You’re not supposed to get into arguments with your clients. On a cold, crisp day in Denver just before Christmas last year, I did just that. Now if you know anything about therapy, a therapist’s job is to help a client skillfully identify patterns of behavior, explore their emotions, understand where issues came from and identify solutions. We are not supposed to give advice or tell people to do this and not that. We are certainly not supposed to deliberately engage in a power struggle where we tell our clients that their thinking is just plain wrong.
In my defense, I really couldn’t help myself. My client is such a lovely person, who is an obvious value add to the world, and she was speaking about herself in such terrible ways, giving herself no credit and refusing to allow herself any shred of compassion, that I just lost my handle on objectivity. I said, “I’d like to start a movement called Original Worth. It would be the opposite of the concept of Original Sin. In my model, you’d be worthy just because you’re you. After all, there is only one of you, ever, in the whole world. That’s pretty special!” Now she and I had both grown up Catholic and a bit of Catholic guilt was running the show for her but her difficulties with believing in her own value were much more widespread. She had decided over time that she wasn’t just born with sin, but that she was actually not worthwhile, because she was her imperfect self.
This led to a fascinating conversation, and I deliberately took a stand FOR HER against how she was thinking about herself. I directly challenged her narrative that she was worthless. We talked about how this wasn’t my usual style (normally I let clients lead themselves to conclusions rather than insisting on the conclusion they should come to). We explored my general theory of original worth: if there is only one unique “you” in the world, then that is inherently special, precious and worthy. Since there is only one unique you in the whole world, you can relax and stop doubting that you are special and unique. There is only one of you. That’s both special and unique!
Of course, I left her room to disagree with me, and we wrestled with her inner thoughts of worthlessness, together. We explored the evidence that maybe, sometimes, occasionally, she has brought goodness into the world (one of her definitions of worth). We played with the idea of giving herself credit while also encouraging changes in behaviors that didn’t make her proud of herself. Most of all, we used the concept of “both-and thinking” to hold multiple things as true in her mind. She is unique, and imperfect. She does bring value to the world, and sometimes messes up. She is just like the rest of us in that way. The notion that somewhere, somehow, there is someone who has it all figured out was debunked. We chewed on this idea of worthiness. I apologized for being so pushy. It was a clear, crisp, cold day but the session was left on a warm and friendly note.
My client is bravely experimenting with the idea of original worth. I hope you can experiment with it too. After all, there’s only one of you in the whole world. I think that’s pretty special.