Sometimes you feel so down and alone that you wonder if anyone really cares about you. Perhaps you question why so much bad has happened to you, and think, "Is something wrong with me?". Maybe you are harsh, whispering things to yourself you would never say to anyone else. You just can't shake the feeling that you are worthless, lost, powerless, or hopeless. These feelings are common with survivors of trauma.
There is a way out of it. Even if you have been in this dark place for weeks or months, or years, you can still find purpose, direction, and good in your life. Here are a few ways you might consider to rebuild your self-worth.
Embrace Your Scars and Imperfections
Your scars, hurts, and imperfections are what make you unique, what give you a story, and what fuel life passion and purpose. It is awful and unfair to go through so much pain. The truth is however, that passion often comes out of pain. Are there ways you might use your pain to help others? It can be helpful to look at someone else- a friend or even a celebrity - who has embraced their pain as a role model.
Develop Healthy Routines
I cannot overestimate the power of healthy routines and good self-care. For me, I have noticed my outlook on the day is way more negative if I did not sleep well the night before. I also feel more unmotivated and overwhelmed when I have not eaten properly. Shakespeare called sleep "the balm of hurt minds" for a reason.
Healthy sleeping and eating habits renew our bodies, our peace of mind and our energy. On the other hand, a habit of poor sleeping and eating can wreak havoc on our sense of self. Challenge yourself just for one day or one week, to sleep and eat well. See if it effects you, and note how.
Healthy routines are not just for physical health! Healthy social schedules (like calling a good friend once a week) can provide us with a regular boost. Healthy financial routines (like saving) can keep you on solid ground so you have access to emergency needs. A healthy spiritual practice can keep you grounded. On the other frequent isolation, poor spending, etc can break us down over time. Take some time to put together a self-care plan to address all areas of your wellbeing.
Work Through Shame
If you find your worthless thinking is filled with shame, it can be hard to see a way out of it by yourself. Having a counselor to help you challenge your own thinking, see good in who you are, and encourage you to build good habits may be an important next step for you.
Follow the ‘Silver Rule’ – Be Kind to Yourself
What would you do for a friend that was feeling low? Would you take them out for dessert, or go for a walk? Would you invite them over for a funny movie? At the very least, you certainly would not tell them they deserved it, or blame them for where they are now. Treat yourself as you would want to treat others (I like to call this the Silver Rule). Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie. Do whatever kind thing you would do, just for you.
Spend one week taking note in a journal of what you say to yourself and when. Notice patterns about what you are criticizing (your character, your physical appearance, performance, etc) as well as when you say these things. Is it often first thing in the morning, right before bed, or around certain people? When you notice patterns you can begin to develop a plan to combat that negative talk.
List the Facts
Negative thoughts are like wearing charcoal-colored glasses. Looking around, everything looks dark. When you are thinking negatively about yourself, it can be hard to see any of the positive. One way to remove those glasses by listing the facts about who you are that cannot be argued.
Start by making a list of anything good you have ever done (helped a friend pack, started or finished school, etc), and challenges both big and small you have overcome. Often people find that starting this list feels impossible; they can barely think of one thing. Keep trying at it though, even if it takes a few days. Eventually, as you write, other good facts will likely come to mind more quickly. When you are done, let this list serve as a reminder to you in your hard moments.
Replace the Negative with Positive
A healthy habit of positive self talk will help you shut out the negative. Think of one thing you can say to yourself in difficult moments. It does not have to be deep or profound. It is also okay if you don’t totally believe it yet. If there is an ounce of truth in it, use it! You might find yourself believing it the more you say it.
If it is hard to come up with something, think of what you might say to a crying child. You might choose statements like “I am okay”, “I can do this”, or “If I went through ___ I can get through this”. Also, If you noticed a pattern of criticizing your character or appearance (above), you might choose a statement that directly addresses that (“I am a kind person.” “I am beautiful inside and out”).
Ride the Wave
Use the mindfulness practice of picturing your emotions like wave. Those feelings may start off as a distant, nagging feeling. It might grow until it feels overpowering. Remember in that moment that it will eventually pass. It will lessen and feel manageable again soon.
Ride the wave by breathing through it, taking a self-care break or distracting yourself until it lessens, or just simply observing, without judgement, the height of the emotional wave at that particular time.
Consider the Source
Where did you get the message that you were worthless? Was it from a particular person or experience? Often, when you say harsh things to yourself, they are a mirror of what has been done or said to you. If the source was a person, ask yourself how reliable that person’s opinion was. Did anyone ever disagree with them? Were they healthy? Did they tend to say extreme things?
Similarly, if you got this message from past experiences, then consider how much that experience changed the way you think. Often traumatic experiences have a way of pushing our thoughts about ourselves and the world around us to the extreme. Your perspective may have either changed from good to bad (like “I thought I was a good person, now I see I am awful”), or from bad to worse (“I am constantly making mistakes, but now I can’t ever be trusted”). Is that true for you? Consider that the truth about who are are might lie somewhere slightly less of the extreme.
Reach Out for Support
The feeling of worthlessness is fed and made stronger by isolation. On the other hand, the voice of healthy others crowd out those negative thoughts. Surround yourself with people who understand this struggle,care about you, and can see the good in you. Perhaps it is a friend, a support group, a counselor, a hotline worker, or an online forum.