One of our most basic human needs is to know that we matter.
That our lives mean something.
That our needs are important.
That seems kind of obvious, but the truth is, many of us have conflicting feelings about the simple concept of, “I matter.”
Many of us have been told— either explicitly or implicitly— that we’re not, in fact, particularly important.
Sometimes we’ve been told it’s wrong or selfish to consider ourselves important.
For some of us, we’ve gotten messages from our religious traditions that we should put ourselves last and others first— which we’ve then taken to mean we must not matter.
For others, the idea that we matter, that we are fundamentally important, is kind of intimidating. Because if we accept the idea that “we matter,” then we’d necessarily have to treat ourselves with more respect and restraint than we’re used to.
Still others have become so frustrated with their own behavior over time that they’ve developed strong negative opinions about themselves. Their self-esteem— literally the esteem in which we hold ourselves— has taken so many hits, that the very concept of them “mattering” has become less important than the fact that they are angry with and disappointed in themselves.
Most human beings I’ve ever met have had, at the very least, a complicated relationship with the concept of, “I matter.”
Many people are afraid that if they paused for a moment to consider the fact that they matter, that they are fundamentally important, that they might be disapproved of by others.
After all, isn’t it a big arrogant to assert, without qualification, that “I matter?”
For that matter, who are we to assert that “I matter” without first doing something to PROVE that you matter? (Notice the connotation this has: we only matter IF we do something to EARN that fundamental value.)
I’m here to tell you that it is neither arrogant, nor presumptuous, nor obnoxious to assert your fundamental value and importance.
I’m here to tell you you don’t need to perform or otherwise “earn” the “privilege” of mattering.
I’m here to tell you that if you are alive, if you are reading these words, if you are a human being with a brain, a central nervous system, and an emotional life, that you matter.
How can we shake all of these complicated, negative associations we have to the concept of “I matter?”
How can we come to peace with our fundamental value and importance?
We have to realize that much of the consternation we experience around the idea of “I matter” is simply programming.
Programming is usually nothing more than messages that have been repeated, over, and over, and over again.
It doesn’t matter if the messages are true, useful, or kind.
It doesn’t even particularly matter if we’re actually LISTENING to those messages very closely.
if a message gets repeated, over and over and over again, we tend to internalize it.
And make no mistake: there are lots and lots and LOTS of people, institutions, and industries out there in the world who have vested interests in programming you with the mantra “I don’t matter.”
Advertisers LOVE it when you think you don’t matter— because then they can sell you stuff to make you feel better.
Some romantic partners prefer you to not have TOO high or stable self-esteem— because people with high, stable self-esteem tend to be harder to manipulate and control.
Authorities, from parents to the government, often prefer that you not be TOO convinced you have fundamental value— because then you might decide you’re not so much in need of their guidance and resources.
A fundamental part of your recovery from addiction, a fundamental part of your recovery from anxiety, a fundamental part of your recovery from depression or trauma, is to accept that you have value.
You having value; you having worth; you fundamentally MATTERING is the cornerstone of building the motivation and the skills to improve your life.
What has been programmed, can be counter-programmed.
What has been learned can be un-learned.
But you’re going to have to take the risk of saying— and potentially believing— two little words:
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