Every year, the Parade section of the Sunday newspaper runs a cover story about what different people earn. When I was young and first read this annual feature, it made me sick, and I know I was not alone. Everyone I knew read the article and studied the pictures, career roles, and earnings. No one I knew liked what they learned. They would measure themselves against the examples in the article, and come up less than satisfactory. They weren’t good enough.
It seemed that almost everyone had a better career and earned more than I did. To make matters worse, I was behind in all my bills and doing without things that were necessary, like dental work and car repairs. Seeing other people doing well did not make me feel good. The great teachers said that I should be happy for them, but my natural feeling for them was not happiness, especially when I didn’t have a promising plan to solve my financial and material problems.
I was more prone to feel envious, sometimes resentful when it seemed their good fortune was not deserved.
Envy hurts us. Being envious requires us to think of ourselves as lacking or impoverished in some way, and you know what that promotes — our impoverishment!
Why is it that we tend to think less of ourselves when we see others doing well? Why is it that it seems to be our nature to envy and covet? It hurts us when we think that others have something that we don’t. We tell ourselves that we have less, that we are less. And if we do that enough, we believe it. And we make it so.
Parade’s parade of people worth more than me did not sit well.
Fortune magazine lists the world’s wealthiest people, a practice in our culture of holding up those who have amassed great fortunes as if they were great people, examples of the highest of achievement in a culture that measures a person’s worth in dollars. Some of these billionaires may be great people, but is it their wealth that is their greatness? What is it that makes a person worthwhile?
If I ask what you are worth, chances are you will think of net worth, in dollars, the bottom line on a balance sheet that lists your assets and liabilities.
I am going to ask you to change. I am going to ask you to consider that some of your beliefs about yourself and your worth have been wrong, based on some mistaken beliefs. I am going to ask you to consider some ways of thinking that may be totally alien to your cultural and family beliefs.
The word esteem refers to an estimate of value. Our self-esteem is the value we place on ourselves. It is what we think when we wonder if we are really worth anything, if we are good for anything, if we count.
Some have said that high self-esteem or high self-regard is an absolute necessity to our health and well being, to our wholeness. It is important because we will not save anything that is worthless — we will let it go to waste. Unless we value something highly, we will not bother to care for it; we’ll be prone to throw it out.
People who don’t have high self-esteem, or who have low self-esteem, have a big problem. They have unconscious programs that are prone to fail to care for them, to throw them out. It is like they have programming that tells them not to bother doing what it takes to thrive. We will only preserve and promote what has value, so if we have low self-esteem, we are prone to fail to take care of ourselves, prone to fail to do what it takes to thrive. If we have high self-esteem, we will automatically do what it takes to be well and thrive. It’s like having an adorable puppy that we love like crazy. We will do whatever it takes to make sure it’s ok. We’ll treat it like royalty and give it all manner of treats and toys, and let it live in the lap of luxury. But if we find ourselves with a mangy dog we think is awful, we are prone to leave it out in the cold, and maybe even give it away, not caring how or if it survives.
When you think of yourself, do you think of yourself as precious, like the puppy, or good-for-nothing, like the mangy dog? This is important, because you will be given treats and luxuries, or left out in the cold, depending on how you value yourself.
How we value ourselves is very important, and for most everyone reading this, we are in trouble if we use net worth, earnings, career, houses, education, popularity, looks, or just about any other measure that you’ve been led to believe in. You may come up short and decide you’re not worth much, not worth saving. And even if you measure up well now, and you think you’re hot stuff, what happens if you lose your money, or your station, or your job, or your looks, etc. etc.?
While you may think that your family or your culture has thrust a value system on you, it is truly a matter for you to decide. You decide your values, what is worthwhile, and what is important. You are the one who decides what makes a person worthwhile.
It is true that others may judge you by your appearance, your speech, your education, your wealth, or any number of other things they think are important and valuable. But it is for you to decide if they are right. Are they the authority for you, the source of the truth about things? Is theirs the belief system that you embrace?
There are those of some credibility that claim that material treasures and many other sources of pride are short-lived false measures of worth, even illusions that blind us to a higher reality. Things like money and social status and good looks do not stand the real tests of life, but evaporate in the light of things like honor, kindness, integrity, honesty, service, and love. You know in your heart that a rich heartless bastard will have nothing if the money disappeared, while a Mother Theresa will always be surrounded by supports, well wishers, no matter what her circumstances.
A self-centered billionaire is not worth much compared to a mentally handicapped welfare recipient who is kind hearted and helps the frail elderly. Ask the frail elders who are helped.
