How do I go from feeling worthless to worthwhile?
May 9, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How does one go from feeling worthless to feeling worthwhile?

I've been struggling with depression for a long time now, and recent life events (break up) have put me deeper down the hole. I manage to hold a job and work on a 2nd Master's degree, but other than that, I'm a wreck. I've tried every antidepressant under the sun including SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclics. Nothing has changed a thing.

And so my therapist says I'm going about it the wrong way. That I have to do things to take care of myself in order to feel worthwhile and valuable, and that i can't wait around for the feeling of worthwhile to strike me before starting to do those good things for myself.

So how does one do that when you feel like misery? These are basic things like eat, exercise, hang out with friends, find joy in life, and not continue to berate myself incessantly on a daily basis (emotionally abusive father, apparently I've internalized that voice). Yay! So, anyone, please, how did you do it and did it stick? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I started volunteering and found a cause greater than myself to believe in. Most of all I rejoice in the fact that I'm human. It means I'm allowed to be imperfect. I love my body more, I love myself more, and I forgive myself for whatever shortcomings I may have. It's all an opportunity for happy improvement. Now whenever I'm depressed I seek out opportunities to learn a new skill or provide a service to someone else. It's remarkably freeing.

It also might be worth a shot to try EMDR therapy. I've just started and it helps me move irrational, distressing thoughts from my overly emotional right brain into the open so I can re-store them in a more rational, comfortable way.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a lot of luck with cognitive behavioral therapy. In my case, there was a cyclical element to my depression, where it would be cripplingly bad about every three months. CBT really helped me to identify those things I was doing when not cripplingly depressed that fed into my feelings of worthlessness, alienation, and so on.

In more recent flare-ups, I found this book to be very useful as well. If you've internalized a lot of unconscious mantras about how you will never measure up or amount to anything or be worthy of someone else's love or whatever, you might benefit from it as well.

Good luck to you. You are not worthless.
posted by gauche at 2:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take 20 minutes and give yourself some kind of treat once a day, no matter if it's a going well or not. Now that the weather is nice I like to get ice cream and walk down to the canal. But it could be anything small and pleasurable: drink a beer, buy some music, take long bath, etc. Try to mix it up so it seems novel and rewarding.

CBT is good. Keep up with the therapy. Your therapist is right about taking care of yourself.
posted by mr.ersatz at 3:01 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

Do you exercise? I have found that when I exercise at least 3x a week, my thoughts change. I can even start before my workout (even at the beginning of the exercise) berating myself, feeling worthless and lousy, and after about 20 minutes, I start feeling proud of myself. Things I have done that feel like real accomplishments come flooding back into my mind. I start saying supportive things to myself and start feeling good about the fact that I got on the treadmill and that I fought through the bad feelings and am now feeling more even. That in and of itself is an accomplishment. If I exercise regularly, the overall negative thoughts start to slow to a trickle, a much more manageable trickle.

If I slag off on the gym and don't go for a few days, I start to feel crummy. And if I don't go for a few weeks I am my own worst enemy. I know how hard it is to get to the gym when you hit the skids. The only thing that works for me is to force myself to do that ONE extra thing, when I'm feeling really awful. Work + exercise become the bare minimum. I pack up my clothes and lunch for the next day before I go to bed, sleep in half of my gym clothes, toss my sneakers and yoga pants on the second my alarm goes off and immediately leave the house. I have no choice but to go to the gym. By the time my workout is done I am feeling much happier and more sane.

It may not be the magic bullet that works for you but it's worth a shot!
posted by pazazygeek at 3:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

My lack of self-esteem was rooted in my upbringing not to brag about accomplishments. I took it a little too far assuming that I couldn't be proud of myself and I had to be perfect to be able to 'brag'. I also had a terrible problem of seeking approval from others in place of my own approval.

I finally realized that I could be proud of myself without becoming an arrogant narcisist. I also realized that I could not seek approval from others. It had to come from within. If someone felt like complimenting me, more's the merrier, but my self-worth was not going to be rooted in someone else's opinion of me. It had to come within.

