Reclaiming Our Blessed Lives – Spiritual Media Blog


By Noelle Sterne

How often do we remember, much less dwell on, the good things in our lives, the things we’ve done, accomplished, given? How often do we acknowledge and applaud ourselves instead of criticizing and condemning? How often do we recognize or admit how great we are? 

Most likely, from never to certainly not enough. 

Like branding irons seared on the brain, most of us probably remember negative comments, criticisms, and flaws pointed out by others. We hardly give a butterfly’s whisper to the praise. When we sweep over our lives, we usually somehow “forget” the positives and lose sight of them. We see only the failures, flops, stupidities, misjudgments, inadvertent wrong turns, willful decisions that led to disaster, all the horrible mistakes we made and successes we didn’t achieve. 

What about the other things? Our fine decisions, our solid actions, our unselfish helping of others, our joyful giving to ourselves? If I asked you now, how many of these instances could you describe? I bet not many. 

A Woman’s Issue?

The women I know seem to suffer more from this resolute emphasis on what’s-wrong-with-me than the men, not that men don’t have it too. But I think it’s primarily a woman’s lot—with roots in the post-Victorian, 1950s false modesty, seemly humility. 

Oh, I’m just a . . . 

It was only a . . . 

It was nothing. 

My mother and aunt and grandmother do it all the time. 

Thanks, but I had a lot of help. 

Such self-deprecating declarations, as if our chromosomes dictate that we always bow and step to the background, do nothing less than wipe us out, eviscerate us, flatten us.

Our selves shrink back, fade, all but vanish. What remains is shadow, an almost-apparition going through the motions of being a good little girl, lady, wife, mother, nurse . . . . And never taking credit for that other, and major, magnificent part of ourselves. In our underestimation and trivialization, we remain half of our whole selves.

If, whatever your gender persuasion, you’re reluctantly nodding in the affirmative, ask next, At what cost? To ourselves, our self-esteem, our balance, our place in the world, and our desires for what we know is in us to do and give? 

Our betrayal of ourselves escalates and lodges in anxiety, overeating, overshopping, overdrinking, overTVbingeing, overgaming, depression, vague illnesses, even suicidal thoughts. We know something’s wrong at the base and yet, supported by society’s approval of our shadow-self, we cannot reach far enough inside to fix it. 

Why Are We So Reticent to Credit Ourselves? 

Self-deprecation is certainly learned and unthinking behavior, from one generation to the next. Our lockstep diffidence is complicated by guilts and fears. If we do accept and acknowledge ourselves, we feel (a) we won’t be able to repeat the good thing (fluke mentality), (b) something bad will happen (other shoe will drop mentality), and (c) it’s not seemly or modest (women especially). 

The Impostor/Impostress Syndrome

You may have heard of the impostor syndrome, or may be living it without the label. The impostor syndrome is the persistent nagging that, despite our accomplishments and kudos from others, we are certain that we’re really a fake, a fraud, and terrified “everyone” will find out. In a poignant and almost unbelievable example, Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out’” (Richards, 2015, para. 10).

Researchers earlier assumed that the impostor syndrome is more prevalent in women, especially high-achieving women, than men, but more recent studies indicate that it strikes both genders regularly. I have two writer friends. Elizabeth is an extremely high-achieving woman, having recently received her second doctorate, with over a dozen published articles in scholarly journals,  and about to accept a top post at a national university. James is an extremely high-achieving man, a writer who just sealed a three-book contract with a major house. 

Following yet another article acceptance, Elizabeth whispered to me, “They didn’t find out this time, but I’m sure they will next time. I really don’t know how to do scholarship.” Right after James told me his great news, he said, “How the hell am I going to keep up the whole thing? They’ll find out I really can’t write.”

And what do most of us say, a contagious meme, when someone compliments us? “Thank you for your kind words.” Kind? What does that mean? The people who compliment us aren’t being kind. They’re being honest, admiring, maybe a little jealous. 

And what does our almost automatic response really say? I believe it goes way beyond modesty or shyness. Our response says we’re stepping back back back, deferring to what we believe is the other person’s acknowledgment of some effortless achievement. For us writers, it’s as if we didn’t agonize over the words, sweat and squeeze them out, suffer poisonous doubts and despairs, torture ourselves questioning the value of what we wrote. 

When someone compliments us, our response should be, as spiritual teacher and leader Louise Hay (1984) counsels, “Just smile and say ‘Thank You’” (p. 115).

The Difference Between Hubris and Wholesome Acceptance of Credit

Maybe we’re afraid that, if we accept the compliment without disclaimer (“Oh, this old thing!”), we’ll be accused of hubris, or worse. Too much pride, too much confidence. Look what happened to Oedipus, who believed he outwitted his “fate.” Do we feel that our fate is to accept our retiring, blushing, protesting-greatness stance? Does accepting the compliment telegraph inordinate egotism, overglorification of ourselves? 

I firmly believe not.

If, on the other hand, we’re tempted to take in compliments too easily, we can rest in the knowledge that nothing is guaranteed. One success doesn’t assure the next, even without impostor symptoms or overblown pride in a particular production. As every writer, actor, athlete, painter, and countless others know, each new accomplishment is a new test, a new forging, a new discovery and demand to trust. 

