The Kenwood Press
: 02/15/2014

The battle around feelings of worth

Donna Colfer

Rich or poor, comfortable or struggling, feelings of unworthiness are not uncommon among many of my clients. I want to give you an example of how such feelings developed for one woman, and how she changed them.

Beth was a child when she became aware that her parents struggled at times around money. Her parents were both artists, and she remembers sitting behind the table with them at countless craft fairs selling their beautiful ceramics. Being sensitive and intuitive, Beth could feel her mother’s disappointment when sales didn’t go well. She started wondering if God existed. On the off chance that s/he did, she would pray, “please let my parents have enough money to be comfortable. They don’t have to be rich, just enough to take care of us.”

Her family continued travelling to important craft fairs and Beth would continue to pray for people to stop at her parents’ booth and buy their work. She would feel a horrible pang when, at times, people were dismissive of them. Being empathic, helpless, and seized by a sense of unfairness, Beth made a “promise” to be good and to help.

When we form beliefs as children, we tend not to remember how deeply seated our beliefs are. As we mature, these beliefs and behaviors become unconsciously hard-wired into ways of being around money that may hold us back from feeling successful.

Beth held a belief that she must contribute to her family’s well-being so she wouldn’t be a financial burden. By the time she was a young teenager, she excelled in soccer and started to attend soccer camps. Beth was acutely aware of how much this cost her parents. She felt the pressure to succeed to be worthy of their sacrifice (in her eyes). She continued to excel: sponsors including Adidas and Nike paid all her expenses! Beth became incredulous at the amount of “stuff” they included. She didn’t know how to feel about all she received. She forgot the hard work and accomplishments on the field. She was relieved that her parents didn’t have to pay for it. More and more, she felt immense pressure to continue her success and make “her” sacrifice worthwhile.

She believed her gifts of success were part of the promise she made. To continue working as hard and striving to be the best were her only answers. She received a full college scholarship to a prestigious university. Having her way paid by her soccer efforts became almost expected. She never lost sight of her privilege and gratitude, but began to resent the expectations. Underlying everything was a sense of dread for her, as if she was owned by something bigger than her or her family.

After graduation, a combination of injuries, and desperately needing freedom from the pressures of performance, pride, and accolades, she ended her soccer career. Having no job experience outside playing or coaching soccer, she felt lost. She had no idea how to relate to money. Playing into her familiar unworthy attitude, money and making money was neither a high priority nor a big value.

Beth decided to use her savings and travel to South America where she could live inexpensively and work as an English teacher for a year. It was the break she needed.

Even though poverty was evident, she came to realize that having or lacking money did not change the way people connected.

At home, her natural ambition landed a job where she saved enough money to start graduate school. Once again, with her hard work she earned a stipend for her community service. She felt stressed accepting this money. Even though she was grateful, she had a sense that again, she was unworthy.

In this example of the Martyr, she’s someone blessed with good fortune acquired through hard work and a continuing belief she should be good to help her family. This outlook served her purpose then; now she’s learning to set better boundaries. She lets go of taking care of others first; replacing it with a developing sense of self-care and learning to receive without guilt. That came with valuing her efforts. She acknowledged the Innocent characteristic that required knowledge of day-to-day money management and created a budget to feed her personal vision. Beth now feels grateful for the gifts she’s received and freely welcomes the gifts to come without quite so much angst around feelings of worth.