You are Enough.
Have you heard people say this before or perhaps read this thought on a meme on social media? How did you react to it? How did it make you feel?
I am going to be honest that I often feel uncomfortable when I hear or read this phrase. In fact, I have felt uncomfortable with ideas like this much of my life. And it’s not only this idea. It’s related ideas, too, like…
Just be yourself.
You are worthy of unconditional love.
You don’t have to do or be anyone other than yourself to be worthy of love.
You are good enough just the way you are.
The Irony of All This
If you have read my blog much, you might be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute, Shelly. Don’t you write all the time about how we are worthy of unconditional love—that we are valuable and worthy just as we are?”
Yes, I do. I know. It’s ironic.
I write about these ideas because I believe them about you, me, all of us. But I also write about them because sometimes I still have problems believing I am worthy. If I am not careful, I still find myself trying to do more to prove my worth. I still find myself being highly critical of myself at times.
Accepting and loving ourselves just the way we are requires that we accept our intrinsic worth, and this can be hard for many of us to do for a lot of reasons. (Note: This post is longer than normal because I have some included some exercises at the end that help you develop a sense of your own intrinsic worth. I hope you find the length of the post helpful, rather than a burden. You might want to read it over several days, as well as complete the exercises over several days.)
Here are a few of the things that make it hard for us to believe in our intrinsic worth:
One–Demeaning Cultural Messages: There are a lot of cultural messages that suggest we must look a certain way, wear a certain kind of clothes, achieve certain goals, make a certain salary, own certain possessions, and be a certain weight to be worthy of love. These messages continually communicate that we cannot accept ourselves the way we are—we must be different and better to be worthy.
Two—Messages that Distort Religion (If you are not religious, this item and post are still for you): I am religious (a Christian), and I get super jazzed about the idea of God’s unconditional love for us. It has been one of my favorite things to think about my whole life—since I was about eight. There are a lot of religious folks who do an awesome job of communicating the idea of God’s unconditional love. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of religious folks who have really distorted views of God and people, and sometimes they communicate ideas like this:
Everyone is a horribly depraved sinner.
God is continually wrathful towards you and everyone else.
You will never be good enough to earn God’s love.
You have to believe what you think is best about religion. I am not the boss of your religious beliefs. But in my opinion, none of these ideas are an accurate picture of God or us (more on this later), but ideas like this can certainly destroy people’s sense of intrinsic worth, and they can make us feel like we must continually work to prove our worth to God and to other people (for instance by being religious or spiritual enough).
And by the way, even if you are not religious, you may have been exposed to ideas like this at various times in your life, and they may have affected you negatively. (More on this in a minute.)
Three—Natural Personality Tendencies
In the last couple of months, one of the most helpful things I have done is take a personality test called the Enneagram. The is based on the idea that there are nine common personality types that each have a healthy and an unhealthy expression.
Each of the personality types has a natural tendency towards a certain personality strength—like reforming the world (reformers) or helping people (helpers) or achieving great things (achievers) or bringing an especially unique style or personal expression into the world (individualist).
When our personality type becomes unhealthy (because of stress or misguided beliefs or unloving influences in our life), we have problems believing in our intrinsic worth in a way that is unique to our personality.
For instance, when reformers become emotionally unhealthy, they doubt their worth unless they are right or perfect. When helpers become emotionally unhealthy, they doubt their worth unless they are constantly helping other people and are needed by them. When achievers become stressed, they doubt their worth unless they are constantly successful. When individualists get stressed out, they doubt their worth unless they are recognized by others for their uniqueness, originality, or genius.
All of us have the potential to become emotionally unhealthy at some point in our lives, and the more emotionally unhealthy we become, the harder it is to recognize our intrinsic worth.
I encourage you to take the Enneagram test here and to spend some time reading about your personality type here; about its special strengths and weaknesses; and about the way you can encourage your own personal growth. (More on this in just a bit.)
Four—Unhealthy Relationships: Sometimes we become surrounded by unhealthy people who regularly communicate to us that we are only have worth insofar as we please them, meet their expectations, or do what they desire. If these people are very close friends, bosses, partners, family members, or other people we spend a lot of time with, these messages can seep into our consciousness and undermine our sense of intrinsic worth.
Five—Unlearned Lessons: We may have never learned how to value our own intrinsic worth. Sometimes we did not have folks in our life who taught us to value our intrinsic worth. Sometimes we did but for some reason, the lessons didn’t stick. Perhaps it was because we didn’t get what was being communicated to us at the time or perhaps other negative experiences in our life canceled out these positive messages. The good news is that it is never to late to learn the lessons of intrinsic worth.
Six–A Fixation on Our Mistakes and Failures: We are human, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we make really big mistakes. Sometimes we have massive failures. Sometimes we develop significant character flaws, blind spots and addictions. Sometimes we hurt or great disappoint ourselves and other people.
These small and large imperfections can cause to doubt our worthiness.
There are other things in life that undermine our sense of intrinsic worth, but these are six of the common ones. The question is “How do we learn to believe in our own intrinsic worth?”
How We Know Intrinsic Worth Actually Exists?
One of the most important ways we learn to value our own extrinsic worth is to understand what extrinsic worth is in general.
I think the philosopher Aristotle provides us with helpful lessons in this area. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that the purpose of human beings is flourishing—the Greek work for flourishing is eudaimonia, which translates to good spiritedness. A eudaimon (someone with a good spirit) has a healthy inner life that allows her (or him) to fully express all of her human capacities in the fullest, most robust way. (See Nicomachean Ethics I, 13 and II and Politics I.)
To understand this more, it may be helpful to know that Aristotle believes that everything in the world has a purpose—to express its own unique goodness, which is specifically tied to the kind of thing it is. (See Physics II, 3 and Metaphysics V, 2). So, for example, the purpose of a tree is to express its own unique tree goodness. The purpose of a lion is to express its own unique lion goodness. The purpose of human being is to express its own unique human goodness.
We will come back to unique human goodness in a second, but for just a moment I would like to point out that I think Aristotle is on to something here, and at some level, most of us know this (even if we have never read Aristotle).
For example, when was the last time you got mad at an oak tree for not being a sunflower? When was the last time you got mad a lion for not being an elephant? I already know the answer: Never.
You have never been mad at an oak tree for not being a sunflower because oak trees are not supposed to be sunflowers. Oak trees have their own unique goodness and beauty that they bring into the world, if we just let them do their oak tree thing.
You have never been made at a lion for not being an elephant because lions are not supposed to be elephants. Lions have their own unique goodness and beauty that they bring into the world, if we just let them do their lion thing.
You have never been mad at trees or lions for not being different than they are because you recognize their intrinsic worth. Their intrinsic worth is the goodness that they are meant to bring into the world by being their unique tree and lion self.
Please consider that you are like trees and lions. You are not supposed to be anything other than who you are. Just like trees and lions, you and I also have our own unique goodness and beauty that we bring into the world if we (and other people) let us do our US-thing.
But wait a minute, you may say. Human beings are different from trees and elephants. Trees and lions are guided totally by biology and instinct. Human beings are guided only partially by these things—they have a lot of free will, and because of this they can do stupid and horrible things.
This is certainly true. But please consider: even though human beings can act very badly in a way that trees and lions and elephants can’t, this does not negate the intrinsic worth of human beings. It means that humans need a little extra help in understanding and developing their intrinsic worth (this is what education is for).
Part of helping people to develop a sense of their own intrinsic worth is to help them realize that every person possesses intrinsic worth. Therefore, one of our main goals in life should be to live in such a way that supports the expression of both our own and each other’s intrinsic worth.
We might also worry that when we accept our intrinsic worth, we may be excusing our mistakes and failures, or we may be giving ourselves permission to behave badly.
Let me suggest that if we want to become the best version of ourselves, acknowledging our intrinsic worth is the best way to do this. Here is why. First, it is very easy to get sidetracked by our mistakes and failures—you know, those times when we say or do stupid or misguided things, not because of any ill intent but because we are human.
Recognizing our intrinsic worth is one of the best ways we can bounce back from these imperfections. We recognize that our imperfections are not the truth of us, that they are just part of our growth process. This helps us more easily to let go of the shame we feel over these imperfections and to move on to becoming the best version of ourselves.
Second, recognizing our intrinsic worth helps us to make amends and move forward when we have moral failings and act harmfully to ourselves and others. The older I get, the more I think of moral failings as a disease. Thinking of them this way helps me a lot. Here’s why:
Every human being is looking for good things: we all desire purpose, worth, love, recognition and belonging. All of these are good things to desire, but sometimes we pursue these things in really misguided ways. We look for love in all the wrong places—and purpose and worth and recognition and belonging, too. Looking for these good gifts in misguided ways, or in the wrong places, creates disease in us.
I am not saying that these diseases are trivial or that they are easily overcome. What I am saying is that our moral failings are a result of us pursuing good things in a misguided way, and I am saying that recognizing that we still possess intrinsic worth in the midst of our disease is one of the best ways to help us look for these good things in the right way.
But cultivating a strong understanding of our own intrinsic worth can be difficult.
How Do We Do This?
The question now is “How we learn to recognize our own intrinsic worth?” In the following discussion, I help you revisit the factors we examined up above that make it difficult for us to recognize our worth, and I give you some exercises to help you consider how to counteract them. I discuss this in a series of step. You could do a step a day, a step a week, or a step a month.
Step One: Identify Demeaning Cultural Messages and Replace Them with Loving Messages
As we begin to recognize our intrinsic worth, the more we recognize, reject, and replace any messages that communicate to us that our worth depends on looking a certain way, earning a certain amount of money, achieving a certain status, or owning a certain possession (like a certain kind of car or house).
To recognize these messages, start paying attention to things you see in social media, to the images and messages you are exposed to on TV and the movies, and the messages you receive culturally about what it means to be a successful human being or adult.
Reject any messages that tell you that your worth depends on achieving arbitrary standards of beauty, weight, money, possessions, or achievements. The reasons that these standards are arbitrary is because they are established as standards of success without any consideration as to whether they are actually good for anyone.
For instance, earning a six-figure income may be the perfect income for some people and the worst possible for another person. Achieving a certain look or appearance may be natural and healthy for some people and completely unnatural and unhealthy for other people. Only you can decide what is an appropriate expression of your goodness—not some person who sets arbitrary standards for you.
You can replace these standards by remembering that just like trees, lions, and everything else in the world, you have your own beautiful and unique goodness you are bringing into the world. You don’t have to achieve anyone else’s standards of beauty and success. Your job is to achieve your own standard of beauty and success. You bring your unique beauty and goodness into the world when you do this.
1. For a day, a week, or a month, pay attention to the messages you hear or see in the media or that you hear from the people around you.
2. What messages do you hear that show and appreciation for your intrinsic worth, as well as that of other people? What messages do you hear that indicate people are only valued for their extrinsic worth such as their appearance, accomplishments, salary, etc? I recommend that you keep a journal in which you write about these things in the morning or at night.
3.Every day, spend some time thinking about or meditating on this peaceful thought:
Step Two: Identify Messages that Distort Religion and Replace Them with Loving Messages About God, You, and Spirituality (this item is still for you, even if you are not religious)
It is hard to believe in your own intrinsic worth if you believe that God is an angry judge, continually peering down on you and scrutinizing your imperfections and disease. Unfortunately, many people throughout history (and still today) believe that this is what God is like, and they communicate these messages regularly.
Here is another way to look at God that many people throughout history (and still today) believe. God is like an ever-flowing and effervescent fountain of light.
You are a unique expression of God’s light. God sees His/Her light expressed uniquely in you and adores you. God longs for you, as an expression of His/Her light. You don’t have to prove your worth to God because God is already super jazzed about you.
The closer we move in understanding and love of God’s light, the more we understand our own light and the brighter we become. This is a belief about God that many people hold, and I find that the more I concentrate on religious teachings like this, the easier it is for me to recognize my intrinsic worth.
By the way, if you don’t believe in God or are agnostic, you may still have been influenced by teachings about God like this, and so thinking about these ideas may prove helpful for you. But also, I think there is a way to think about these ideas from a non-religious perspective.
You are a unique and beautiful expression of the beauty and creativity of the universe. Your brain, your body, and your emotions are a biological marvel and capable of achieving amazing things. The more you recognize this about yourself, the more you will value your intrinsic worth.
1. For a day, a week, or a month, pay attention to the messages you hear or see in the media or that you hear from the people around you.
2. (If you are religious): What religious messages do you hear that suggest that God is continually judgmental and angry towards you or that suggest you can never be worthy of God’s love? Do you hear any messages suggesting that God loves you and delights in you and surrounds you with Her/His love? I recommend that you keep a journal in which you write about these things in the morning or at night.
3. (If you are not religious): Even if you are not religious, you have a spirituality that is your dreams, your creativity, your emotions, your hopes, your ability to love and be wise in your unique corner of the world. This is your magic, and the world desperately needs it. What messages do you hear that value and encourage your spirituality (as defined above)? What messages do you hear that suggest that neither you nor anyone else is special and that your spirituality (as defined above) does not matter?
4. Every day, spend some time thinking about or meditating on this peaceful thought:
Step Three: Identify Natural Personality Tendencies That Make It Difficult to Remember Your Intrinsic Worth and Encourage Your Own Emotional Health
Your personality is unique and magical, and the healthier it is, the more light you share with the world. All of us have tendencies to become emotionally unhealthy during times of great stress or change or when we do not have a lot of loving influences in our life.
The more we can encourage our own emotional health, the easier it is to recognize our own intrinsic worth.
1. One of the best ways to encourage your emotional health is to become aware of your unique personality and its strengths and weaknesses so that you can understand how to encourage your own emotional health. The Enneagram (a personality test and system) is a helpful tool for this. encourage you to take the Enneagram test here.
2. After you take the test, spend some time reading about your personality type here and about its special strengths and weaknesses and the ways you can What personality type are you? What are your strengths? What are some ways you can encourage your own personal growth?
3. What is one practical thing you can do this week or this month to encourage more healthy expression in your personality?
Step Four—Heal or Walk Away from Unhealthy Relationships
Friend, please know that you deserve to have people in your life who are kind and loving to you; who see how awesome you are right now; who accept you unconditionally. The best way to surround yourself with people like this is to start valuing your worth unconditionally and to start resisting the bullies in your life. (You can read more about this here.)
1. Take some time to consider people in your life—friends, family members, partners, co-workers.
2. Take some time to consider and journal about these questions: Who are the people in your life that value your intrinsic worth and encourage you to do the same? Who are the people that encourage the healthy expression of your personality? In what ways do you show the people in your life that you value their intrinsic worth? Who are the people in your life that communicate that they only value you because of your extrinsic worth? Who are the people in your life that encourage unhealthy expressions of your personality.
3. Consider reading this post about how you can heal or walk away from unhealthy relationships. What is one practical step you can take this week or month to make a relationship in your life healthier?
Five—Recognize the Lessons You have Not Learned About Intrinsic Worth and Commit to Learning Them
We have already examined why it can be so difficult sometimes to recognize our intrinsic worth. The good news is that it is never too late to learn these lessons.
Please do not think that the ability to recognize your intrinsic worth is ability you either are or are not born with. It is an ability you develop through practice and taking concrete steps. Your path to recognizing your own intrinsic worth will be unique, but it will likely have some of these steps:
A. Recognizing harmful messages that demean your intrinsic worth
B. Recognizing that everything like elephants and lions and babies and flowers have a unique goodness they bring into the world
C. Recognizing that you have this unique goodness, too.
D. Diminishing influences in your life that demean your intrinsic worth.
E. Spending more time in your life with influences that celebrate your intrinsic worth.
1. On a scale of 1-10, how skillful are you at recognizing your intrinsic worth? (“1” is not so great, and “10” is great).
2. Look at steps A-E above. Which of the steps is one you feel like you could adopt and practice regularly?
3. What is one way you can practice this step regularly this week or this month?
Six—Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect and Stop Fixating on Failures and Mistakes
Here is what I used to believe: I believed if I was smart enough, I tried hard enough, and I worked hard enough, I could avoid making mistakes and failure. I thought I could be close to perfect. And, in fact, I thought it was my job.
Here is what I believe now: Expecting yourself not to make mistakes and fail is basically expecting yourself to be God. You have never lived your life before. Nobody has. So, there is no rule book for how to live your exact life. Therefore, the only way you could avoid failing and making mistakes is if you were God and had absolute knowledge about everyone and everything from the beginning of time.
Friend, you are not God. Neither am I.
This means that you are going to make mistakes and fail. It is inevitable. It is okay.
What I focus on now: Instead of trying to be perfect, I now try to act reasonably in all I do, to be teachable, and to learn quickly from my mistakes. That is all anyone can expect any of us to do.
1. On a scale of 1-10 (one being “bad” and ten being “awesome”), how good are you at accepting and moving past your mistakes and failures?
2. Considering reading Brene Brown’s book, Gifts of Imperfection.
3. Meditate on this peaceful thought:
At some point or another, most of us must make the choice between basing our worth on extrinsic variables like appearance, success, wealth, IQ, or being right–or basing it on intrinsic qualities like our own unique magic (as I have defined it in this post). When we base our worth on extrinsic variables, we will never be good enough because we will always be in danger of losing our worth (for instance, if someone else is better than us in some way or we fail to be perfect).
When we base our worth on intrinsic qualities like our own unique goodness and magic, we create the best possible conditions to bring the best possible versions of ourselves into the world. We give the gift ourselves and are better able to receive the gift of others.
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If would like to read excerpts from the Aristotle texts mentioned in this post, you can find them at these links.