It’s been five long months for my jobless friend. Money is tight, the marriage is strained, and her feeling of self-worth is plummeting.
Self-worth has to do with how you feel about your usefulness or importance – in the world at large, to another person, or to your purpose in life. It is the feeling that you matter.
Add chronic pain to the mix and you can see how sufferers devalue their worth in the world. It becomes so easy for them to look at their usefulness or importance to the world in a really dim light. Take, for example, the people who are in such pain that they hardly leave their bed; or those that have had to leave high paying, highly respected jobs for no job at all, or one of a lesser pedigree; and those who have to struggle with how others view their illness, especially when they don’t look sick.
Feelings of self-worth tend to be tied up in accomplishments. For example, if you have a good job you will feel that you add value to the world through your work. The salary that goes with it allows you to contribute in numerous other ways too. As a stay at home mom your self-worth may come from the importance of caring for and helping your children grow well. The more we can accomplish, often the more we value ourselves.
But when you can hardly motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning it’s hard to feel like you matter. However, self-worth needs to be viewed at a much deeper level. If you don’t matter to you why should anyone else think you matter? And how can you develop that feeling when your body hurts and you don’t really want to move?
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” can only be true when you are vigilant about what is going on in your head. We’d like to say that what friends and family say don’t matter, but sometimes it does.
However, if you are not aware of your own self-talk and the words you say about yourself, you can be your own worst enemy. Have you considered that?
Awareness of your thought patterns is a crucial starting point to changing your feeling of self-worth, and you don’t have to get out of bed to begin. You just start by noticing. You can even try recording the patterns in a journal if you like – that would make the whole exercise more concrete. Notice what you say to yourself as you get out of bed in the morning or when you’ve missed another opportunity to be with friends. If you’re having a hard time doing something or you are in a pain flare up, what are the words running through your head? What are the words on a good day?
Then slowly, start replacing the negative, reactive language with words and phrases that are uplifting, and proactive. Rather than talking about what you can’t do, talk about what you choose to do. Instead of “there’s nothing I can do,” how about “let me see what my alternatives are.” You still don’t have to get out of bed and you are taking responsibility for what is going on in your body and your life through your responses.
I’ll dare to say that a miracle will happen. Love - the word - will be positively drawn back into your language, and love – the feeling – will be recaptured increasing your feelings of self-worth. How can you not begin to love yourself again when you think, and speak, with words that encourage and affirm your body and actions?
That, in turn, will influence and change the limitations you may have put on yourself as a chronic pain sufferer. Perhaps as a mom you can’t make sandwiches for the lunchboxes but that doesn’t mean you aren’t useful or important. It just means you do it differently.
Then will you know that whether you can walk or not, you matter.