When You Feel Unworthy of Love

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When I was 6, I discovered that I had the wrong skin. My mother has fair, smooth skin - a beauty standard for Vietnamese women. And my skin wasn’t.

One time, she brought me to a local clinic where she worked at, the other nurses and doctors told me: “Your skin is as fair as the coal.”

In my first grade, the kids anonymously agreed to call me “the black goat.”

“Two goats are crossing the bridge. A black goat and a white goat…,” they quoted the tale and roared in laughter. I forced a smile, not saying a word.

A seed was planted in my mind “There is something wrong with me. I don’t deserve love.”

This seed grew every time I was teased and judged and punished, not only for my skin but also my hair, my lips, my ears, my legs, my homework.

I lost my innocent confidence. I became fearful, insecure about who I am, anxious about how I looked.

I compensated for that by becoming a people-pleaser. I thought if I got approval from everyone, the feeling of unworthiness would go away.

I carried around a to-get-approval list with check-boxes next to names.

I got approval from women by competing with them. And I got approval from men by making them fall in love with me. It didn’t matter whether I was in love with the man. I needed the approval so bad that I flirted anyway.

When you don’t feel enough, nothing is ever enough for you.

There’s one name in my to-get-approval list that I still feel guilty when I think of him. I told him I didn’t want any relationship. And yet, I let him in my room and on my bed. I gave him my care and ask for his care in return - all to build a resemblance of the love I deeply craved. I used him to bandage my festering wound of unworthiness.

Like the Rihanna song “We found love in a hopeless place.” But that love wasn’t real love.

Soon, I got bored. He gave me what I wanted: approval. And being the good guy he was, he gave it readily. He didn’t know that it would mean to cross his name off my list. The task was done.

But my unworthiness was still there, screaming for the next target. His approval wasn’t enough. I needed more. I was a black hole that his love could not fill, nothing could.

“You can never get enough of what you don't need, because what you don't need won't satisfy you.” - Dallin H. Oaks

How ironic!

I treated men who genuinely cared for me like trash. And I stuck with men who treated me like trash because they never gave me the approval I craved - the task was never done.

***

I’ve struggled with unworthiness for decades. I don’t know when it will leave me. But now I know how to not let it stop me from having the relationships and the life I love.

This morning, as I sat on my meditation cushion, I sensed anxiety spreading in my chest like a hot sticky spiderweb.

Anxiety said: “I’m afraid something wrong’s gonna happen today. This will prove that I’m unworthy.”

All of a sudden I felt like a 6-year old. Somewhere in me, I still believed in that story: “I’m just a black goat who doesn’t belong.”

Instead of fighting back this feeling, I breathed into it.

The famous American lawyer, Stevenson said in his all so humane TED Talk: “Stealing a bike doesn’t make you just a thief.”

Experiencing unworthiness doesn’t make you just an unworthy person.

Mindfulness practice has taught me to see the feeling of unworthiness with compassion.

If I can do so, unworthiness can be the passenger on the bus of my life, instead of being the driver.

When I accept and love the part of me that cannot love me, I step into the vastness of the one who loves and accepts. I become what the Buddha calls “compassionate witness”: always allow, accept, embrace without judgment.

Finally, I see unworthiness for what it really is: a part of the human experience. As I observe my unworthiness with compassion, I’m connected to a larger part of me whose worth is unbreakable.

Sitting on my meditation cushion, no longer with the spider web in my chest. I bathed myself in the acceptance and love that I gave to myself.

Unworthiness doesn’t happen to me, it happens for me. It’s here for me to learn about my worth.

In the very moment that I experience unworthiness, I am still worthy of love - beginning with the love from myself to myself.  

Dear reader,

I hope this story helps you see your own illusion of unworthiness and how believing in it may cause suffering in your life. I also hope you see a way to start letting go of this illusion: by stepping into the role of the compassionate witness each time you sense unworthiness coming up.

The only way to fight the dark is to turn on the light. Thus, there’s no use in fighting unworthiness, denial, intellectual argument, rejection, none of that can fight unworthiness. The only thing we can do is to envelop it with the light of acceptance.

The moment we do that, we’re no longer bounded in the identity of the one who feels unworthy, we stepped into the identity of the one who allows and accept - all the different words to describe “love”. We’ve become our own lover.

 

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