When a parent frowns at a child, she hears this: "When you don't do what I want—when you are not the person I want you to be—I become disappointed and irritated. I love you only when you meet my needs and don't inconvenience or frighten me."
We've all heard this message to some extent. Most of us have heard it every day of our lives. Of course, we don't realize that we're hearing these messages—nor do our parents and others realize they are communicating them—but the messages are nonetheless powerfully received. We feel loved conditionally, and then we work as hard as possible to earn this "love." It's really not love at all, but these same people who love us conditionally tell us that what they're giving us is love, and when we're children we believe them.
Eventually, though, we realize that we can never earn enough conditional love to be happy, and that is a terrible day indeed. Why? When parents and others communicate that they love us conditionally, they're also stating that our worth is connected to our performance. When we finally realize that we can never earn enough conditional love, we also realize that we can no longer prove our worth. We feel worthless. It is that feeling—and our fear of being worthless—that drives nearly all the unhappiness and conflict in the world.
Regrettably, when the message that we are worthless is established early in life—which is the case for most of us—it becomes almost permanent. It becomes hard-wired in our souls, and then we see every event and every person in light of that basic assumption. Even worse, we then work—quite unconsciously—to prove that we're worthless in every situation and interaction. For example:
When we're angry, what are we doing? We get angry in response to fear, because anger makes us feel less helpless and powerless. And what are we afraid of? That we're not sufficiently lovable—or worthwhile. When we are utterly certain that we're worthwhile, on the other hand, there isn't anything worth getting angry about. We feel whole, complete, peaceful. Each time you're angry, you're accepting the assumption that there is a need for you to protect yourself. You're accepting that without anger, you'd be weak and afraid. Anger doesn't protect us from feeling worthless; it confirms that feeling.
When you feel obligated to explain your decisions to people—an obligation that other people commonly impose—you're accepting the premise that you are not worthy of making your own decisions without the approval of others. Each time you feel compelled to explain yourself, you're confirming that you're not worthwhile.
When you argue with people—either to defend your position or to dissuade others from theirs—you are confirming that your worth is dependent on winning the argument or on being right.
Without realizing it, we defend ourselves—with anger, justification, arguing, and more—quite often. And each defense solidifies our belief that we need defending. Worthwhile people, on the other hand, don't feel a compulsion to defend themselves. They're already certain that they're lovable, and difficult situations or people don't threaten that belief.
We need to recognize how often we feel worthless and realize that we often respond in ways that make that feeling only worse.
Replace feelings of worthlessness with peace and happiness.
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