“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone.” ~Maya Angelou
A few years ago, I operated on the belief that my worth was tied to what I could offer others. If I couldn’t assist with job opportunities, provide transportation, or support someone in some way, I didn’t see the point of forming a connection.
This mindset stemmed from a period in my life when I was married to someone battling drug addiction. He often remarked, “Without you, I’d probably be in jail or dead,” and deep down, I knew it was true. It was a perfect match, and I felt that my sole purpose was to serve and help him.
Many people in our circle lauded this dynamic, praising my loyalty and dedication. It gave me a sense of purpose and self-worth. I even became a marriage mentor, guiding others down the same path I had trodden. Concurrently, I was a workaholic, and if you’d asked me about my week, weekend plans, or hobbies, I’d have recounted work-related stories—they were my only experiences at the time.
Throughout this period, I battled chronic gut issues. While not debilitating, they were a constant annoyance, with my stomach reacting negatively to most foods. I tried various remedies, including doctor visits, medications, and dietary changes, but nothing seemed to work. So I went on, living with this persistent discomfort.
Then came the day I woke up with a haunting thought: “It hurts to live.”
Overwhelmed, exhausted, and still grappling with gut problems, I found myself in a dark place. I had no understanding of depression or why this thought had taken root in my mind. All I knew was that I didn’t want to get out of bed.
A compassionate colleague sensed my struggle and introduced me to her therapist. I had no experience with therapy and wasn’t sure what you even did in a therapy session, but I knew I had to make a change. So I began therapy right away.
Unveiling the Root of My Suffering
Fast forward a few years, and my life has transformed dramatically. I am divorced, free from gut issues, no longer a workaholic and, most importantly, I’ve realized that I am a human being, not a human doing. It was during this journey of self-discovery that I had a profound revelation about what had likely caused my suffering for so long.
In his book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture, author Gabor Maté MD outlines five personality features commonly found in individuals with chronic illnesses. One of these features struck a chord with me: “overdriven, externally focused multitasking hyper-responsibility based on the conviction that one must justify one’s existence by doing and giving.” It described me during those years with astonishing accuracy.
Does this description ring a bell for you or someone you know?
This belief, deeply ingrained in my psyche, permeated every facet of my life—my work experience, my choice of partners, my circle of friends, my health, and much more.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t consciously choose this way of being. I didn’t wake up every day and think, “Today, I’ll justify my existence by putting everyone and everything above myself.” These patterns often develop subconsciously, often as coping mechanisms, especially in childhood when resources may have been scarce.
For example, if in your family, achieving more translated to receiving more love and affection, you might find yourself overachieving to secure that love. Over time, these behaviors become normalized and even celebrated by society and those around us. By the time you become aware of them, they’ve become deeply embedded in your identity, making it challenging to differentiate between these learned personality features and your authentic self.
Embracing Self-Worth Just for ‘Being’
The path to reclaiming your self-worth involves looking inward, getting curious, and embracing your true self. Since the belief that you must justify your existence by constant action isn’t a conscious choice, tapping into your subconscious can be a powerful means of shifting this perception.
One approach is to identify and befriend the parts of yourself that are trying to keep you safe through excessive external focus and action. Integrating these parts can help you move forward and rediscover your innate worth just for being yourself.
Techniques for this journey can be found in Susan McConnell’s book, Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy: Awareness, Breath, Resonance, Movement, and Touch in Practice. Additionally, Dr. Lucia Capacchione developed a non-dominant handwriting technique to access your subconscious and uncover the needs of these inner parts.
Here’s how you can try the non-dominant handwriting technique:
1. Gather a pen, journal, and take a moment to calm your mind.
2. Reflect on a recent experience where you noticed yourself justifying your existence through excessive action and giving.
3. Pay attention to the emotions you felt during that experience.
4. Engage in a handwritten conversation with the part of you that believes it must focus on external actions to stay safe. Use your dominant hand for your rational thoughts and your non-dominant hand for the subconscious part. You can even use different pen colors for each hand.
- Start with a simple greeting using your dominant hand.
- Allow your non-dominant hand to express itself.
- Acknowledge and affirm the subconscious part using your dominant hand.
- Continue the conversation, repeating the process.
- Conclude with a message of support and understanding from your dominant hand.
Spending time befriending and integrating these parts can help shift your belief from “I am a human doing” to “I am a human being.” You are enough simply by existing. If you struggle to believe this, try the exercise and see what emerges. Your journey to self-discovery and self-acceptance is uniquely yours, and there are many paths to explore.