve? Did the old beliefs protect you? What are the pros and cons of letting go of beliefs of self- inadequacy? Can we thank the old beliefs in how they helped us in the past and now let them go gently? No need to beat up old belief systems.
Letting go of beliefs of self- inadequacy can be frightening. Letting go is often a revolutionary and radical process of shedding the old to embrace the new. They shake up the person who is letting go of old beliefs and people in his or her life. While nurturing self-worthiness, new beliefs emerge (e.g. “I am enough”, “I honor myself with all of me, my strengths and weaknesses”, “I am worth it”, “I am a good person, even if I am currently struggling in certain circumstance”). As new beliefs or thoughts of worthiness emerge, a person is more likely to experience positive emotions and engage in positive behaviors. There may be struggle between old beliefs of self-inadequacy and new belief of self-worth. That is ok. Goal is to recognize and cultivate new beliefs while challenging old beliefs until old beliefs become old tapes you can easily discard. I advise clients in transformation, “Give yourself an OSCAR for new beliefs and how they manifest in your life”.
When people acquire a sense of self- worth, self- love and self -acceptance, there is tremendous shift in self- empowerment. What I mean by self-empowerment is sense of power, worth and agency over self and own life. There may be a lesser need to have power over others. People tend to live life more intentionally (active choice to say “Yes ” and “No” ). People may have a dawning sense of purpose. People focus and exert diligence and persistence in their purpose driven work. They are more likely to discern and selectively choose people they want in their immediate circle, release toxic relationships and refuse to take responsibility for other people’s behaviors. People, who recognize their own worth, are more likely to integrate people, who bring out the best in them. The Michael Angelo effect is a concept where partners or close friends see the wonder in each other and bring out the best in each other. Just like Michael Angelo “saw” the statute of “David” in the marble which led him to sculpt the magnificent statue, David.
People with growing self -worth realize that trying to fix other people is not necessary and stop rescuing others. People with dawning sense of worth often report in therapy that it is frightening. One woman said in therapy, “This self-love is wonderful but I am scared about where this is leading? Am I to cut off all my relationships?”. I reminded her that self worth means she is in control of how she mediates her relationships . We discussed that cultivation of self -love and self -worth can happen in quiet places. There is a need to be selective of choosing people who are worthy of knowing and supporting your growth. You get to choose situations where you want to share your voice (e.g. Pick your battles or challenging situations to address). The other aspect of self -worth is recognizing shifts in relationships with others, where people (pre-empowerment) may not like the gain of self- worth and acceptance in you, especially as you develop your voice, and express opinions and exit “pleasing mode”. People also with growing sense of worthiness start trusting their decisions and intuition. There is freedom from self-comparison to others. They are less likely to be pestered by relentless questions ( Am I good enough? Are there others in the room better or worse than me?). People with unconditional positive regard to themselves experience joy and peace without need to accomplish all the time. I find they learn how to rest and relax mentally and physically. One question to ask yourself is what are costs and pros of developing beliefs of self -worth and self -love?
True self- worthiness or self-love again involves the duality: unconditional love and acceptance that you have for yourself (personhood) versus compassionate examination of behaviors which need change. Self love is not being grandiose, seeking perfection and denial of things we need to work on. Self love is an act of courage, sitting with paradox of unconditional love for self versus open- minded, curious to start the adventure of what aspects or behaviors we need to work on. It is acknowledging our “shadow” side, working on healing shadow aspect without beating yourself up. Self-forgiveness is also important and remember that self-growth includes cultivation of growth mindset (realization that self- growth includes struggle, self compassion when mistakes are made and we can learn from mistakes with psychological flexibility to try different strategies). Adoption of growth mindset means we are works in progress. My observation is that people are harder with judgment on self than others. True self- love and self- compassion deems us worthy to receive love and give love to others. We are able to stand up for ourselves firmly and gently. No need to beat anyone else up.
Spiritual Aspects of Self-Love, Self-Worth and Self-Acceptance
For a faith based person, I wonder if self-worth, self- love and self -acceptance is a part of identifying as being “Child of God” (Highest of the High). I wonder about people exposed to the idea that they are “Children of God” , but do they really believe it? This belief that I am a child of God is something I remind myself often. I would like to share an example of mindfulness experiences in my twenties, when I was experiencing some difficult times. I remember asking the questions (Who am I?, Why am I going through this difficult time?) right before the mindfulness /meditation session. I was stunned by my inner voice or wise part of self stating “You are created in love”. This was a mind blowing experience . Perhaps, this journey in human form, including overcoming adversity, is to discover the love within, created by the Divine Source. This identification that I am a child of God as a fifty year old woman means, not arrogance, but spectacular humility and awe that I am a tiny speck created with love by God, Majestic King of the Universe, in His infinite grand design. It means I am not less or more than another human being. I am me. Not defined by educational or job achievements. Not defined by relationships. Not defined by my status in the world. I am a spiritual person in a human body (mind-body), loved by the Divine Source, originating from the Divine Source and one day will go back to the Divine Source. This is a stance I have to cultivate daily. This practice is good on some days and not so good in other days. However, I love the practice of self- affirmation as “Child of God”.