To accept compliments gracefully indicates more than a learned response. Acceptance means we feel and know that we deserve the praise. Ah, there’s the rub. Having been conditioned to demean, detract, undeserve, how do we change our entire frame of reference? 

Psychologist and personal growth specialist Gay Hendricks (2010) offers insight. In The Big Leap, he points out that we all have borders, boundaries of joy, like pain, an “upper limit” (p. 2). He says, “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy.” That thermostat “holds us back from enjoying all . . . that’s rightfully ours” (p. 20).  We feel and fear that by giving to ourselves we are taking from others their resources and glories. So we hold ourselves back.

Hendricks skewers four major reasons why. They all relate to our partitioning off our self-acknowledgment of successes and victories.

  1. We feel fundamentally flawed and not “worth” the praise from others or self-acknowledgment. This barrier also relates to our fear of failure. If we do commit to fully using and acknowledging what we have and have done, we fear we may fail next time. Better not to acknowledge at all . . . .
  1. We feel disloyal and fear abandonment. To whom? To anyone

in our past or present who was a gatekeeper of our self-esteem. We may feel disloyal to them (usually parents) because we’re breaking some unwritten family/gender rule that reeks of modesty, diffidence, nonassertion. If we’ve broken such a rule, do we fear, almost unconsciously, will those significant others abandon us, withdraw their love?

  1. We believe that more successes—and acknowledgment of successes—

make us a “bigger burden” (Hendricks, p. 53). Very deeply, we may feel we were/are a burden to our significant others. Did they scrimp to send us to the best schools, or make sure we had the best lessons? Was our birth a surprise, especially after several other children? Did they rush around the house, always look harried, and sigh as they repeatedly cared for us? If so, we may feel consequent guilt—certainly for “crimes” we didn‘t commit. We may reach the distorted conclusion, as Hendricks himself admits he did, that succeeding and acknowledging our successes in writing and life make us more of a burden. After all, they will have to keep paying attention to us.  

4. We believe we are guilty of “The Crime of Outshining.” (Hendricks, p. 55).This supposed offense, related to feeling disloyal, refers to our belief that if we surpass someone else—again, usually a highly significant someone—our surpassing will reflect poorly on them. They will feel secretly bad about our success or achievement (and probably abandon us). Oh sure, maybe they’ll feign joy at our promotion or completed novel or award. But their stiff half-smile and downward slanting shoulders betray them. The implication, and our fear again, is that they will withdraw their love and approval of us.

So, with such deep-seated (and irrational) bases, and our unconscious roiling like a typhoon-ridden ocean, we cover over, tamp ourselves down, minimize, and divorce ourselves from enjoying, even admitting, our successes. 

How to Reframe and Reclaim 

Is there hope? Of course. We must ask ourselves questions in strong, commanding voices, Whose life are we living? Are such tyrannies and knotty psychological explanations only excuses or reasons to squelch ourselves, our accomplishments, and our talents? To identify and admit our barriers does serve us, not so we can wallow but to deny them, reject them, and gain courage from the dismissals. 

Hendricks and others suggest that we use our magnificent imaginations to write ourselves a new story, or in life teacher Wayne Dyer’s (2001) words, give “a new job description” to our lives (p. 75). 

We are not weak but strong, not reticent but bold, not pushing down our victories but claiming and celebrating them for all to see. And these declarations mean both the small and large ones: “I got up early. Stayed in bed later. Held a door for someone. Refused the brownie. Called the creditor. Finished the story. Got the prize.” 

Our victories, as much as, or more than, our failures, are integral to us and even define us. 

Maybe we’re afraid to own our triumphs, not from Hendricks’ explanations but another. As spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson (1992) suggests (in an often-quoted passage), maybe we fear our incredible beauty and power: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? (pp. 190-191)

And Williamson asks the final question:

Who are you not to be? (p. 190) 

If we don’t own our successes, beauty, greatness, we’re buying into the assumption that we must be less than who we really are. Such an assumption denies the path to who we can fully be, in our pursuits and our lives. Let us not cut down, inhibit, abort who we really can be.

If you need another reason, here it is. As we unearth and begin (gently, if need be) to acknowledge and publicize our victories, we also help others. Our self-conquerings and acknowledgments inspire. Details may be different, and gender hardly matters, but the feel, the tone, the tenor of our firm and joyous self-recognition, are what others relate to and gain sustenance and courage from. 

In a self-affirming circle, the more we courageously step forward and unabashedly embrace our positives, the more we help others to do the same, and the more we internalize that strength and courage.

  So, let us throw out those old parental and other should-ing voices. From their own hollow sense of inadequacy and bitterness, those voices echoed down our years and polluted them. We no longer need those messages. Let our own strong voices supplant them and ring out. Let us claim and embrace with complete deservingness our successes, achievements, and full selves. We are wholly worthy to take in all the good and joy of our world. 


Dyer, W. (2001). 10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

Hay, L. L. (1984) You Can Heal Your Life (2nd ed.). Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

Hendricks, G. (2010). The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the

Next Level. New York, NY: HarperOne. 

Richards, C. (2015, October 26). “Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome, New

York Times, October 26, 2015,

Williamson, M. (1992). A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A

Course in Miracles.”  New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Source link

Share this article

Recent posts

Popular categories


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Recent comments

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons