Overcoming the Trance of Unworthiness

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
– Jack Kornfield.”


There is a trance that is overtaking many of us these days. It seems to be present in most women I talk to. It is the Trance of Unworthiness. We seem to be champions at berating ourselves for our perceived failures – for not being good enough at our jobs or at parenting, for not exercising enough or for eating too much. We have convinced ourselves that we are unworthy of the kindness that we show most other people. And that unkindness and self-criticism is making us sick!

Research shows that accepting our imperfections and being kinder to ourselves can lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, and can also lessen feelings of shame and fear of failure.

People who have greater self-compassion also tend to be happier and more optimistic.
Quieting the nagging self-critic and practicing self-compassion can lead to a healthier immune system and a much better sense of well-being.

Psychologist Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle and supportive. “Rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, the self is offered warmth and unconditional acceptance.”

But after years of relentless negative self-talk, how can we break out of this trance of unworthiness? How can we cultivate more self-compassion?

It needs to be intentional – set the intention daily to be kinder to yourself.

Here are some guidelines:

1. Practice Imperfection:

Self-compassion means that we give ourselves the space to be human. And that means we can be flawed sometimes, but we don’t have to define ourselves as being ‘completely flawed and a hopeless case.’ We get to practice imperfection sometimes and not lose sight of our own potential.

2. Practice Mindfulness:

Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that mindfulness has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion because it has the tendency to lessen self-judgement. When we are stuck in a negative spiral of self-criticism, it’s quite often because we are engaged in ‘negative story-lines’ —stories that we repeat in our heads, criticizing self about past mistakes and failures. This playground of our internal critic, plays on repeat and creates a negative spiral that we can easily get stuck in. Mindfulness, or the state of non-judgmental awareness, can be the antidote.

3. Practice Forgiveness

Refer back to number one, being human means that you sometimes make mistakes. Shit happens. We don’t have to punish ourselves for making mistakes. We get to accept that we’re not perfect and move on. Remember what Anne Lamott says:
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
That goes for self-forgiveness as well.

4. Practice Gratitude

By focussing on gratitude, we over-ride our inner critic and can hear a kinder voice in our head. We can then shift the lazar-focus away from all of our perceived shortcomings and instead appreciate what we can contribute to the world. Robert Emmons reminds us that gratitude is powerful and by focusing on gratitude instead of criticism, we can learn to be more self-compassionate.

Remember self-compassion has to be learned for most of us. I have to remember to practice it daily. It has to be intentional and mindful. But it can be done, and I’ve decided that I’m worth it. And I think you are too.

I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation called ‘Awakening Self-Compassion’ by Tara Brach.
She also has a two part meditation on her own site called “The Healing Power of Self-Compassion” which is also wonderful when you have the time.

I’d love to hear about how you manage to overcome the Trance of Unworthiness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit. I appreciate it.


10 thoughts on “Overcoming the Trance of Unworthiness

  1. A very thoughtful and important essay that dares people to do what so many of us were taught to avoid for years: taking up too much space, being willing to embrace our skills and successes graciously, getting too big for our britches figuratively and physically. In a sense, if we take shallow breaths we become shallow people, fearful of every being called arrogant or uppity. Where my perspective differs slightly is how surprised I have been the past several years by the people I work with professionally and in the recovery community. I do not see this struggle appearing more often in either men or women. Yet, both men and women struggle with their perceived gender expectations, men comparing themselves to other men and women comparing themselves to other women.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Scott for taking the time to comment on this. Yes I so agree. In New Zealand there is a name for that ‘not taking up too much space and not getting too big for our britches’ – it’s called “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – In that if you are a tall poppy in the field, you get your head lopped off so that the field stays uniform, a nice carpet, no one flower standing out from the others. I am quite sure it is similar in both men and women, it’s just that I work with women, thus my experience and reference. But yes, absolutely, I believe that most of us suffer from the ‘Trance of Unworthiness.’ And I absolutely know that it is Rampant in the recovery community! Painfully so.
      Thanks again Scott.


  2. Thank you for this write up. For me this has come very timely- Just when I needed to read something inspirational to rewire myself.
    I loved the bit about forgiveness more than anything else as I have been conducting Forgiveness Workshops for Cancer Patients and their caregivers as well as for members of the society.
    Keep it up. Your guidance is always helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m finally at 64 learning self-compassion! It’s been a slow process over the past several years since my divorce. I expected so much of myself that was impossible, thinking that I had all the power to make everything better in the marriage. Lol! I’m more in touch with the reality of how much control I actually have in the world, as well as a greater awareness of my own humanity, flaws and all. These have led to much more kindness to myself, and less judgment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for your comment Julie. I agree, so many of us get so confused in relationship, thinking we have so much poser to make things work in a relationship, and when things don’t, we believe we personally have failed. It’s so painful. I think overcoming this trance of unworthiness is a life long lesson!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love that part of what you say, is to practice imperfection. Practice being human. That’s the best advice I’ve heard in a while! We need to hear that more. I always find your blog helpful. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Katherine. Sorry it took so long to respond to your comment. I was out of the country and off line. But I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and I agree, we all gotta practice being human!


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