An actor who makes millions and hoards it is not worth much compared to a day care worker who cares greatly for the welfare of the children. Ask the children. Ask their parents.
You are challenged at every turn to decide what to believe about yourself, about what is important, what has value, and what really counts when all is said and done. And you may have adopted ideas that are contrary to the truth at the center of your soul. You may have habits of believing falsehoods that were planted by lost souls.
What makes a person worth saving? What makes them deserving of a happy destiny? What makes them important? What gives a person value?
A school of thought championed by Carl Rogers concluded that we experience an almost magical power for self-improvement when we are able to experience unconditional positive regard and self-regard. With this, there is an absence of judgment, an absence of evaluating things based on conditions of worth. This is where life is seen through a loving heart. It is the ability to accept our experience and process it, learn from it, no matter what it is, and always regard ourselves in an absolutely positive way. It is unconditional love for ourselves. It is believing that we are ok, that we have a great potential, that we are deserving of good things. It is believing that we have an importance and special value in the scheme of things, a great value to the world we are a part of.
The usual example of this kind of positive regard is the unconditional love a mother usually has for her child. Incredibly, even when a person has seemed to sink to the lowest levels of humanity, where they have committed heinous crimes and are on death row, the mom is often still there for her child, thinks of him or her as precious and wants the best for her baby. Her love is not contingent on any conditions, and she wants her child saved, believing he or she can get better, and to her, her baby is the most important thing on earth. Some say that this is the love that God has for us, that the creator has for its creation. Rogers talked about having this kind of regard for others and ourselves. Loving, not judging. Seeing ourselves as valuable, just because we are, just because we are a child of the universe, as any mom’s child is. Rogers’ therapy taught us to love the child and hate the hateful behavior instead of hating the child. Rogers was convinced that the way to well-being was through unconditional positive regard, unconditional love.
We experience a tremendous power for well being when we can love ourselves, independent of the conditions of our experience. In other words, when we have high self-esteem, regardless of our status, wealth, looks, job, personality, our past, or any other factor you can think of, we experience a seemingly mystical power to foster our maximum well-being. In other words, self-esteem creates the conditions, rather than the other way around. You don’t create high self-esteem by achieving lofty conditions — you create lofty conditions by believing in your own intrinsic worthiness, by having high self-esteem as a matter of intentional belief, faith — by loving yourself.
You must be able to say “liar!” when a little voice says you don’t deserve the good things, when it says you deserve the bad things. You must be able to believe in your own greatness, your worthiness, your lovability, and remind yourself of it, whenever doubt is cast.
If you had a mom and dad who loved you no matter what, you know what it is to be regarded with unconditional love, high value, and acceptance. But many people did not have this experience, because their parents were flawed, sometimes greatly. In this case, it is important to see that your parents were greatly flawed for one reason or another, and you need to look elsewhere for the lessons you should have received.
It is often said that we must love ourselves before we can love another, but loving ourselves is not so easy when we have believed in something else. Loving ourselves is even harder if you have never experienced being loved.
Great teachers will tell you that you are valued beyond measure, that God loves you just as you are, regards you as his most precious, his child, and always will. When you meet great teachers, you often sense that they love you this way. They say that when you intentionally connect with God, you will know this love. They say that when you meditate or pray with your ears, and reach inside to the spirit that is at your center, the spirit that creates you, you’ll connect with something of the highest power that cannot help but love you and value you more than words can say. You are forever a part of it, imbued with all the potentials of itself, and are totally acceptable, because you are of it. They say it is a fact, and cannot be disputed rationally, cannot be denied, of course, unless you can deny the fact of your own existence, your own being. That would be insane. But they say that that’s what happens when you lose touch with your center, the source of your being.
Listen to the teachers who tell you they know that you are precious beyond measure, loved by God, no matter what. You are special and important to creation, no matter what you may have heard or believed in the past. In God’s eyes, you are precious, like the adorable innocent puppy, and you are to be taken care of at all costs, given whatever it takes to thrive, just like any precious baby.
Take a leap of Faith and believe that you are worthy of love, of forgiveness, of loving, of forgiving, of greatness in living, of health and abundance. Be willing to make the effort to bring it to fruition. A great soul said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you”. You are worth it.
(The preceding is an excerpt from my textbook for The Anderson Method® program for permanent weight loss, copyright 2004, Willam Anderson, LMHC. No part may be reproduced in any form without proper and complete attribution.)
William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He was an obese heavy smoker and workaholic until his early thirties, and burned out, but survived and changed direction. He changed in many ways, among them, losing 140 pounds permanently. Health, in a holistic way, is now his mission. He is the author of The Anderson Method of Permanent Weight Loss.
Originally published at medium.com