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Feeling worthless and inadequate is expected after virtually any breakup. Everyone goes through these disturbing emotions at some point in their life, yet some people stay stuck within their tight and cold and vicious grasp and somehow can’t lessen it no matter how hard they fight.
When that happens, and when they get tucked under their emotions, the belief-forming process starts: their emotions turn into feelings, then their feelings, in turn, transform into thoughts, and those thoughts form their beliefs, that help them make sense of what they’re experiencing. (1)In general, beliefs are nothing more than thoughts we have confidence in that were formed from negative or positive experiences.
They are our perceptions about what we feel is right and wrong, true or false, and can keep us stuck or help us progress. They shape our reality, they dictate our behaviors, and guide us in making future decisions, but are not facts like we often assume, even though they sometimes feel and seem real. A belief can be complex as your faith in God or as simple as believing pineapple goes well on pizza. Everyone develops them, and even if you think you don’t have any, that’s still a belief – a meta belief or a belief about beliefs, to be exact. However, in this article, we’re going to focus on limiting beliefs. These are the ones that make us act in negative ways and usually hold us back from achieving our grandest goals and desires. To be even more specific, we’re going to focus on overcoming the two most prominent limiting beliefs people adopt when challenged with a breakup: “I’m unworthy of love” and “I’m a failure in love.” But before we get into that, I want to explain how these two limiting beliefs gradually mold your life into your own version of Lucifers cage. By doing so, I hope you can become more aware of how indispensable it is to deal with them.
How believing you’re worthless OR inadequate screws up your life
If you believe you’re secure and confident, you’re naturally going to behave in that way. Meaning you’re going to walk taller, you’re going to talk with more potency, you’re going to make clearer decisions, and consequentially, you’re going to be more attractive and have an easier time in your love life.
But let’s flip the script. If you think you’re unworthy and inadequate, your actions will, like in the previous example, reflect that mindset. Meaning, you’re going to be less sure of yourself, and you’re going to display a range of unattractive behaviors with new romantic prospects – all from white-knighting and pleasing to fostering a continuous avoidance of intimacy and connection.
This will, in turn, make you attract people with the same kind of mindset and open up more possibilities to get entangled in a toxic relationship. And when that happens, you can get yourself trapped in an endless cycle of drama, betrayal, or heartbreak. Or all three.
Here’s how that happens:
Let’s say you got harshly dumped in your last relationship, which made you feel useless as a liberal arts degree. But now, three months have passed. Three months since you’ve started to search for a new partner. Someone who would care. And just when you felt like quitting, you found a person with who you deeply connected with.
Sadly, this person was someone with the same mindset as you. Someone who also saw themselves as inadequate and worthless. Someone who shared the same trauma as you. But despite the glaring red flags, you mistook that trauma for compatibility, and so started a relationship with them – a relationship that took you on a rollercoaster of drama and betrayal.
In the end, when the ride was over, heartbreak. And because you faced the same conclusion as in your last relationship with this new one, your belief about you being unworthy and incompetent only grew stronger.
Put differently, another failed relationship counted as another reference pointing to your beliefs of unworthiness and inadequacy. As a result, those beliefs got only more pronounced.
Another way to illustrate the correlation between beliefs and references is with the slab and table analogy.
Think of a singular limiting belief as a flat wooden table with one slab in the middle, acting as a leg to hold the whole thing up. That slab is a collection of references, also called reaffirming instances which you accumulated over the years through countless experiences. They hold the entire table up. The more reaffirming instances you possess, the stronger the slab. The stronger the slab, the more certain you get about a certain belief. In our case, the belief about how you’re unworthy and inadequate.
However, keep in mind that while most limiting beliefs hold us back from our goals and who we want to become, a few of them serve a positive purpose. For example, they hold us back from absurdities like taking LSD and running naked across town while blasting “Don’t stop believing” by Journey through our portable boombox.
I hope these examples clearly illustrated how limiting beliefs can completely massacre your life and how vital it is to overcome them.
how to stop feeling worthless by overcoming your limiting beliefs
As we explored by now, perpetual feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness are just limiting beliefs in disguise, and so the way to overcome them is the same as with all limiting belief.
Down below, I’ve outlined four simple steps that will help you do just that. But, keep in mind that, while these steps are simple and proven to help, getting results with them takes time, and repetition, discipline, and a considerable dose of effort.
1. Identify the references fueling your “i am worthless” beliefs
Remember the table analogy I’ve mentioned? Since we already know what the table looks like, we can proceed to determine the thickness and density of the slab that’s holding it up.
To put it differently, since we already identified our limiting beliefs (I’m unworthy and inadequate), we can start questioning the references that support them and, resultingly, weaken their hold over us.
But before we can question our references, we have to identify what they are. That’s done by taking a stroll down memory lane and becoming observant and aware of the events that may have created the limiting beliefs we’re dealing with and the occurrences which justified them.
If you find yourself unlovable, unworthy, or incompetent, ask yourself what brought you to that conclusion. A dysfunctional relationship with your family? Childhood traumas? Did your parents not pay any attention to you, or we’re they control freaks? Did you have a traumatic breakup or even an array of unfortunate breakups that made you feel unworthy of love or a great partner?
While you’re searching for evidence that implies how your beliefs are true, be sure to explore your childhood memories. Take this as an extra tip. In my consulting practice, I found that most people develop their worth-based beliefs in childhood but don’t become aware of them until a traumatic experience, such as a breakup, befalls them.
