“Worthless” is a strange concept. Quite literally, it means to be worth less than something. Why then, when applied to ourselves, does it mean worth absolutely nothing?
Two things begin to happen as soon as we are old enough to interpret the actions of others. First, our sense of self-worth begins to develop. Second, our brain’s filter begins taking shape. Many people face various difficulties throughout childhood, yet still develop a strong and healthy sense of self. However, there are others born predisposed to negativity. For them, a pessimistic interpretation of early childhood experiences helps create a filter which later colors the experiences of adolescence and adulthood in a gloomy hue.
Much of the frustration experienced by people with depression is caused by confusion about their own emotions. For instance, a child who is harmed by an adult may know something bad happened, but may not yet have the vocabulary to express it or the understanding needed to completely process it. Time marches on and the event is filed away deep in the brain. Now, consider this child as an adult; certain events trigger strong emotional responses, but because the original event was never fully processed and is now buried deep in the subconscious, the connection between past event and current emotional trigger may be absent. What is present is a sense of badness and a personal connection to it, thus reinforcing the association between self and bad.
We can’t change the past, but we can learn to control of our thoughts and retrain our filters to process the future in a more positive light. The key is to stop allowing the actions of others to influence your own feelings about yourself. This means finding other ways to reaffirm your value, and then using these as a counter-punch to those put-downs you hear inside your head. Try doing something creative, or doing something for someone else.
There are countless ways to express creativity, and many don’t require any special training or talent. If you aren’t sure where to start, try something you enjoyed (or wanted to enjoy) as a child. Build a model, color, do a puzzle – the point is to produce something you feel good about. If it doesn’t turn out quite as planned, it is okay. This isn’t a test – you get as many do-overs as you like! Keep trying different things until you find what you enjoy.
Performing a little act of kindness for somebody else can be as simple as holding a door open for somebody. If you don’t have the energy to deal with people right now, there are lots of animals who need kindness (and will return the favor). Saying something encouraging to somebody, checking on an elderly neighbor, scratching the ear of a furry friend – these may seem insignificant, but as we do them, we stimulate the happiness center of our brain and begin to feel less worthless and more worth-full.
We live in a society which bombards us with trash-talk and hate speech around the clock. When those external messages pair up with our internal negative, it reinforces feelings of low self-worth. I would be lying if I said this would be easy to overcome, but for most of us, our self-image has been a lifetime in the making. Commit to spending a little time each week on something which makes you feel good, no matter how small it seems. That little spark of good will become firmly planted in your brain, and the more you fuel it, the better your outlook will be – not only about life, but also about yourself.