Getting to the Bottom of Endless Struggle, Sensitivity and Low Self-Esteem

by Caroline van Kimmenade

We are different, often misunderstood and as long we haven’t learned how to truly care for ourselves, we often experience life as getting in our way somehow, no matter how hard we try. As a result, we may be dealing with several kinds of “endless struggles”. Things we’ve tried to conquer for years and somehow can’t seem to figure out how to improve. Over time, we can get so sucked into these struggles that we lose perspective. We keep trying harder and our vision gets clouded, it becomes impossible to find a way out. This article is about understanding the underlying dynamic that is your way out of that dark tunnel.

Do you have an endless struggle? You know, something you’ve been trying to change for a long time, but you keep getting sucked back to square one, no matter what you do? Perhaps you’re trying to get yourself out there in some way? Or break some detrimental habits? Maybe you finally want to go and do that one thing you’ve been trying to do for such a long time? Maybe you’re frustrated with the lack of success you’re getting? Maybe you’re beating yourself up for not just going out there and doing it (whatever “it” may be for you)?

Does something come to mind for you?
Let’s just pause there for a minute.

Let’s look into the possibility that perhaps the struggling has become a deeply engrained pattern in and of itself. Say what?

Even though we tend to look like ONE person on the outside, we often have conflicting personality subsets INSIDE of us, almost like warring subversions of ourself (you know, the “on the one hand I want this” and “on the other hand I want that”). I have a hunch that it’s these inner sub-me’s that are keeping the struggle going.

What if, a part of us, doesn’t want the constant struggling to be resolved? (Sound crazy? read on!) What if the struggling is an expression of something? What if, in the suffering of the struggle, we are effectively (yet subconsciously) demonstrating how deserving we are of something better and how wrong it is that we’re not getting that? What if part of us is using the struggle to throw a tantrum? Yet somehow, we’ve failed to notice that there isn’t anyone to rebel against anymore (not unless you’re still living with your parents that is!).

Now let’s assume another part of us wants this struggle OUT of our lives. That’s the part that will sign up for courses and seek out help, talk to people and read books. That’s the part of us that keeps looking for new solutions and new steps to take. Whenever those steps don’t get put into action, the positive aspect of us will assume it’s because we haven’t found the right steps to take yet.

What if, “the endless struggle” is the perfect compromise between the side of ourself that wants to hold on and the part that wants to let go? In working hard at resolving the struggle, we can prove that we want something better AND that it’s wrong that we cannot have something better. The suffering expresses “mad me” and the striving expresses “glad me”. Both sides get to have their say, and in doing so they keep each other in a “balance” of stuckness. The struggling is the perfect “solution”. We can divert attention away from ourselves by blaming outside circumstances and hence, perpetuate the painful cycle of working hard yet not resolving the problem. (Because ultimately, the core of the issue lies inside of us, not outside of us)

What could really be going on?

My guess is that underneath patterns like that, there is a deep emotional well of unworthiness.

Unworthiness, or worthlessness has that sense of contradiction “built into” it. The core of this debilitating emotion is a sense of knowing our worth yet somehow believing we’ve lost it  (without knowing our worth, we couldn’t experience the loss of it). As a result, we get sucked into a constant struggle to get our worth back. Yet, in the struggling, we are also affirming that we lost our worth in the first place. When you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. How can we know our worth (something that is inherent to who we are) yet also believe that we don’t have it? Somehow, someone, something, some experience convinced us that it’s possible to lose our worth.

I’m reminded here of a well-known speaker who, in front of an audience will take out a 100 dollar bill and ask what it is worth. The reply from the audience of course is “one hundred dollars”.

Then, he throws the 100 dollar bill on the ground. stomps on it, crumples it up, picks it up, and asks again: how much is it worth? Again, the audience replies “one hundred dollars”.

This is when he shares the insight: just like that 100 dollar bill, our value is inherent. It doesn’t diminish when we get stamped on.

Yet, somehow, we tend to believe that we are diminished when we get stamped on. Somehow, we may believe that we are less worthy once certain things happen to us. This creates a lot of fear. The sense of losing our worth is a huge kind of suffering.

So, how come we deeply believe something faulty like that?

Certain experiences, things said to us, or fearful conclusions drawn can become deeply embedded in our psyche. Intense moments of experienced terror can generate certain perception patterns that stick with us until we find the guts to consciously confront them. So what may these perceptions be? Here are some possibilities:

  • “other people can take away my worth”
  • “painful experiences can take away my worth”
  • “doing something bad can take away my worth”
  • “how other people see me can take away my worth”
  • “making mistakes can take away my worth”
  • “[particular trauma/abuse] makes me worthless”

When you’re stuck in an endless struggle, chances are that the steps required to move out of the struggle, are the steps that clash with an inner “worthlessness” perception. When we subconsciously believe that to resolve our struggle, we need to do something that potentially opens us up to more unworthiness, then we’ll be petrified. It doesn’t matter whether those beliefs are logical or true or not, as long as they are active within us, they have power.

