by Maria Sirois
At the end of a lecture on self-care one night, a woman in her early seventies approached me. She is beloved in our community, a figure of generosity and warmth, and known for her constant care of others. She gathers clothes, feeds the homeless at our annual Thanksgiving weekend feast in the basement of a local church and knits shawls. She came toward me tentatively, after everyone else had moved toward the coffee and cookie table and asked me, “But what if you don’t feel you are worthy of loving yourself?” I was shocked to hear this from her and yet not surprised at all—for at the heart of so many of us lay this same terror, this same lurking suspicion: “Everyone else is better. Everyone else counts. I am as nothing. I don’t really matter.” This message, indoctrinated in us often since childhood, does not serve us. It limits our capacity to grow, to enjoy the bounty of life and our ability to bring our unique gifts to the world. It makes it hard to receive love and hard to believe that, as Byron Katie suggests, “In a perfect universe, someone would be you.” So let me say clearly and directly: we need you. We need you to be yourself and to find a way, small positive step by small positive step, to love yourself just 3% more, 5% more. We invite you to choose one thing each day that elevates your self-care or your self-respect and practice this as if you are shaping a work of art—which you are—which is you. We need this for you, of course, so that you begin to experience life in all its richness. And we need this, of course, for ourselves so that we can be inspired to remember that we too, matter.
Dr. Maria Sirois, PsyD, is the Vice President of Curriculum at Wholebeing Institute and an inspirational speaker, seminar leader, and author who has worked at the intersections of wellness, psychology, and spirituality for nearly 20 years. As a wellness guide, Maria has been invited to keynote throughout the country at conferences for wellness centers, hospitals, hospices, philanthropy, business, academic and corporate institutions, as well as for the general public. She has been called both a “true teacher” and “an orator of great power and beauty.” Her book, “Every Day Counts: Lessons in Love, Faith, and Resilience from Children Facing Illness, was published in 2006.”
“You matter,” is the antidote to what I believe is our biggest fear, that we don’t matter … and our deepest desire, to matter to others. This is what I have been studying since CIPP 1.
I am finding is that, in many cases, no one teaches us that we don’t matter, we come to this conclusion by ourselves.
All of us (except for the psychopaths) emerge into life with a deep desire to matter to other people.
It kicks in really strongly for teens, like my son, who are navigating perilous waters of trying to figure out who matters to them, who they want to matter to, and how they contribute in a meaningful way to other people. Is it through status? Is it through good works? Is it through academic achievement? is it through being sexually desirable? He and all his friends are figuring out what their equation is … If I only do [blank] then I’ll matter. And all of us sailed those same waters, and came up with our own conclusions that have fueled and haunted us all of our lives.
But rarely do we sit with the painful suspicion, “I don’t really matter,” that my equation didn’t work. It is such an intense pain to even consider, we don’t look at it long enough to know where it comes from, that it isn’t true, and that running from it only leads to worse decisions.
I faced this hard, hard feeling with my CIPP1 break-out group, on a phone call last October. I felt bereft as I never had before. I faced the magnitude of the pain of doubting whether or not I was worthy of occupying this foot or so of space on the planet. And I saw I how thoroughly and frequently I run from it.
With the intrepid support of amazing women, I’ve been looking at it in myself and others, reading & synthesizing, and I’m convinced that this is a primary human motivation, rooted in our biology as social creatures, and that everyone is all the time looking for cues that they matter to other people. But modern life, fractured, impersonal, confusing as it is, fails to deliver to us the cues that we crave. Cues like smiles and thank you’s and touch from the people that surround us. So many of us are surrounded by people who don’t matter to us, who will never matter to us, and we aren’t aware enough to combat the biological response to that pain of that. We conclude that there must be something wrong with us.
Rampant, debilitating, wrenching self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness is a totally natural response to a world that fits poorly with our biological need to belong.
With this awareness, freed from the sense that there is something particularly “wrong” with me, or with you, or with anyone, for feeling shame and unworthiness, armed with the sense that these painful feelings are a natural outcome of my wholesome desire to matter to other people, I can face them down more fiercely and completely, more gently and smartly. I can teach my son to. Maybe if I work hard, stay resilient, and stay open, I can help others to find this particular freedom as well.
This is my calling that you, Megan and Tal have help me to find.
Thank you, Maria, for changing my life and sharing the post, which triggers so much gratitude.