A closer look at un­wor­thi­ness

Are you re­sist­ing some­thing good be­cause you don’t be­lieve you de­serve it?

Living Now - - Editorial - by Barry Vis­sell

Are you re­sist­ing some­thing good be­cause you don’t be­lieve you de­serve it?


Do you ever feel un­wor­thy to re­ceive good things in your life? It’s not an easy ques­tion to an­swer. Some of you are in touch with your feel­ings of not de­serv­ing. Some of you are not. I dare say that feel­ings of un­wor­thi­ness are present in most of us, although we might not be aware of them. The first step in over­com­ing th­ese feel­ings is to be­come aware of them. This can’t only be a men­tal process. Feel­ings of un­wor­thi­ness need to be recog­nised and felt be­fore heal­ing can hap­pen.

Joyce and I see many peo­ple in our counselling prac­tice who deny any feel­ings of un­wor­thi­ness. Th­ese same peo­ple show some of the clas­sic signs of un­wor­thi­ness; dif­fi­culty ask­ing for what they need, most forms of pro­cras­ti­na­tion, re­sis­tance to life­style im­prove­ment, not tak­ing good enough care of them­selves, or prob­lems with ad­dic­tion. There are per­haps many times when we re­sist some­thing good sim­ply be­cause we don’t be­lieve we de­serve it.


Where do th­ese feel­ings of un­wor­thi­ness come from? Our child­hood holds some im­por­tant clues. I once wrote an ar­ti­cle for our web­site ti­tled, “How We In­ter­nal­ize Blame” (on our web­site, Shared­heart.org), where I wrote about a vi­o­lent act by my mother and the mes­sage given to me that her vi­o­lence was my fault. I learned that I de­served vi­o­lence…not help­ful! But I very much needed to be­come aware of this feel­ing be­fore I could learn on a feel­ing level that no child de­serves vi­o­lence.

I also learned in my child­hood that love was con­di­tional. I needed to earn love by be­ing ex­tra good. So as an adult, and a doc­tor / psy­chother­a­pist, the more I helped peo­ple, the more good I did in the world, the more I de­served to be happy (or so I un­con­sciously thought). But this never worked be­cause it was a flawed con­cept.

Twenty years ago, at a cou­ple’s re­treat at Rowe Con­fer­ence Cen­tre in Mas­sachusetts, I vul­ner­a­bly shared th­ese feel­ings. Scott Kalech­stein Grace, our mu­si­cian and as­sis­tant, sug­gested I ex­per­i­ment with ly­ing on one of the couches in the back of the room and com­pletely let­ting go of lead­ing the work­shop. He said, “Don’t worry, Joyce and I can lead the work­shop just fine.” Just then, an older man sug­gested I lie with my head on his lap so he could father me and keep giv­ing me the mes­sage that I was per­fectly wor­thy with­out hav­ing to do a thing, with­out hav­ing to prove my wor­thi­ness.

It was a fab­u­lous ex­pe­ri­ence! I re­ally let go. Even though I only lay there for per­haps 20 min­utes, I re­turned with a

Heal­ing our un­wor­thi­ness de­pends on our ac­cep­tance of our hu­man­ity and our di­vin­ity.

It’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to earn love or hap­pi­ness. Love and hap­pi­ness are our birthright.

whole new feel­ing of wor­thi­ness that did not de­pend on do­ing any­thing. I be­came a hu­man be­ing rather than a hu­man do­ing. It’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to earn love or hap­pi­ness. Love and hap­pi­ness are our birthright.


The heal­ing of un­wor­thi­ness lies in un­der­stand­ing our dual na­ture. I’ve said this be­fore but it’s worth say­ing again; we are both hu­man be­ings hav­ing a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence AND we are spir­i­tual be­ings hav­ing a hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. If we iden­tify with ei­ther one, and push away the other, we de­lay our heal­ing of un­wor­thi­ness. If we’re only hu­man be­ings hav­ing a spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence, we be­come too iden­ti­fied with our un­wor­thi­ness, and so can­not let it go. If we’re only spir­i­tual be­ings hav­ing a hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, we risk min­imis­ing or even deny­ing our hu­man feel­ings, in­clud­ing un­wor­thi­ness.

Heal­ing our un­wor­thi­ness de­pends on our ac­cep­tance of our hu­man­ity and our di­vin­ity. Here’s an ex­am­ple. Many years ago, Ram Dass lived close and was an im­por­tant teacher for us. He was writ­ing a book about his guru, and had not spo­ken in pub­lic in many months. Then he re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to speak at a lo­cal col­lege, the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Santa Cruz. We saw him the day of the talk. He ad­mit­ted to us that he felt more ner­vous than he had in many years. He felt un­wor­thy to speak as a teacher to so many peo­ple, and he had been pray­ing deeply for divine help.

Joyce and I went to the talk that evening. We told him later that it was the best talk he had ever given. He ac­tu­ally agreed. He said he was more in touch with his hu­man­ity, and his un­wor­thi­ness, than ever be­fore. As a re­sult, he also opened more to his di­vin­ity and his need for divine help.


One of my he­roes is Saint Fran­cis, a man who was in­ti­mate with his un­wor­thi­ness. He ac­tu­ally took un­wor­thi­ness to a whole new level. He of­ten stood in the Pi­azza del Co­mune, the vil­lage square in As­sisi, dressed in rags and act­ing like a fool. Even now he is re­ferred to as the ‘Fool of God’. Peo­ple called him names, spat at him. Chil­dren threw rocks at him.

All the while, he thanked God for the bad treat­ment. He ac­tu­ally cel­e­brated his un­wor­thi­ness! Was he a masochist? Not at all. He felt so close to his beloved Je­sus while he was be­ing abused. He be­came com­pletely iden­ti­fied with Christ, who had suf­fered even worse abuse than him­self. As a re­sult, Fran­cis also rose into a spir­i­tual ec­stasy, into a true aware­ness of his divine wor­thi­ness, his full di­vin­ity.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to cel­e­brate your un­wor­thi­ness. But still you can ac­cept th­ese feel­ings as part of ac­cept­ing your full hu­man con­di­tion. Only then can you more fully ac­cept your divine con­di­tion and open to your orig­i­nal wor­thi­ness. We have al­ways been wor­thy. We are all divine be­ings too. Noth­ing we have ever done, or could ever do, can take away our in­her­ent wor­thi­ness.

Yes, we all make mis­takes, some very big ones too. But we are not our mis­takes. We are sparks of the one divine light. We de­serve all the good the uni­verse has to of­fer. When we know our wor­thi­ness, we are then free to give all of our love and make our dreams come true. ■ Con­nect with other read­ers & com­ment on this ar­ti­cle at www.liv­ing­now.com.au Joyce & Barry Vis­sell, a nurse / ther­a­pist and psy­chi­a­trist cou­ple since 1964, are coun­sel­lors liv­ing near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely re­garded as among the world's top ex­perts on con­scious re­la­tion­ship and per­sonal growth. They are the au­thors of The Shared Heart, Mod­els of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wis­dom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Fi­nal Gift.

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