You join a gym but can’t stop smoking. You finally pull free from a destructive relationship but are binging on junk food. You stop wasting time on mindless TV, but then compulsively check Facebook. Does it seem like pushing forward in one area of your life must be balanced by slipping backward in another? For many of us, the deep-rooted belief that we don’t deserve good things makes us resistant to taking care of ourselves as fully as we can.
Do you want to be self-confident and positive about your future? Inside many of us is a sense that we don’t deserve these good things and instead we are supposed to suffer. This feeling isn’t necessarily a specific thought like, “I don’t deserve to do something that will make me feel better about myself.” But rather it’s the question, “What makes me think I deserve good things?” Or as one woman recently wrote on my Facebook page, “That’s how I feel about a lot of things, for example losing weight—I somehow feel I don’t deserve to be healthy and fit. I’m not worth the effort.”
Feeling undeserving comes from situations in your past that have influenced your outlook or “inlook.” Does your innate understanding of who you are allow you to pursue and hold onto good things? Or have you experienced trauma, shame, loss, or other negative experiences that affect your worldview? Did you grow up feeling anger or sadness that has stuck with you and to you and blocks you from taking better care of yourself?
Your history can make you feel as if anything you perceive as positive about yourself couldn't be real. There’s too much pain in your history to allow you to acknowledge your own unique specialness. The difficulty you have in trusting in yourself can make success or improvement seem even more remote. After all, if the way you were formed by your history and your consequent worldview contribute to feeling undeserving, then it can seem as if the improvements you make must be fleeting—as if they will inevitably be taken away or must be balanced by sliding backward in some other way. The process can be so insidious and subtle that you may not be able to articulate the experience. Still, the feeling of inevitable backsliding and unintentional self-sabotage is familiar for many of us.
Maybe you can’t complete what you’ve started, or you mess something up no matter how bad you don’t want to. You sabotage both experiences and relationships, and you have difficulty creating more positive ways of managing situations. If you don't feel deserving, you’ll find a way not to allow yourself to have “it” (whatever “it” is). Your concept of yourself as undeserving compels you to sabotage, retreat from and resist the things you long to change in yourself. This experience is a vicious cycle.
Though it can be nearly impossible to believe, the first step toward chipping away at the power of feelings of undeservingness is that you may not fully understand the origins of how and why these feelings formed. Nearly everyone holds onto seeds from their past that contribute to feeling undeserving. Work on giving yourself a break for failing to achieve all the expectations that you, or society or your family, friends, and partner think you “should” have achieved up to this point. With your own unrealistic bar of achievement and society's set unrealistically high, it's hard to find compassion and forgiveness for the regrets, and other experiences that brought you to this place of deep-rooted self-loathing. Working toward self-compassion is the key to transcending your own expectations as well as society’s, and shifting the power to your understanding of yourself.
Feeling undeserving creates resistance to positive change. Here’s the thing: Once you understand what makes you feel undeserving, it's a process, and a messy one at that to become more self-assured and view your future more positively. What actually happens as you work on forgiving yourself for the deep-rooted feelings that hold you back, is that you start to feel better, lighter, more relieved, and more understood in your own experience.
The process doesn’t necessarily lead to success or beauty or fame or riches—it’s about being able to feel self-confident and optimistic about the future. By working to set your own, realistic expectations, and working toward understanding and forgiving the painful experiences that contribute to the feelings of undeservingness, you can stop wishing for an unattainable ideal, and spend more time enjoying who you are. This process is empowering and makes room for positive change in a way that nothing else can.