One way or another, we feel that we don’t deserve good things.
Maybe we are unsuccessful, and think that it’s a good thing. Or maybe we are successful, and think that it’s a bad thing.
But moral judgment will not change our circumstances, whether inherited or earned. When we use this sense of unease to our advantage, we can turn it into a sense of restlessness that drives positive change and action.
If we make sense of ourselves, our histories, and our situations, we can move forward, for ourselves and for those around us.
An individual without opportunities, provided a strong sense of self-worth and potential, will naturally strive to cultivate them.
With this same sense of self-worth, an individual with opportunities will seek to maximize the potential of those opportunities, leaving them greater than they were found.
Unworthiness, however, confounds this dynamic.
WHAT WE DON’T WANT
Most people don’t have the kind of advantages that make achieving their goals and aspirations feel like a free ride. They are responsible for establishing their own connections and opportunities.
This is a vital process. All of today’s progress springs forth from yesterday’s foundation; this is true both on an individual level, and also of humankind in its totality. Without the personal enterprise of individuals, there would be no collective progress.
This is why it is essential to practice such a sense of enterprise, and why it is naturally dissatisfactory to abandon it.
Nevertheless, some do. They feel that they are not worth their own effort. To them, there is a comfort in squalor; a feeling of rightness. Through it, they feel justified in their self-image, and reject the need to adapt. An inferiority complex emerges.
The truth about adaptation is that it is never really made voluntarily. When we adapt, we accept discomfort now with the hope that we will reduce our discomfort later. We invest.
This is inescapable. It is better to run headlong into discomfort than to avoid it and allow it to grow and loom.
WHAT WE DIDN’T EARN
There’s nothing quite like necessity to shape one’s character. Positive adaptation is a matter of success (and sometimes survival). Self-respect follows.
But what if success is already furnished, and no adaptation is necessary? Individuals who are gifted their opportunities, unlike those who cultivate them from scratch, are denied the self-respect that comes from earning and creating.
The need to adapt is largely gone, but the social and psychological consequences of a lack of character remain.
An individual who doubts their self-worth is made even more insecure if they profit from that which they have not earned. They begin to doubt whether they are freeloaders, and whether they are capable of making a contribution to the world that equals or exceeds their consumption.
When we are given that which we have not earned, the burden on our character is actually increased. We are challenged to reach a newly elevated potential, heightened by new opportunities. In times of abundance, the standard for what constitutes a success goes up.
Faced with this challenge, individuals may take action and rise to their potential. However, they may also respond defensively via rationalization. They may convince themselves that they are naturally different from others, and that their privileges are thereby inherently deserved without effort.
In short, a superiority complex emerges.
THE IDENTITY CRISIS
These two share a common ground: in either case, the individual rationalizes their current circumstances, convincing themselves that they are justified; they prefer the comfort of what they already have and don’t need to adapt to.
The result of this rationalization is an identity crisis. The integrity of one’s identity is sacrificed in favour of maintaining the status quo.
This loss of integrity poses the same risks as ever: if we do not find a way to overcome our denial, we will continually double down on the delusions that we find more comfortable in the short term. This will lead us further and further from the truth, and our ability to function effectively within our reality will wane.
But facing these fears may not be so difficult, if we interpret our insecurities mindfully.
OUR PAST SELVES
An individual's sense of unworthiness may come from their sense of what they have contributed and who they have helped through the course of their lives.
If their histories are stained with regret, remorse, and wasted potential, they may believe that they don’t deserve to be loved and successful.
The challenge of recovering our basic sense of human dignity is in considering ourselves and behaviour within the context of our histories. We need to understand how we came to be the people we are, and what drove us to make the choices we did.
We are products of nature and nurture; we approach life from our own individual set-point. From this point, we are moulded by our experiences. Our more extraneous attributes flex and bend easily, while our most essential qualities move only slightly through the course of our lifetimes.
This process transcends the will of the individuals it applies to. All our choices can only be made from the standpoint of who we are at any given moment.
Even so, we are not exempt from the need to take responsibility for our choices. A sense of responsibility leads to more sustainable choices and a healthier sense of self-esteem.
This consideration does, however, allow us to view our past choices in the context of who we were at the time. Any attempt to impose the standards of our current selves on past decisions will lead to a faulty analysis. All the more if we attempt to impose a standard that we cannot even live up to.
APPLES TO ORANGES
Social comparison is yet more faulty. Though we may not realize it, much of our self-esteem is determined by our perception of others. We may doubt our value if we consider ourselves incapable of acting with the same moral virtue as others.
Unique individuals are shaped by a unique life experience. This leads to an outcome that is irreplicable.
The significance of this is that we defy comparison, along with our choices. Those choices are the logical response of a mind that is necessarily unlike any other.
Again, we must ignore the red herring; we must not compare to others, and we must not even compare to our own pasts (except to see how we’ve changed). The only solution is to ask what we can do now to adapt and improve.
Once we throw the yoke of our past, our obstacles are cleared. Regret and remorse cease to be a threat to our identities, remaining only as reminders to adapt ourselves and our behaviour.
We leave self-judgment behind and consider ourselves to have the same inherent dignity as any other person. In our equality with others, we come to realize we deserve love and success just the same as anyone else.
When we become willing to fight for the things our basic dignity entitles us to, our successes will reveal our own potential to us firsthand. We come to see that we were right to invest in ourselves, and that we really do deserve to be loved and successful as we set out to be.
The whole world will prosper from our contributions, and we will take pride.