So we may fear to act because we don’t want to look bad or make mistakes. We may fear being judged or ridiculed. We may dread running the risk of experiencing something that will make us feel worse than we do now. Ultimately, it not the fear of any of these things that holds us back. Rather, it’s the fear that these things will lead to an even deeper feeling of worthlessness. If you’re feeling bad enough already, then risking getting stomped upon some more (like that 100 dollar bill) will look like plain madness. Except, the hurt comes from an inner perception, not from an outer reality.

Beliefs like that lose part of their power when they become conscious.

Do you recognize this?

Believing that certain things that happened (or that may happen) make us worthless is infuriating. It generates loads of stress and anger and makes it hard to let go. Letting go feels like giving up, when in fact, it’s the perception that something caused permanent damage to your self-esteem which is doing the real and continuing damage. It puts you in a position where you feel constantly outraged over being attacked and being powerless to do anything about it. Is that what your constant struggle feels like?

I realize a lot of what I’m saying here might not resonate “rationally”. Yet if you notice that a chord is struck somehow, then do take some time to really sit with these ideas. What if there is something underneath your constant struggling that can start to be resolved? What if, in the grand scheme of things, your self-worth is not beyond repair at all? What if there is hope and it were possible to drop the need to continue the struggle? What if the utlimate solution lies not in pushing yourself or finding a better action plan, but in getting acquainted with your inner sense of worthlessness? And healing it?

I’m all for resolving the inner stuff first. What about you? What have you tried so far and what were your results?


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1 Vicky January 17, 2014

Hey Caroline,
This is all so true for me. And I’m struggling to deal with it.
I’ve done some professional coaching recently which was great for esteem at work. It absolutely coached me out of my job and a situation which I know I’m better than. So now I have no job and a big mortgage to pay! Which is a vague stress but I’ve been able to let that go, with the confidence of been there done that and I can get another job. But I also want to create my own business & still feel held back. I know I can do it. I know what to do and roughly how. But I can’t seem to get it down in a business plan, like an empath’s writer’s block and I don’t know why. There’s an obstacle. If someone told me I couldn’t do it, I would, from sheer bloody mindedness to prove a point. But left to my own devices, I’m stalled…

And I’m also really struggling with in terms of worthiness is personal love relationships. I’ve been drawn to so many wrong’uns, and consequently I’m so so careful, then slowly let someone in, carefully allow the connection – then find out they’re not good for me, for whatever reason. And have a really hard time letting go. This one guy now I’ve felt got a long time is my complete soulmate. But he’s a friend, not available, though not happy in his situation. My heart tears to let him go. And yet there’s a deep worthiness in me that says I should because he’s not giving me what I need.

It’s like layers of worthiness. We know worthiness there really. It’s just that until that’s tested to the extreme we don’t bring it into play. But in the meantime our emotional capacity takes a battering, increasing our pain threshold by not letting go, priding ourselves on our tenacity, yet ultimately doing ourselves more and more damage. And we know we do it, but find it hard to walk away. It’s messed up!

It all comes down to the base self worthiness. But how do you get it? I know it should be from within, but I feel I need someone to support me to get that feeling within. Vicious circle.
Ho hum…

2 Caroline van Kimmenade January 18, 2014

Hi Vicky,

I’ve been thinking recently about the connection between feeling a lot of self-esteem when we’re tapped into certain abilities, like the tenacity you mention, and the ability to withstand emotional battering, and how that can play into and enhance the hole dug by a lack of self-esteem in other area’s. Like feeling confident about being able to stick it out under tough circumstances, but feeling unworthy of having things be easier and more pleasant and more along the lines of what we really want, which can lead to a strange kind of pride about not getting our needs met. I think a big part of breaking the pattern comes down to understanding what it feels like in the moment to choose something new

3 alyssa February 27, 2014

This article is completely dead on! Thank you for posting it! You’re not alone!
I have the exact same thoughts with mental illnesses like a cherry on top, it’s a constant struggle for me, but communicating all of this in a group, with a counselor, to strangers or just putting it out there to the world is such an amazing release, and a realization that I am constantly more aware of things and myself and working to improve the state of my mind as well! good luck!

4 Nidhu November 11, 2014

Dear Caroline,
Thankyou so much for your writing and your sharing!
I wanted to mention that most empaths do not have a sense of worth to begin with… It never feels like a loss because it was never present and its absence is noticed only when someone brings it up. Very rarely do we look to a therapist or healer in order to heal the loss or absence of it; most often we get in touch for other issues.
I find that its almost like learning another language, so deep is its absence… so all the understanding being put here is all the more welcome :)
Thanks again!
love, Nidhu

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