Attending to the Undervalued Self

A fresh approach to those times when you doubt your own worth

Consulting with Your Wisest Self

Your wisest self: how to find it. It's there.

photo of a wise owl
The undervalued version of yourself is only one of many "self states." By a self state, I mean the way we think and feel in a particular situation or role. You are still you, but if you think about it you can recognize that you also feel almost like a different person when you are with your parents compared to when with your best friend, or when you are with the highway patrol officer who has stopped you for speeding, your supervisor at work, or face-to-face with the person in your life you most respect.

You switch selves according to the situation, but have you ever thought about switching selves to make yourself feel better? It is far easier than trying to make your undervalued self change, since it is instinctive and serves the purpose I describe in The Undervalued Self. Rather, you can see your progress with it by how little time you are in that state where you undervalue your true worth. It can be difficult to switch out of it, of course, but this is another tool to try, not one based on changing what cannot be changed.

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As I always say, the best self to turn to is your linking, loving self. But what if you are alone among a bunch of rankers and having trouble staying focused on those who care for you but are not around? At such times you might do better with your wisest self. But you will need to get to know it better.

This part of you has taken in the wisdom of those you particularly respect or admire, perhaps without you even noticing this learning process. Maybe this self has also read some self-help books, heard some moving talks or sermons, or has thought things through to points of view that the rest of you may forget. Probably it has had some important "wisdom" moments or even engaged in a spiritual practice to increase those moments. It does all this because it knows there is wisdom in this world and wants to take it in and reflect it. You may even feel most in touch with your wise self when you are alone in nature, as nature has its own deep wisdom which you are a part of.

If I had to define wisdom in one phrase, I would say it is seeing the big picture. For example, when you feel put down by someone, you might see things from that person's perspective. That's a bigger picture. Or see the forces that made him such a jerk. Or remember how others you admire would handle this, or what your spiritual path teaches you, or how much this will matter in a year, or ten years. As for the wisdom found through nature, look closely at a leaf, the eye of an animal, a flame, running water—these offer their own perspective. At night, look up at the stars. You are the entire universe; you are made of its stardust. This is the largest picture of all.

It may seem that when you have really needed your wisest self, you couldn't find one. Or maybe you don't even think you have one. But have you ever taught, counseled, advised, or comforted another person? Have you responded to a child's question? There's your wisest self, speaking out. Your wisdom will never be perfect. To think so would not be wise. But sometimes you know you must summon up what you have, for the sake of others.

Imagine a young man in despair and wanting to die. He has turned to you, wanting your comfort and advice, to hear there is some meaning in life. Well, what would you say? Not, "kill yourself," but something else. There it is, your wisest self.

A fellow psychotherapist with many years of experience told me that sometimes even he seeks consultation from a colleague at times, but very often he first asks himself what he would say if someone asked him about the case that has stumped him, and he immediately knows the answer.

I suggest you structure your consultation with your wisest self very purposefully. Sit down at your computer. Write up your "case." Then ask your wisest self for help. When it starts to dictate, you start typing. And breathe easier.

 

Elaine Aron, Ph.D., is a research and clinical psychologist, and the author of The Undervalued Self, The Highly Sensitive Person, and The Highly Sensitive Child.

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