Many people feel not enough and too much at times. This can be a normal way of being for many of us who live in a society designed to make us feel this way for us to feed into the systems of oppression that are the foundation of the land called the United States. How can we be with and take care of ourselves when we find ourselves in these states and in the more extreme scenarios of invisibility and unworthiness?
First, I think it is helpful to see the commonality of all of these states which at the heart of them is a fear or doubt about who you are at your core and if it’s okay to show your true essence to the world. The paradox is that being ourselves and showing that fully to the world is at the heart of connection, thriving, and aliveness in life.
Some of the factors that contribute to unworthiness:
*How we were treated as children — not having our emotional needs met, growing up in a home with parents or caregivers that were inconsistent, abusive or highly critical, and not being accepted for who we were/are can contribute to feelings of unworthiness.
*Associating our worth with what we do rather than who we are. Growing up with this idea can allow us to have a performative quality where we have to be perfect or present ourselves in a certain light always accomplishing and doing. Unworthiness arises if we are unable to do these things, which are embedded in the machine of capitalism and are one or all three of the following: unobtainable, unsustainable, and unfulfilling.
*Identifying in a way that is not part of the “dominant” culture. When living in a society that centers identities such as whiteness, ableism, and masculine and economic privilege as the norm anything that deviates from those identities can take on a quality of abnormality which if internalized can lead to feelings of unworthiness.
Marginalization can be found in many forms for those who identify as poor, BIPOC, disabled, LGBTQIA+, gender non-conforming or non-binary, womxn… and if we take on those collective injustices as who we are on an individual level then we can take on a level of unworthiness that is too much to bear. This harm can be seen in who is most impacted by and vulnerable to various chronic physical and mental health illnesses as well as premature death.
Navigating and Caring for Unworthiness:
*We can better understand unworthiness by educating and understanding that many of the sources of unworthiness are related to messages we receive from our family, peers, teachers, society, and media that we then internalize and believe to be true. If you feel unworthiness, it’s important to remember that not only does it not mean that you are unworthy but also know that this is not only about you. These states are shared and passed down/around so readily that it leads to an intergenerational and collective trauma. They are heavily influenced by systems of oppression like capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and settler colonialism. Every time you can recognize this and claim your worth, your value, and enoughness, you are able to heal collective trauma and dismantle a form of oppression.
*Notice the way you speak to yourself and others. Do you say negative things about yourself with sentences that begin with the words “I am,” “I always,” “I never?” When we say things like I am lazy, I am stupid, or sweeping generalizations like I never do anything right, I always fail we are claiming things about ourselves that are not only not true but are incredibly harmful. If you’re going to say affirmations about yourself, why not focus on the ones that are positive and supportive? I am enough. I am worthy. I am here. I am beautiful. I am doing my best…
*Share how you feel. States like unworthiness, shame, and invisibility, thrive on us remaining silent and believing them. A major part of the antidote to these states is connection and allowing ourselves to be seen and heard for who we are by ourselves and others. If you don’t feel ready to talk to others about this, you can explore journaling or expressing yourself creatively (song, music, poem, dance, etc.) as a form of communication.
*Reading or learning about the experiences of others who have dealt with these feelings can be highly supportive and remind us that we are not alone.
I recently watched the documentary (In)Visible Portraits, which as written on the documentary’s site is the “directorial debut from Oge Egbuonu, shatters the too-often invisible otherizing of Black women in America and reclaims the true narrative as told in their own words.”
This poem arose in me after watching the documentary (In)Visible Portraits:
I recommend watching the documentary and exploring what comes up for you as you watch it. Have you internalized any bias or prejudice towards Black womxn or other groups that are othered?
I also recommend checking out this article by Shirley Ngozi Nwangwa in the Nation called “When We Don’t Say Their Names, We Deny Them Justice,” which explores the invisibility and lack of justice for Black womxn, trans, nonbinary, and queer folx.
Also, for those who can tolerate more graphic content, the Unseen documentary explores the invisibility of Black and Brown womxn impacted by substance use challenges and poverty and raises questions about who people believe and value in society and who people think deserve justice.
Unpacking the individual and systemic influences and effects of unworthiness is important to support healing and letting go of these internalized messages. You taking care in these ways helps allow and support us all to take care in this way.
In closing, here is a guided meditation practice offered as a form of support in being with invisibility, unworthiness, and other challenging states or emotions.
Mindful Approach for Being with Invisibility & Challenging Feelings:
Find a comfortable position. Arrive, settling, grounding, softening where it is available.
Checking in, noticing the sensations present in the body, heart, mind.
Acknowledging and naming what is present. For ex. Invisibility is here. Sadness is here. Numbness is here… Naming in this way rather than I feel/I am is important to soften the sense of identifying with certain emotions that can often arise for folx particularly with something as debilitating as invisibility.
Allowing this feeling/these feelings to be here. No need to struggle, fight, or push away. Offering a sense of welcome and belonging to all that’s here. This feeling is here for a reason. You can stay. You’re welcome.
Checking in and noticing what makes up this feeling — are there certain core beliefs present that fuel this state, certain interactions or dynamics that activated this feeling in me.
Does this feeling need anything right now?
Offering holding, rocking, loving, humming, singing, shaking, etc. Continuing to allow and accept what’s here to be here. Remembering that this is just a temporary state. Perhaps noticing any shifts or changes in the sensations and emotions present as well. Perhaps there is space for multiple experiences to be present at the same time ie. joy can sometimes be present alongside grief; they can co-exist together.
Being with this as long as is supportive.