This article was originally published on Ms In The Biz on December 17th 2018.
Conditions of worth are guidelines that define our value as a human. We all have them. Whether they’re conscious or not, they’re there. These conditions began weaving their way into our self-identity as our young eyes were taking in the world around us, and our comprehension of the way things are developed. As a kid, we didn’t get to define these conditions of worth.
When a parent said, “be a good girl and eat your peas”, we learned that if I eat my peas, then I am good. Maybe it wasn’t as blatant. Kids pick up on subtle energies and come up with all sorts of meanings. We may have come to think, “when I talked back, or shared my feelings, mum went quiet. I better not say anything.”
As teens, and even as adults, we’re constantly being conditioned by the world around us. Marketers are great at programming conditions into our minds. “If I have plum lips, I will be attractive, and if I’m attractive, I will be happy.” Our social circles can be especially crafty at manipulating our conditions of worth, for better or worse. Listen to the language of your peers.
Whatever it was that you learned about your conditions of worth, you will inevitably arrive to the age of #adulting, with these unwritten rules in hand. You may never have considered these rules before, or perhaps you’re just starting to see them and realise how they have impacted your life. Maybe you’re in the thick of dismantling these conditions, sleeves rolled up, kicking and screaming. Wherever you’re at, you’ll know that this dismantling is not easy work. But it’s worthy work. I believe it’s sacred work.
Recognizing these conditions is the first step. They may exist as definitive statements that we repeat in our head, or even out loud to others. Listen out for those if-this-then-that type beliefs. For example; if I have a boyfriend, I will be happy; if I lose this weight, I will be worthy. You may find it supportive to explore the origins of these beliefs, in an effort to pull them out by the root, but it isn’t necessary. It can be easy to get lost in the mire as roots run deep.
Once you begin to identify these conditions, question them. Exploring alternative conditions and rules allows you to begin to see alternatives. Journal, or talk it out with a trusted friend or therapist. For me, it has been really meaningful to look at how these conditions have affected certain decisions I’ve made in my life.
When you come to understand these conditions of worth, and how they have helped define you, you can begin to re-write. My favourite, and I think most honest mantra is, “I am worthy, simply because I exist”. Who are we to define any conditions of worth for anyone but ourselves? And why do we even need conditions at all? There is nothing that can ultimately make us unworthy of love and belonging. There may be things we don’t like about ourselves, things we’re ashamed of, things we’d change if given the chance, but if we make these conditions for our value and worth, then we are setting ourselves up for misery. When it comes to our self-worth, there are many ways we can find value in ourselves. We can find it in our art, in altruism or spirituality, in family and community. We can find it in nature and in honouring our truth. I find it in the simple moment-to-moment passage of time, a sense of oneness with the present.
Taking it to the streets
One of my coach mentors always talks about taking it to the streets. She means, how can we live and embody our learning? As you start to become intimate with your conditions of worth, you may start to recognize where you project your conditions onto others. I think it is important to point out here that unconditional worth, is not the same as having no boundaries. You can break down the conditions or worth for your friends, partner/lovers, and family and still maintain boundaries that honour your needs.
You may also witness conditions in others. You may have friends that have similar conditions of worth to you and will begin to see these more clearly when you know your own. The more you can live liberated from your conditions of worth, the more you will model for those around you to do the same.
In case you’ve forgotten: you are worthy, simply because you exist. Worth is not something you can earn or borrow or buy. It is simply a law of life.