UNDERSTANDING ONE’S WORTH: A CORNERSTONE OF RECOVERY FROM EATING DISORDERS AND OTHER MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ILLNESS
By Michael E. Berrett, PhD
There are few things more painful than feeling worthless or “not good enough,” minute by minute, day by day, and year by year. I know because I have felt that way myself, much of the time during the first half of my 60 years. Additionally, I have provided counsel and treatment to many hundreds of individuals who have felt similar feelings over the past 30 years as a clinician. To those individuals, their beliefs went well beyond emotion. In fact, many of them felt that they knew “beyond any doubt” that they were as worthless as they felt. How painful it is to live in that place, and yet how wonderful it is that there is hope for every one of us – that we can improve our sense of self, even to the absolute knowledge that we are wonderful beyond anything that words can express. It is this gradual but growing understanding that can increase motivation to change. You, and I are worth the effort it takes to transcend illness and create a recovered life.
Why is it that we medical and mental health professionals dedicate our lives to helping those suffering from illness? There are many reasons, but key among them is the understanding that each individual we serve is worth everything we can do and so very much more. As Mother Theresa said, “I serve not because an individual is in need, but because they are holy.”
It is my belief that our clients – those suffering – reach out for help for many reasons including these two primary ones: 1) They are feeling an intense and utter desperation that has brought them to their knees, and 2) Because deep down inside, beyond all self-doubt and self-contempt, and well beyond their negative and false perceptions of self – they too have a small sliver of a glimpse of their worth – that maybe they also are worth the efforts of themselves and others to make change, transcend illness, and receive the blessing of healing. That little sliver – that glimpse – is a small seed that can grow.
As individuals begin to take steps towards recovery, they find reasons to recover, and any reason is to be honored and remembered to strengthen the resolve towards recovery. Desperation, fear, love for others, passion, life’s purpose, deep desires, and dreams are among common reasons to recover and to live. Eventually, on the pathway to recovery, individuals learn that in addition to all other worthy reasons – the truth that “I also am worth it,” is a powerful force which helps move individuals towards better choices, more self- care, and hard work towards recovery.
Gaining a sense, an understanding, and even a sure knowledge of one’s self worth is a process which is very gradual. As we are patient and consistently taking steps over time, it helps us not only to attain recovery, but also to maintain and retain it in the long haul. It wards against relapse, and protects and solidifies recovery in our lives.