From there, I also started to be more optimistic about the world. I found that taking stock in the good things around me and that I did in a day were a great mood and self-esteem booster.

What do you like about yourself? No matter how small, write it down. That little boost of self-worth feels wonderful and you will begin finding more and more things. Build on them to get to that place where you are happy with who you are.
posted by Leezie at 3:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

Actively cultivate compassion and gratitude. I know: it sounds either cliched or impossible (or possibly both!). But I swear it totally shifts the lens around through which you see yourself and the world. It's a process, not a quick fix, but speaking as someone who struggled with depression for decades (and ongoing scary health crises), it really can be done. I recommend reading The Lost Art of Compassion or Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind -- both blend western psychology with buddhism.
posted by scody at 3:12 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you want self-esteem, do estimable actions. Volunteer. Be there for a friend or family member or cat or dog (pets are good if you like them and don't have one, get one). Work on a cause you care about. It's harder to hate yourself when you are doing things that are obviously good for others. And yes, exercise, keep trying to find a medication or medications that work for you and do CBT or other therapy. It sounds corny but writing a "gratitude list" of the things and people you are grateful for can also be helpful.

I became a heroin addict in large part because I was full of self hate and didn't believe I could possibly be a good person. I eventually discovered that there was no "being a good person" other than simply behaving as kindly towards others as I was able to be and being as useful as possible. Once I realized being useful—and that can be something as simple as smiling at a baby or saying something nice or as complicated as writing a book—was what mattered, not being famous or recognized for stuff or perfect, it got a whole lot easier.
posted by Maias at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Volunteering is a good suggestion! It will help to take you outside of yourself so that you can focus on others.

But as for how you feel about yourself--have you ever asked one of your acquaintances what their opinion is of you?

Sounds scary, doesn't it? You can't help but cringe, thinking of what your father would have said. But I bet you'll be really surprised to hear what they have to say. Because no way is it as critical as your own opinion of yourself. You will find that there are some who are actually jealous of you, who really admire what you've done--heck, I don't even know you, but just the fact that you have one Master's degree and are working on another while holding down a job and struggling with depression fills me with admiration. It's amazing and inspiring that you are coping so well in spite of your emotionally abusive father. You must be an incredibly strong person.

So, perhaps to counter your own internal dialogue (and I've been there so I know it is tough to get past that mindset), you could start by opening up to others about how you have these feelings of worthlessness.

And then really listen to what they say about you, instead of reacting with skepticism (which used to be my default). You are your own worst critic, and part of that comes from being put down by someone until you started to believe it yourself. Now, you need to let yourself believe that the opposite is true. Open yourself up to praise, and let the criticism go.
posted by misha at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I told myself every day for years that I was Okay. I said it out loud at least once a day and in the end managed to say it while looking at myself in the mirror. "I'm okay. Not great not bad but just okay" or something like that.

I also wrote a lot out of me, wrote my past. First attempt was 10k words but a 50k chunk of work eventually pulled the bad stuff out far enough for me to see it and move on. I've never read it because the simple act of writing was enough. And I didn't aim for a word count, I just wrote until it was all said.

Neither of these cost, you don't have to go anywhere or tell anyone and it's doable at 3am or 3pm.

This hasn't completely fixed me but I'm a lot better for having done this.
posted by episodic at 3:16 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't try to do too much at once. Start with one thing a day.

I find that if you make exercise an appointment with yourself that you must not break, everything else tends to fall into place. Not saying it's magic, but it's the foundation for the rest of your day. Fix a time, every day, to do your exercise, and it only has to be very very very little. Can you run for one minute? For all 60 seconds of it? Great!!!! Now write that down in your "done" list and set your alarm for tomorrow to do your one minute of running.

I'm not exaggerating either. Obviously you will eventually need to add a minute or 59 to your regime, here, but you can do that just a bit later. After you've built up the habit of always getting up and doing your one-minute run.