2. QUESTION THE REFERENCES FUELING YOUR “i am worthless” BELIEFS
By now, I assume you’ve found most of the references supporting your limiting beliefs. Now, put the evidence of that belief to the test by religiously and mercilessly questioning it:
Ok, so I did fuck up my last few relationships. I wasn’t the best partner. I acted harshly when I knew I shouldn’t and took my partner for granted even though I should’ve put more effort into our relationship. I even made the mistake of blaming them for every fight we got into and then trying to make it up to them by desperately buying gifts. Basically, I made a lot of mistakes. But do these mistakes define me as unworthy, incompetent, or simply a bad person? Of course not.
I’m human and bound to make mistakes. I tried my best, and now I’m seeking help, and I should be proud of that. Many other people stay stubborn and blinded like the breakup is all their partner’s fault. I at least have the dignity to admit it’s partly my fault and the courage to better myself. I think that this actually makes me a good person.
It may even help if you write these conversations with yourself down on a piece of paper.
Generally, whenever you find a vague or cloudy reference, be sure to analyze it from all angles as shown above and realistically determine if it’s true or if it’s a fabrication. More often than not, you’ll realize it’s utter dogshit.
And while you’re questioning the validity of the references, give your limiting beliefs the same kind of treatment. Thoughtfully and firmly question them. They will probably lose much of their influence over you once you do that.
So to start, simply pick a belief and ask yourself, “what if I’m wrong.”
- What if I’m wrong to think that I’m unworthy?
- What if I’m wrong about being an incompetent donkey?
- What if I’m wrong about everything about myself?
Conclusively, question everything about your beliefs and references. Do it frequently and without mercy. Break the bitchin’ table.
3. PONDER ON THE consequences OF YOUR “feeling worthless” beliefs
After you’ve questioned your beliefs and the evidence that points to their validity, consider the consequences of carrying those limiting beliefs.
As I illustrated earlier, believing you’re unworthy and inadequate has dire consequences. For this step, I want you to deeply ponder on these consequences. Think about all the ways how you can sabotage your life if you keep believing what you’re believing.
- If I keep believing I’m unworthy of love, I will never find it, and if I do, I will screw the relationship up somehow because I will be chockfull of insecurities and emotional issues.
- If I keep believing that I’m incapable of attracting a healthy relationship, I won’t even try going out and meeting someone new.
- If I keep believing that I’m a fat and unhealthy whale, I won’t have to ever change my diet, start to exercise, and endure the pain that comes with those things.
Interestingly, we regularly hold on to limiting beliefs for two outlandish reasons:
- So we don’t have to deal with additional life challenges.
- So we protect ourselves from the pain of failure.
Think about it. One of the reasons you might believe you’re unworthy of a great partner is so you could protect yourself from the hundreds of painful rejections you have to swallow before you find a great match.
Another fascinating reason why some people hold on to generally any limiting belief is so they can feel special and unique about themselves. They think, “Hell yeah, I’m feeling worthless; I deserve special treatment for it.”
4. DISLODGE THE “FEELING WORTHLESS” beliefs AND FIND NEW ONES TO TAKE THEIR PLACE
Now that you’ve identified the references of your limiting beliefs and questioned them along with the beliefs themselves, the last thing to do is to let them go. Then fill in the hole with new and empowering ones.
For example, If you believe you’re unworthy and incompetent, give yourself a few weeks of thinking the opposite, that you are worthy and that while you might not be the most competent person in relationships, you’re getting better. And that’s good enough.
Or let’s say you believe you’re unattractive. Again, give yourself a few days to just assume that maybe, just maybe you are attractive and likable, at least for some people.
And whenever you’re test-driving a new belief, start collecting references that support it, and that can make it stronger as soon as possible.
Now don’t start identifying yourself as a demi-god who deserves the very best because that’s just the other toxic extreme of believing you’re an unworthy sack of shit. Keep the opinion of yourself down to earth. Stated differently, don’t delude yourself with grandiose self-importance, but also don’t think you’re unimportant and useless. Stay somewhat in the middle of those two extremes. That’s the sweet spot.
And when it comes to trying on the new beliefs about yourself, do it in the same way as I wrote previously, “Think of them as buying a new pair of leather boots. At first, they will feel rigid and stiff, like they don’t fit. But after time, when the leather gets fused and molded to the shape of your foot, they will become comfortable. And if they don’t, you can always return them and stick with your old worn-out sneakers, that is, your old ways of thinking and being.”
I’m getting crazy with quoting myself on this blog, damn!
And that’s it for the steps on overcoming your limiting beliefs. I recommend you practice them slowly but consistently. Again, while the above steps are simple to perform and do work, they take a long time to produce any lasting results in your life. So cultivating a significant amount of patience does genuinely help here.
But hey, what good things in life don’t take time?
Disclaimer: These perpetual feelings of worthlessness can sometimes cause you to lose all hope in life. In other words, they can make you depressed. If that depression lingers for some time, I strongly recommend seeing a therapist or any other professional. And, if you don’t have the necessary finances to hire one, I recommend grabbing the book titled: Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns.
In my opinion, it’s the go-to guide for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety. It’s an easy read and the closest thing that you can get to an actual therapist since the book contains platitudes of practical exercises to help you cope and heal. It helped me out immensely, so I can’t help but highly recommend it.
1) Clore GL, Huntsinger JR. How emotions inform judgment and regulate thought. Trends Cogn Sci. 2007;11(9):393-399. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2007.08.005
Frijda, N., Manstead, A., & Bem, S. (Eds.). (2000). Emotions and Beliefs: How Feelings Influence Thoughts (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511659904
Cover photo by AnatoFinnstark via DeviantArt
Schwarz, Norbert & Clore, Gerald L. (1996). Social Psychology: Handbook of Basic Principles. Guilford Press.