By Cheryl Schenck, LPC, CSAT
Many years ago, my husband, Rob, and I were living in New York City when he served as associate pastor of a large and active church. I was fully occupied with caring for my new infant and 2-year-old daughter while Rob taught Bible studies, led programs, and engaged in what seemed like endless numbers of meetings with church leadership. I had friendships with some of the women in the church, and I was thoroughly enjoying my life as a mom, navigating a big city where even getting to a grocery store was an arduous challenge, and providing a support role for my husband. One year later it was time to leave. My husband and I made our moving plans, and we decided it was best for me and our two little ones to head to our new location by plane. Rob, driving the big Ryder truck stuffed with our humble belongings, would join me a week later.
As I packed the boxes and headed out, I had a story in my head where I believed no one really paid attention to me in the church, that my presence was neither here nor there, and no one would care that I was leaving. I didn’t say goodbye to a soul. I just boarded the airplane and headed for our new home. While Rob was finalizing his last few days, people came up to him asking questions like, “Where’s Cheryl?”, “She already left?”, “She never said good-bye!”, “Why did she leave and not say good-bye?”. As Rob reported to me the reactions, I was truly surprised. I didn’t think anyone even noticed me. I believed I did not matter.
I wonder if you are aware of how much you matter? Do you live your life as if you are seen and noticed and that your life and actions actually impact and affect others?
When I talk about this with my clients, sometimes they tell me they don’t know what I mean. Sometimes they tell me it’s just too hard. And sometimes they say they don’t think it’s true.
The idea that you have significance and meaning to God, to the Universe, and to the other people you encounter in your life is central to your being. It takes a sense of knowing that you have value in order to take care of your needs, find success in relationships, work at your job, have emotional and physical health, and even to play.
The internalization of one’s self value is formed in childhood. As mom and dad hold, rock, respond with smiles, imitate baby’s sounds, feed, change diapers, and keep baby safe, a child is developing a sense that he or she matters. As the child sees him/herself reflected in the face of mom or dad, foundational development of his or her sense of self is being formed. When experiences in childhood are lacking, discounting, and even harmful, the child forms beliefs that their life isn’t important, their life isn’t valuable, that they don’t matter.
The five core elements of emotional maturity, as described by Pia Mellody, are that each and every child, from the very moment of birth is:
Valuable, Vulnerable, Imperfect, Dependent, and Spontaneous.
Parents are charged with caring for their child and providing conditions that address each one of these. They are called on to impart implicit and explicit messages of their child’s preciousness and to provide appropriate boundaries. Parents must have expectations commensurate with the child’s age and developmental level, and provide for their physical and emotional needs. Finally, they must foster creativity, personality, and desires.
When this has been less than perfect for you, and I haven’t met anyone with perfect parents yet, then you may be living your life as if you don’t matter. This shows up in a myriad of ways:
- You don’t speak up when your husband or wife is hurtful, or doesn’t come home, or keeps drinking even though it is causing problems for you and the family.
- You ignore your hunger and thirst signals when you need food or hydration. You minimize or dismiss your basic needs for a clean and comfortable living environment. You work yourself ragged without awareness or concern for your fatigue.
- You are angry and irritable toward others around you because it feels like no one considers your wants and needs, and it feels like there’s no way to make it different.
Living your life as if you matter first requires the ability to identify and have awareness of your feelings and your needs. You allow yourself to create conditions and set boundaries that accommodate and consider your needs and preferences. This can include very simple changes:
- Get the sleep you need.
- Start your day with meditation, prayer, or quiet time.
- Addressing nutrition from a view of taking good care of yourself rather than punitive diet regimens
- Counting in you as you develop your schedule – i.e. don’t squeeze in so many meetings that you are exhausted; make an appointment time for exercise; allow yourself to organize your time according to your preference – not just out of obligation or routine.
- Make financial decisions that make room for your interests, mental health care, and opportunities to play.
- Use your creativity! Write that poem, take an art class, find a pottery studio, color, sing, or play the piano.
Let yourself be on a journey to grow your self-esteem, and to really believe you count. Working with a good therapist, interacting with healthy people, participating in recovery groups, reading books and listening to podcasts that are nourishing, are all valuable components to the process.
Here’s a few links to get you started:
You Truly Matter in This World, But Do You Realize It? By Kathy Caprino
7 Things to Realize When You Think You Don’t Matter By Melissa Lopez
Taking Good Care Of Yourself Mental Health America
You matter. You really do matter — no matter what.