How to Deal with Feeling Worthless and Insignificant
Everyone feels insecure from time to time, but chronic feelings of worthlessness are more serious than simple insecurity. Feeling worthless or insignificant on a daily basis is a common trait of depression, which can arise from many different sources. It is one of the hallmark symptoms of depressive disorder, although feelings of self-worthlessness can be overpowering even for those without a mental condition. The feelings of personal insignificance that arise from depression are considerably more intense than that of simple low self-esteem and can be more challenging to eliminate.
Where do feelings of worthlessness come from?
One of the most bewildering aspects of feeling insignificant or worthless is establishing its origin. Particularly in clinical depression, people may suffer from painful emotions that don’t logically follow their life events. Sometimes, in the case of depression, these powerful and destructive emotions develop without clear precedent. However, for others, there are identifiable causes for them.
Feelings of worthlessness can be caused by a number of different factors. These are some of the most common:
- Childhood experiences. Childhood abuse, maltreatment or neglect are significant contributors to adults questioning their worth. Adults who grew up with perfectionist parents also find themselves asking why they feel worthless. Perfectionism from parents tends to impart feelings of never being good enough to children, which leads to feelings of inadequacy in later life.
- Attribution and explanatory style. People tend to attribute responsibility either externally or internally. Meaning, they judge things that happen based on external or internal factors about themselves. Some people attribute everything that goes wrong in life to their own personal failings, whether real or imagined.
- Past traumas. People who have been in relationships with highly critical people may internalize feelings of worthlessness. Singular events like being terminated from a job, career setbacks and other major events like divorce, are often catalysts behind feelings of worthlessness.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Feelings of worthlessness are common in PTSD. PTSD may also involve survivor’s guilt, in which a person feels unworthy for having survived an event when others did not.
- Depression. As previously discussed, depression often causes people to feel worthless and insignificant. Feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, and worthlessness are all common symptoms of major depression and other mood disorders.
Coping with Feelings of Worthlessness
Here are some ideas that can help those suffering from feelings of worthlessness:
- Be kind to yourself. Think about how you talk to yourself. Would you treat a good friend the same way you treat yourself? All too often, we’re brutally hard on ourselves and fail to extend the love we give to others to ourselves. Be gentle with yourself. By eliminating negative self-talk, you quiet that nagging inner critic that’s so quick to judge.
- Practice gratitude. A common cause of feeling worthless is a comparison-based mindset. It’s an outlook in which we constantly compare ourselves to others, and notably, in a negative light. Instead of judging ourselves by the standards of others, we must learn to be grateful for everything we have—and are. We’re worthy regardless of what we own or have achieved. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you appreciate our significance and self-worth. It’s also an effective way to retrain your thinking.
- Be mindful of the context of your emotions. Often, feelings of insignificance and worthlessness are most present in particular situations, or, they may be triggered when around particular people. Pay attention to the circumstances in which you feel your self-esteem fall.
- Practice forgiveness—and that includes for yourself. We often carry needless and toxic guilt for things we’ve done or failed to do, many of them imaginary. Feelings of worthlessness are often conjured by these kinds of lingering guilt. Practicing forgiveness is an effective way to put those feelings to rest.
- Consider helping others. Helping others can dissolve some feelings of worthlessness by promoting a sense of accomplishment. Research has shown that prosocial activities (helping other people, helping the community) results in lowered perceptions of insignificance.
Chronic feelings of worthlessness and insignificance can be a sign of clinical depression. There are many kinds of therapy that can help, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS is a painless, non-invasive procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS has become a great option for treatment, as it’s become widely available and is covered by many insurance providers. TMS is FDA-cleared and free of side effects.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Gratitude journal (greater good in action). (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/gratitude_journal
Mayo mindfulness: Overcoming negative self-talk. (n.d.). Retrieved March 05, 2021, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-mindfulness-overcoming-negative-self-talk/
Raposa, E., Laws, H., & Ansell, E. (2016, July). Prosocial behavior mitigates the negative effects of stress in everyday life. Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4974016/
Transcranial magnetic stimulation. (2018, November 27). Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625