Then after that, you can add another good habit, then another and another.

Oh. And: you have a right to be here.
posted by tel3path at 3:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nthing the exercise.

Something that really helped me was keeping a gratitude list. I can't recommend it enough. And stuff can be really seemingly minimal or arcane. One time I was grateful for the nice pattern in my floorboards. Others would be petting a puppy during a walk or running into someone.

Also try a ta-da list of accomplishments that again can seem small or meaningless. Sometimes in a depression washing a few dishes is nothing to sneeze at. Write it down.

The cumulative effect is great, I promise.
posted by jgirl at 3:46 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me, it has been a two-step process. First, I accomplished some of the things my family wanted me to, and then I felt somewhat less worthless. But that feeling of worth was contingent on continuing to satisfy certain expectations. Second, I slowly realized there were things I like about myself that are independent of those expecations/accomplishments. This allows me to feel like I have worth even when I am displeasing my family.

The second thing was way more effective than the first one. I don't fully know how it happened, but it involved forcing myself to practice positive self talk (even for stupid shit, e.g. "good job remembering to buy toilet paper, prefpara! You're a fabulosu adult!") and imagining myself interacting with child-prefpara and comforting her when she is upset instead of berating myself for having the wrong emotions. That one is pretty silly, I know, but really works for me. Here's what it looks like:

1. I don't want to do my work but need to do my work.
2. Before, I would shame myself for being lazy, call myself names, and feel sad and angry.
3. Now, I picture little 8 year old prefpara. She's bored and wants to go play. That's totally understandable. This work is super boring and it's a beautiful day and she's so little. So I am really nice to her. "Little prefpara, I know you want to go play. I'm sorry you have to stay here with me and do boring work! I promise that as soon as I finish it, you're going to get to do some of the stuff you like to do. I just need you to be a little patient with me for now while I get this adult stuff done. PS I like you a lot."
4. Result: I feel calm and cared for.

When no one is taking care of you, you have to step up and take care of yourself. Even if it involves imaginary conversations. Or 90 year old future prefpara stroking your hand with her super old hand because she understands just how you feel but knows it all works out OK in the end. And likes you a whole lot.
posted by prefpara at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2011 [44 favorites]

In addition to typical exercise stuff try dancing. Put on your favorite music and rock out by yourself. Try out new moves, get into your body, shake it! it doesn't matter if you don't think you can dance, nobody will be there to see you as you let the music move you. Stretching your body as many ways as you can helps you to stretch your mind and your sense of self.
posted by mareli at 5:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dear Anonymous,

When my friend tells me this, it helps me tremendously, and I think this is also true of you: you're already doing so much. Remind yourself of this when the inner dialogue gets very critical or mean. Part of it is learning to be conscious and just seeing how harsh what we say to ourselves really is, and even if it's not conscious, learning that sometimes how we act is unconsciously and then becomes very consciously in accordance with whatever we're telling ourselves when we're feeling down and ill at ease. So, it helps if we're kinder to ourselves because then we can be aware of the beliefs behind our behaviors. This isn't rocket science. It's just about learning to feel. That last bit is not easy. We are rewarded for not feeling. There's a reason there is such a thing called emotional intelligence.

Congratulations on working on your second master's degree—that's quite an accomplishment, and I'm sure not easy to balance with working to support yourself through a challenging time. I hope that it's fulfilling for you, and helping you move toward what you want for yourself.

Recently, I picked up a book by David Richo from the library. It's one of a group of so-called self-help books I recently plucked from library shelves, and this one is the best written, and most accessible and relevant. The title is When the Past Is Present. You'll find a longer subtitle at the link (scroll down a bit). While clicking through Richo's website the other day, I happened upon a free e-book, and gleaned some tremendously helpful tidbits from it. It's called Human Becoming.

