“Thoughts on Self-Worth” from 1988

(Written in January 1988)

So how does one “acquire” self-worth — if that’s a legitimate verb which I suspect it’s not.  Self worth is not something one has but something one does, or even deeper than that, it’s a sort of foundation for everything one does.  “Self-worth” even is a bad word because it implies being “worthy” and that implies that one has some positive qualities that have “worth”.  How can I have self-worth when I’m sick in bed, can’t keep the house clean, can’t even mail out the books on time — why is that a value, why is that so important?  I set it up as a kind of standard for myself, something I like to do if possible, and then immediately it becomes something I must do or I’m bad.  I don’t praise myself or get much sense of satisfaction when I do send the books out on time, but I feel guilty and angry when I don’t.  But how can I value this person who is inefficient, sick, confused?  Yes it’s true that I want to help my friends and that I seem to be able to do so and that they express gratitude.  But if I make my self-worth depend on being able to help my friends, then what?  Then I get angry at them when I can’t help them, as I’ve been angry at Beverly.  And still my self-worth is tied to some sort of achievement.

So who is this person, this unique, irreplaceable individual?  Lynelle said something about self-worth being a commitment to that person — which would mean taking care of her and understanding her instead of beating on her to make her conform to someone else’s idea of what she should be so that she can get their approval so she can build a self-worth which is spurious because it’s not based on who I really am (which would be an unshakeable foundation) but on approval for an action which is not necessarily “me” but something that someone else would approve.  Round and round it goes.  How to break out?  I don’t know because I have no idea who I am.  I only know the parts of me that achieve and get approval — the astronomy teacher, the writer and lecturer.  Sometimes the one who helps her friends, but lots of times I don’t give myself credit for that.

How can I find out who I am?  Who would I be if I weren’t weighed down by all the oughts and the reactive resentment.  What comes to mind are the Kripalu workshops which use art (masks, dance) for self-discovery.  Why is it so hard to let myself dance?  Because it calls up the resentment conflict.  I don’t feel that I want to dance but can’t because… (whatever excuse of duty or responsibility.)  I feel that I “ought to” dance because it would improve my health, it’s my spiritual path, I should explore this possibility…  but I don’t want to and if I make myself then it just brings up the resentment.  How can I work with this?  It comes up with painting — I got out the material last week, but never actually pushed myself over the hump to do something.  I don’t know how to deal with this.
Perhaps explore intent.  My intent is not to learn because if it were I would be able to explore in painting.  So my intent is to protect.  So I feel a great reluctance to paint because if I did I might do something clumsy and ugly and that would mean…  that I’m a clumsy ugly person?  But then perhaps that’s who I am.  I don’t like looking at my art work because it looks like me and I can’t bear looking at me.  Why?  Because I’m not perfect, because I’m not what my parents wanted, because if I had been different they would have loved me, so when I look at my ugly self I feel the pain of not being loved, of not being loved for who I really am, of being offered love only for being something else.

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