Motivation and Self-Worth

So, I have struggled a lot with motivation.  I have also struggled a lot with feeling self-worth.  And if the depression gets bad, it can negatively impact (often very dramatically) my ability to find motivation.

Did you know that those two things are intrinsically related?

Let’s break it down.

What are the things you think you have to do?  That are absolutely essential?  Showering?  Wearing makeup?  Feeding the kids?  Getting up at a certain time?  Doing the dishes every day?  Talking to your friends?  Getting out of the house?

What happens if you don’t do one of those things?  Some of those things?  All of those things?

Different people have different standards for their ‘minimum.’  And each person has a different internal reaction to not being able to meet their ‘minimum’ at any particular point in their lives.  But most of us have a minimum and we feel uncomfortable if we are not able to get those minimum things done.  Sometimes we feel frustration or anger, often we feel guilt, depending on where we place the blame.

But sometimes things happen in life that make it impossible to meet those standards.  Sometimes, even, we are foiled in those goals for a very long time.  And this can make us feel really, really bad.  Even worthless.  Because basically, we all want to have something after the “I am.”  Such as “I am responsible,” or, “I am a good parent,” or “I am a good neighbor,” or “I am a nice person,” or “I am tough.”  And if something happens to violate our definition of that thing that we think we are supposed to be, it makes us very upset.

If something happens that violates our definition of the things were are supposed to be for a very long time, sometimes we find it even harder to do the things we find so important, which doesn’t always make sense.  We feel guilty and get angry with ourselves.  This thing is important! We yell, Why aren’t you doing the thing!

Here’s something you need to know: when you tell yourself you must do those things, and get angry or feel guilty when you don’t, you are putting yourself into a negative spiral of destruction.

Because the cycle goes like this:

  1.  You define a role with certain criteria.  As an example, I’m going to say, you may define your role as a ‘person with decent hygiene’ as including (among other things), ‘showering every day.’
  2. Some days, stuff happens that gets in the way of your meeting that criteria.  Sometimes that stuff is internal, like a bad depressive episode, and sometimes that stuff is external, like you’re out camping.
  3. Being unable to meet that criteria violates your internal criteria for that role.  So, though this is usually not something you consciously think of, you start having some internal discomfort.  In this instance, for example, your subconscious starts to think, “I’m gross,” which is its definition of violating the ‘person with decent hygiene’ role.  This can even have a cascade effect, because you may have another role of something like ‘likable person’ that can include criteria like ‘not gross,’ so now you are no longer a likable person, either.
  4. The effect is usually (though not always) less when the stuff getting in the way is external, but this can be affected by a lot of factors, such as what we take personal responsibility for.  Sometimes people take too much responsibility for things out of their control, in which case they feel too much shame, and sometimes people take too little responsibility for things actually in their control, in which case they become ‘victims.’  Either way, the negative feelings (the shame or anger against things of which you are a ‘victim’) are a result of you no longer meeting the criteria for a role you feel you should have.
  5. So, now that you are uncomfortable because you are violating a role’s criteria, and you’ve emotionally responded to that discomfort, a dilemma can form within your subconscious.  I’m gross.  Gross people don’t shower.  Which then makes it HARDER to shower, because now you have defined yourself as a gross person!  If you were able to set healthy boundaries and remind yourself that not showering once does not define you, or that you were camping so it’s okay this time, and you were able to keep the re-defining yourself as gross at bay, then you are usually fine.  But if you start defining yourself as gross (or lazy, or stupid, or whatever your particular poisonous label is), then you will really start having problems.  This happens a LOT when you have depression or anxiety.  And most of it is not necessarily conscious, so if you say to yourself, “I never say that!” then you have to ask yourself: but do I believe it?
  6. So now you’re doing the role-violating thing more, because it meets the criteria of the NEGATIVE role you’ve now labeled yourself with (‘gross person’ or ‘bad parent’ or ‘unlikable person’ or ‘nagging wife’ or ‘bad neighbor’ or whatever).  This not only makes it harder to get back to the good role (because you are not capable of good role criteria because you are now the bad role), but your annoying brain may be finding more and more ways that you meet the Bad Role criteria.  Like, ‘Ew I only brush my teeth once a day’ or ‘my hair is always a mess.’  It becomes self-fulfilling.  And you spiral down into hell.

So, at this point, some of you may be thinking, “Oh crap, this might be me.  How do I stop it?”

The first thing you need to know is this isn’t a switch you can just turn off.  It will take time and effort, because this involves beliefs and habits you’ve formed over a lifetime.  You have to develop new neural pathways and keep them up so that the old ones don’t just automatically take over.  But it IS possible, and you CAN do it.

The first step is the most important: remember how I said that we all want something after the “I am?”  Well the biggest and most important step is to stop requiring that.  You absolutely do NOT need ANYTHING after those words, because you, BY YOURSELF, AS YOU ARE, even if you were in a freakin’ COMA, are of infinite worth.  It’s just the way it is.  You do good things, you make mistakes, you have good ideas, you have wrong ideas, it doesn’t matter.  Recognizing that you are of infinite worth is an important step to stopping the dangerous need to constantly ‘prove’ your worth, which can backfire, and knowing you already have worth is important because it takes HOPE to move forward.

The next step is to change how you motivate yourself.  It has nothing to do with your worth, you’ve learned, but you DO recognize the consequences and your choices.  This means that you look (I mean REALLY look) at the consequences, and choose your behavior accordingly.

An example: doing the dishes used to be the worst chore for me.  Not only did it cause me a lot of back pain, but it was part of various roles I felt pressure to conform to (e.g., a decent housekeeper) and it fit roles I eventually realized I didn’t want to conform to (e.g., a ‘good,’ subservient little wife).  So it became harder and harder to do, and I hated myself for it.  Once I learned to separate my worth from my actions, I floundered for a bit finding motivation.  Then I realized I could choose to do that thing because I liked the consequences.  I liked having clean dishes and a clean counter, and I usually have the power to make it so.  So all my motivation became POSITIVE and EMPOWERING and I like that!  I don’t like it when stuff gets in the way and I can’t do the dishes–but it doesn’t have anything to do with me or my value, even if other people might think it does.

And it’s really that simple, and that hard.  It takes practice, effort, time, and really examining and understanding what power you have, what power you don’t, and consequences.  But you can do it, and you will be free.  Not free from consequences, but free from the bad expectations that end up holding us back.

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