“I don’t deserve it” has been the most pervasive response I receive from clients when I ask if they’re ready to receive the good things in life. Accompanying the claim of undeservedness is an implicit feeling of helplessness, suggesting it is impossible to move away from feeling anything but undeserving. It is only too easy to conclude that undeservedness has invaded our unsuspecting psyches like the scientific depiction of the Body Snatchers.
Unfortunately, a daily mantra of affirmations such as: “I deserve love,” “I’m a worthwhile human being,” and “I’m a divine being,” are often recommended. These exhortations of self-worth can easily become slogans capable of generating a rush of adrenaline if bellowed at the top of the right mountain peak. However, they seldom possess the power to generate an abiding feeling of deservedness. Could it be that striving to convince the ego that it is deserving might not be the most advantageous approach? We may need to ask some questions regarding what the psyche may be up to what it finds itself engulfed with feelings of undeservedness.
“The Psyche Will Have Her Way”
An old mentor of mine drank from a coffee mug sporting the following logo, “The Psyche Will Have Her Way.” As the mug moved back and forth from the table to his lips, I received a constant reminder of the power and resiliency of the psyche. Each sip of coffee suggested that if the psyche was not up to the business of supporting its deservedness, then it likely was focused elsewhere. I learned that the psyche does not wander aimlessly down alleyways of undeservedness. Could it be that the psyche is not so helpless regarding creating feelings of deservedness, but rather content to allow feelings of undeservedness to serve other priorities.
The Purposes of Feeling Undeserving
Let’s look at several of the psyche’s purposes related to feeling undeserving. Or, how might the psyche be employing feelings of undeservedness in order to attain other priorities?
*Feeling undeserving can support maintaining a position of being risk-avoidant. We can allegedly avoid subjecting ourselves to so much of life that is out of our control. “I’m not capable, strong or big enough” go a long way toward getting us off the risk-hook. It’s not that we’re unwilling, which would keep us responsible for our choices. Rather, being undeserving makes us unable to take a risk, accompanied by immunity for being responsible for being risk avoidant.
* Related to the issue of being risk-avoidant, defining ourselves as being undeserving offers a reprieve from making choices that may lead to failure and disappointment.
* Defining ourselves as undeserving can be aimed at managing the expectations others have of us. “You shouldn’t expect too much of me since I probably won’t be able to deliver.”
* Feelings of undeservedness help support early childhood loyalties the psyche wishes to maintain. “My parents were unkind to me, not because there was something wrong with them, but because I was undeserving of more loving treatment.” (This purpose can be more challenging to interrupt because the early construction of parental loyalty was a child’s way to protect against abandonment and death.)
Bringing Healing to The Psyche’s Purposes
We can begin to loosen our attachment to defining ourselves as undeserving by addressing the psyche’s more covert purposes.
*The first intervention might be to strive to accept life on life’s terms. This means to stop protesting that much of our lived experience will be out of our control. As we accept life for what it is, then our need to define ourselves as undeserving in order to exempt ourselves from fully participating in life might diminish.
* The second intervention is being willing to learn to forgive ourselves. Since so much of life is out of our control, making mistakes and failing are inevitable. When we learn to forgive ourselves, we don’t need a lack of deservedness to protect us from the bite of shame when we fail.
* The third liberation from undeservedness comes from learning to live with effective boundaries. We don’t need to manage the expectations of others by defining ourselves as undeserving when we let go of defining ourselves based upon what others expect of us. We begin to see that the expectations of others reflect their needs and aspirations and are not about whether or not we are lovable.
* Interrupting early childhood loyalty, allegedly carrying the power of our survival, is the most difficult to interrupt. This calls for loyalty to be redirected to the self. We can see how our parents treated us as simply how they lived out the legacy of their emotional wounds. Reclaiming our deservedness may be a gift to ourselves, to future generations as well as to our ancestors. When compassion replaces ruthlessness, the benefits are unlimited.