01/06/2015 12:44 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

How to Feel Adequate and Worthy

Adam was a very competent dentist until a brain injury from a hiking accident caused him to lose his ability to practice dentistry. Not only could he no longer use his hands effectively, but his speech was sometimes slurred and he could not walk without help. Almost everything that had been important to him had been taken away -- his work, his sports, some of his ability to use the computer. Fortunately, he still had the love of his wife and children.

Adam was struggling with how to feel adequate in the face of not being able to work or do all the other things he had loved to do. "How can I feel adequate and competent when there is so much I can't do?" he asked me in one of our sessions.

"Adam, let's talk about the difference between doing and being. It sounds like you feel that your adequacy as a person is in what you can or can't do -- is that right?"

"Yes. I have always received my sense of adequacy from doing what I do well. Isn't that how most people feel adequate -- from doing something well?"

"Well, unfortunately in our society, our sense of adequacy and worth often becomes associated with what we do, rather than who we are. But think about this for a moment -- would you value someone's friendship just because he plays baseball well, even if he is an unkind person? Is he defined only by what he does, excluding who he is? Is this how you pick your friends? How do you pick your friends, Adam? Do you pick the person who is the best dentist or the kindest person?"

"That's an interesting question. Lots of my friends are good at stuff, but they are also kind and caring people. I really don't care how good they are at something -- if they are uncaring people I don't want to spend time with them."

"So you value who they are more than what they do, is that right?"

"Yes. I've never thought about that before. I can see that I value others primarily for who they are, but I've always valued myself for what I do. Obviously, this is causing me a big problem now since I can't do much anymore. I spend so much time feeling so badly about myself, so inadequate and unworthy."

"Adam, I know you to be a very kind-hearted person. Your wife and children love you because of your heart, not because of what you did. Why do you think they still love you?"

"Actually, I've wondered about that. I can't do much for them anymore."

"Adam, you don't know whether or not you will ever heal enough to do more. Why not take this as an opportunity to develop who you are rather than what you do? Why not develop your compassion for yourself and others? Why not practice bringing through the love and joy of Spirit? Why not look for ways of being caring to your family and friends? Everyone loves to be with someone who cares about them, who is willing to listen to them and understand them. Why not take this opportunity to get to know yourself on a deeper level? Perhaps your higher self has a different purpose for you other than being an excellent dentist. Perhaps you could receive a deep sense of inner worth from developing your spiritual connection. You've been a person who has given yourself up a lot for others -- gone along with what others wanted to avoid conflict. Perhaps practicing speaking up for yourself rather than giving yourself up will give you an inner sense of personal power."

Adam decided to focus on what it means to be loving to himself and others, starting with himself. He had never spent much time caring about himself, having always been a caretaker for others. He discovered that part of his problem with feeling adequate was how little he had paid attention to his own feelings and needs. As he started to value who he is and take loving action in his own behalf, his feelings of inadequacy gradually diminished. He discovered that offering his love and compassion to himself, as well as to others, filled him with a deep sense of joy.

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