Part of this process of healing, of learning how to be nice to ourselves, comes from giving ourselves the space to feel and be aware of our feelings, then to actually experience them, and then to see things from some perspective afterwards. So, for example, I read:
"According to Dr. Allan N. Schore, of the UCLA Medical School, 'The human cerebral cortex adds about 70% of its final DNA content after birth, and this expanding brain is directly influenced by early environmental enrichment and social experiences.'"
—David Richo
Reading and learning about these sorts of facts as in the above quote helps us understand ourselves better and blame ourselves less. So much was out of our control. Look at how our bodies learn, grow, and develop. And how our experiences factor into that whole process. And so much of learning is about healing and bringing more light into the places that we don't understand, and figuring out how we feel. These are things you know. Sometimes we forget, and need reminders and reasons to remember and to remember that we know. I cannot tell you how to make things stick. I think that takes time, and is very specific to the individual. What are your reasons for remembering?

And perhaps one thing you can start with is allowing yourself to feel into the recent break-up. Ending a relationship can be and feel very de-stabilizing.

Try to figure out what you need, and then meet yourself there, willingly.

/disclaimer here
posted by simulacra at 6:14 PM on May 9, 2011

Even if your parents told you a thousand times a day how wonderful you are, you wouldn't believe it, because the acceptance and appreciation of who you are has to come from the way you see yourself, not the way others see you. The way to actually be that person you want to be is to put your focus on yourself away and focus on others who need help that you can give. Volunteer at something gritty - something where the people are so much more needy than you are there's no comparison. Get involved with their world and bring to it all the stuff you have within yourself that will make life better for those folks. You'll actually begin to look at yourself very differently. If volunteering isn't right for you, then get an actual job with a nonprofit - again, the rougher the better - the wider the gap between your circumstances and theirs, the more your self-esteem will grow from contributing to the bettering of someone else's life.

And keep going until you get on the right antidepressant, if at all possible.
posted by aryma at 6:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you for asking this question because I am struggling with a similar situation. Obviously, I don't have the answer figured out yet, but so far here is what I am finding:

I read Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh and when I feel overwhelmed I try to breathe the way he teaches. One of the most important lessons I pulled from this book is that everyone has worth. I believe that, so I must have worth, too. And so, of course, do you.

I also read Feeling Good and try to disrupt my negative thoughts using the exercises in that book.

I try to remind myself that I deserve to take care of myself and follow my dreams. There are all of these little things I "should" do to take care of myself. I bet you have similar tasks. (For me, they are, for example: take a multivitamin, eat breakfast, get my haircut, or make my bed). And there are other, bigger tasks I am trying to focus on, like "practice music for an hour" or "make art for an upcoming exhibit" or "train for the half marathon I registered for." When I take my multivitamin or make my bed (or play music for an hour or go for a long run), I am silently saying that I deserve to be healthy and I'm good enough to create or move or whatever. It's hard because there are many days when the first thought I have is "Why bother? I'm worthless." But I try to disrupt that thought and just go ahead with the simple task of taking my multivitamin and then oddly enough I feel a little bit better. And then, when I sit down to play music or sew or step outside for a run, I feel even better still. I have to do these tasks in spite of not feeling good and then once I have done them, I discover that I feel somewhat better. Sometimes I make a "To Do" list to remind myself what the tasks are. It's a process and like I said, I'm nowhere near finding the answer yet.

Finally, someone else on Ask.MeFi linked to Baggage Reclaim in a different thread and I have found a lot of helpful advice there. In case part of your struggle for self-worth is tied to blaming yourself for the recent break up you went through, you might want to read this post. I found this quote especially helpful when I needed a reality check about why my last relationship didn't work out:

If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out for a reason and even if I went back and did the things that I know I did wrong correctly, the relationship still wouldn’t work out, because to take something I said or did or a quality or characteristic and make that squarely the reason for why the relationship didn’t work out, is to not only be unrealistic about the reasons, but to also ignore the contribution of the other party.

