Why are we so quick to claim ownership of our feelings, challenges, and problems, and so hesitant to own our worth? We have it backward.
We Need to Feel Our Feelings, Not Own Them
I stumbled upon a great piece on Medium by Annamarya Scaccia: I Can’t Stop Myself—But I Don’t Know if I Want To. In the article, Scaccia eloquently describes the guilt she felt while on a forced vacation from work, even though she was spending time with her son. She candidly addresses our cultural conditioning to prove our worth through our work and shares the effects this has had on her mental, physical, and emotional state.
I am so grateful that she wrote this. This is such an important conversation for us to have. Not just about our culture of overworking, and what it is doing to our health, but about the deeper conditioning issues that drive us to overwork and over-give, often at the sacrifice to our health.
There are so many things in this article that resonate with me. The feelings of guilt for taking even a moment to rest reminded me of how I felt after my brain injury almost 3 years ago.
Above all else, what stood out for me was her language.
Language Conveys Meaning
Regular readers of my blog know that I am a word geek. Language is important. Words matter. The words we speak to and about others, and to and about ourselves, often convey feelings that are not even in our conscious awareness.
This sentence, in which she described her revelation about why she feels so guilty for taking time off, really stood out to me:
My workaholism is directly tied to my depression and anxiety. I associate working hard with feelings of self-worth.
Notice the language of ownership here — “my workaholism;” “my depression and anxiety.”
Have you ever noticed how we tend to claim ownership of problems, pain, conditions, or challenges? We refer to them as “my problem” or “my challenge.”
It’s so common that it can be hard to catch. (A masterful listener would catch it and call the client out on it.)
In contrast to the claimed ownership of workaholism, depression, and anxiety, notice that she describes “feelings of self-worth.”
Feelings are fleeting.
Notice the effect: owning workaholism, depression, and anxiety; renting self-worth.
This is backward.
What You Feel vs Who You Are
Workaholism describes a pattern of behavior. Depression and anxiety describe patterns of feelings.
They are not yours alone and you don’t own them. You may have been running these patterns for your entire life, but please don’t believe that they define you.
(To be clear, I am speaking not only to Ms. Scaccia but to all of us.)
Feeling vs Being
Depression and anxiety are feelings of sadness, fear, overwhelm, and loneliness. They are things we feel, but they are not the truth of who we are.
Worth is intrinsic to you. You are worthy just by being. You don’t need to do anything to become worthy.
To “be” depressed or anxious, we must feel depressed or anxious. We don’t identify as depressed in moments when we don’t feel those emotions.
On the other hand, we don’t need to feel worthy to be worthy. We are worthy, just as we are.
When you feel the feelings that lead to the belief that you “are depressed” or “have anxiety,” you are simply in a state where you forget that you are worthy just by being. As a result, you overwork to prove your worth — to others, of course, but mostly to yourself.
How We Learn to Tie Our Worth to Hard Work
The questions I found myself asking after I read her piece was:
Why are we so quick to claim ownership of feelings like depression and anxiety, but not our self-worth? Why are we so possessive over our pain and challenges, but not our brilliance and our light?
As Scaccia observes, our culture gives us the message that how hard we work determines our value:
I know too, that part of what drives my workaholism are the cultural messages I receive about work: We’re told that our value as professionals — and as people — is based on how far into the ground we drive ourselves
This message isn’t restricted to professionals. We start to learn this principle decades before we enter into an office setting. When her son goes to school, he will learn that his value as a student is tied to his “hard work” in school.
And he is already learning that his value as a human is tied to his “hard work” in getting his mother’s attention.
She writes about how her son was trying to get her attention as she wrote her article. Eventually, her son will figure out a way to get it: through his conscious behavior (like acting out) or through his unconscious behavior (like getting sick). At some point, her son will learn what type of “hard work” is required for him to be worthy of her attention—her love. And that’s the strategy he will use any time he wants to feel her love.
This is how we learn to tie our worth to something or someone else.
Undoing Deep Conditioning
Feelings of fear and sadness arise for everyone. What if we allowed ourselves to feel them without owning them?
And, what would it feel like to own our self-worth?
What if we flipped the script?
How does the experience of life change if we write the sentence this way:
Workaholism is a pattern of behavior I practice when I feel depressed or anxious, when I forget that my work output does not determine my worth.
I’m not saying this is easy to do. We must undo decades of deep conditioning.
Rewiring our thought habits of being “not good enough” takes constant vigilance and consistent reinforcement. Our culture stills perpetuates the myth that our worth is tied to our hustle and our output.
But it’s possible. With commitment and dedication, we can learn to feel our feelings and own our worth.