Ever felt like someone was more important than you, like if you were in a line-up you would be chosen last or maybe not even at all? From the cold comment by your best friend, to your parents not showing up to your baseball game, or the wish that someone would just call, but that it never happens–it’s an ongoing experience for many. In a conversation I recently had with a young lady, I was surprised to hear how many experiences she had gone through wherein she was given the message, “You don’t matter.” She was told to care for everyone else so frequently that even now, caring for herself is an uncomfortable pursuit. “You need to be supportive.” “Take care of your sister.” “You need to be more considerate.” These types of statements can lead someone to experience a deflated self, perhaps resulting in a self-critical voice or what others have called the “Harsh Judge” and did just that in this young lady’s life. My heart hurt for her. I fervently wanted her to believe the truth that she really does matter.
You are born with the desire for belonging and the need for purpose and presence in relationship. When it’s threatened, violated, or even taken away, it can leave us feeling broken, unwanted and sometimes worthless. It’s not meant to be this way. This isn’t normal pain, but it can sometimes start to feel that way. The narrative that repeats becomes familiar: “You’re not good enough”, “You’re not important”, “Nobody cares about you.” These then, become the filter by which you experience the world. It’s what I see in others and in myself. My “truth” acquiesces to someone’s narrative and/or directive for me. “You’re not important” becomes “I’m worthless, good-for-nothing and unlovable.” How painful is that and what a miserable message to hold on to! This isn’t normal pain. Just like a broken bone isn’t normal pain. It’s abnormal, uncommon, and unnatural. BUT, pain validates connection. It tells you something has been violated or is under threat. Pain demonstrates that peace was in existence, otherwise there would be no room for it. Just like without good, we could not understand bad. Something has to be in existence before the other can occur. Life before death. Truth before a lie. Peace before pain. So often I say to people, “If you break your toe, you’re not thinking about your nose.” Pain will repeat itself until you do something about it because pain requires a response. It creates hyper-focus or tunnel vision. It isolates. But what happens when everything you do results in no change? Sooner or later what tends to happen is that we concede to the pain. We surrender and submit. It becomes our truth–“I don’t matter.” Think about that tape (“I don’t matter”) playing in each experience you have, in either performance or relationship. It’s heavy. It’s burdensome. It’s suffocating. It separates and isolates us from what is really true and the culmination of isolation, is death. What is truly life-giving is knowing that you really do have worth, that you have significant value, and are worthy of love.
When it hurts, think about what it is that has been violated or is under threat. When I feel devalued, it’s because I have great worth. When I feel unloved, it’s because I am loved. Tell yourself those truths. Repeat that narrative and silence the tape that brings us down. Let’s get out of the pain cycle and continue entering into the Peace cycle. It is there that we find love, trust, and true quality.
-Dustin Lehman, MS, LCPC, LMFT, PC