I'll keep watching this thread for other suggestions. Thanks again asking the question.
posted by pinetree at 7:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go a bit against the grain and say be cautious about the volunteering. It's not that volunteering is not worthwhile -- it's very good to get a different perspective on your, hey, things are not so bad after all! And it can teach you all kinds of things about yourself and you can gain new skills and meet new people. But what you don't want to do is make the source of your self worth what you do for others and how "useful" you are to them or society at large. That sets you up for becoming a people pleaser and not feeling good if others don't like you. You're allowed to feel worth just for being who you are! I also think in your case, when your plate is already so full, volunteering may become another obligation you can't fulfill and will feel bad about. Be well.
posted by unannihilated at 7:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oops, I left out the link when I wrote "this post". Here it is!
posted by pinetree at 7:07 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make a list of things that delight or comfort you - a certain piece of music, a silly TV show, a cup of tea, being in the sun - and try to get regular doses of those items in your life and pay attention to them and enjoy them when they happen. (Singing always makes me feel better. And cheese. And Whose Line is it Anyway? And Flight of the Conchords.)

Buy yourself flowers.

Make a list, every day, of things you are grateful for.

Be kind to people around you and practice seeing them with compassion and appreciating their gifts. This will help you be kinder to yourself.

If you can, ask a friend to give you a hug, rub your shoulders, hold your hand ... a little human touch goes a long, long way.

I once heard this in a sermon, and never forgot it: "What would you say if your friend spilled a glass of milk? You'd say, 'it's ok. These things happen. We'll clean it up.' But what do you say to yourself if you spill a glass of milk? Do you say 'I'm such an idiot, what's wrong with me?' Why would you treat yourself so poorly? Why not talk to yourself as you would to a friend?" That put some of my self-talk into perspective, and sometimes when I catch myself listening to that angry parent voice I purposely switch to a nurturing parent voice and remind myself that it's ok, I'm ok, I'll get through this.

As I get older, I'm more able to forgive myself for being imperfect and to have a sense of humor about my faults. Everyone you meet has their own struggles and imperfections that you may never know about. At first glimpse I tend to assume that everyone is far more on top of things than I am, but in time I get to know them and I realize that we're all struggling with one thing or another and making it up as we go along.
posted by bunderful at 7:50 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Help other people. Doesn't have to be in any kind of formal volunteering kind of way. Just help other people. Supposedly you need a good job (money and satisfaction), a good relationship (love and sex) and an absorbing hobby (model trains) to be happy but I think helping other people is the key. Happiness is a by-product of that, it's not something you can pursue in its own right.
posted by joannemullen at 2:38 AM on May 10, 2011

Devote some significant portion of your energy to helping others. Focus on them, rather than yourself. Do it enough that you get to know and become invested in the people you are helping. Helping others is the best way to help yourself. Anyway, on preview I see that some of the other posters have made a similar recommendation and done so more eloquently. Follow their advice.
posted by caddis at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2011

Um, if that David Richo excerpt (allegedly quoting the legit Allan Schore) about DNA is representative of the science in that book, I'd be very skeptical of it. What does it mean for the cortex to add DNA? Sounds all scienc-y like but it doesn't mean anything. DNA is copied all the time in every cell of our body and new DNA doesn't mean new genes. If it did, we'd be in serious trouble and our brains probably wouldn't work at all!!!

What is true is that 90% of brain growth happens before kindergarten—but fortunately, that doesn't mean that our brains can't change after that otherwise we'd be, well, kindergartners for life. It does mean that early life has a disproportionate influence on later life.

Also correct is that many epigenetic changes—changes in which genes are expressed not changes in which genes exist, which does influence behavior and experience—occur throughout life, but again, early life (even in the womb) has an outsized influence.

Nonetheless, our brains are remarkably plastic—but fake science is bad even if it has a good goal.
posted by Maias at 2:52 PM on May 10, 2011

« Older EDM music in Holland this summer   |   Medication Information Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.