Saturday 1 October 2016

Well-being: Push your luck

Do you feel unworthy when you experience good fortune

Published 17/05/2016 | 02:30

Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet

I'm fond of listening to the Jamie xx song I Know There's Gonna Be Good Times when the times are anything but. I think of it as a motivational mantra of sorts - a reminder that bad times don't last. It's something we all need to be reminded of regularly, especially in a society where the negativity bias is omnipresent.

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We have been conditioned to believe that good times don't last forever and if it's too good to be true... you know the spiel.

Elsewhere, musical artists largely prefer to dwell on their misfortunes and caterwaul about the dark times, and while we've all encountered the Latin term annus horribilis (disastrous year) in literature, the antonym annus mirabilis (wonderful year) is rarely ever used.

We've bought into the stoical delusion that the good times are fickle and fleeting, like trying to catch a butterfly in a bell jar. The bad times, meanwhile, are more trustworthy. Life feels safer when we have nothing to lose.

This is partly why many of us feel unworthy when fortune comes our way. We've been led to believe that a succession of green lights is not the natural order of things. There has to be a bump along the way.

It is said that adversity introduces a man to himself. Good fortune does too. The next time your horses come in - and they will - take a moment to examine your initial reaction.

For many people, it's a sense of euphoria tempered with anguish. Others feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and undeserving.

These feelings of unworthiness are not just informed by our unconscious negativity bias. This lesser-than ego programming is generally rooted in early childhood and later informs our relationship with ourselves and, thus, others.

It is a deeply entrenched psyche, buried beneath layers and layers of social conditioning, and it gets in the way of most self-developmental and spiritual endeavours.

Countless people have subscribed to the 'believe-it-and-you-will-achieve-it' school of thinking with little to no results. They don't realise that you can't manifest abundance if you fundamentally, unconsciously, don't believe that you deserve it.

The late Wayne Dyer put it best: "Feeling unworthy is like putting a huge obstacle into the God force, into the life force which is everywhere," he said.

Still, this isn't an obstacle that you can overcome overnight. It's not a 30-day programme or a five-step plan. It takes time.

It should also be noted that chronic feelings of unworthiness are symptomatic of a much more serious issue.

If you can't understand why your boyfriend loves you or why your boss hired you, then you need to talk to a professional. These are the tell-tale signs of depression.

Remember too that guilt and shame - even the unacknowledged kind - can make us feel unworthy. The award-winning author Akhil Sharma wrote a beautifully candid piece on this subject.

His brother suffered incapacitating brain damage when he was 14 and the tragedy made Akhil feel undeserving of his literary success.

"Because my brother's brain damage has prevented him from living a full life, whenever something good happens to me, I feel shame," he writes. "It's as if I have received too much luck." (The piece is called The Fame Conundrum and you can find it online.)

Other successful people suffer from what is known as Imposter Syndrome: the fear of being found out. The late Maya Angelou once said: "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now'."

Kate Winslet admitted that she often second-guesses herself before a shoot. "I think, 'I can't do this. I'm a fraud. They're going to fire me.' All these things. 'I'm fat, I'm ugly…'"

Feelings like this are common, especially in the creative industries, and the tragic truth is that those who don't suffer from Imposter Syndrome from time to time are generally the imposters.

Comedian Mort Sahl does a very clever riff on this idea: "Liberals feel unworthy of their possessions," he says. "Conservatives feel they deserve everything they've stolen".

In many ways, Sahl is pointing at two sides of the same coin. We often confuse unworthiness with humbleness. However, as American spiritual teacher Gary Zukac points out: "There are no lower or higher individuals in the perception of a humble person. There are only souls. There is only love".

In reality, unworthiness and inferiority is the ego in disguise. Lesser-than is an ego-programmed identity, just as greater-than is.

Unworthy people insist that they don't want to be centre stage, yet their acts of martyrdom and people-pleasing consistently thrust them into the spotlight.

Other people don't feel deserving of success because they have built their identity around being a victim. Who are they then when they no longer have a hard luck story to tell? Will people still identify with them?

Overcoming feelings of unworthiness requires serious self-inquiry and a lot of self-compassion. If you can't be kind to yourself, then you'll have difficulty receiving kindness. And if you don't deserve good fortune, then what exactly do you deserve?

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