Getting a Good Grip on Your Worth—Or Battling Perfectionism From the Standpoint of the Non Negotiable

by Monica A. Ross, LPC

There’s a clip that I use in sessions. I keep coming back to it. So, I’m just going to pause during my lunch break here and get this post out before entering into a block of sessions this afternoon.

The clip is less than a minute in length. Anytime I use multimedia I ask for permission from my clients and try to keep it to a minimum. I also only use something if I think it applies. As we know with the learning process in general, sometimes it helps with learning to go over the same material but in a different way.

Here’s the clip. Brené Brown, of course, has gained in popularity over the past several years. I have so many other readings that, admittedly, I haven’t taken the time to go through all of her stuff and in some sense, I feel like I’ve come across the material that she presents in other ways. 

But, in the above clip she’s talking about value, one’s own perceived value. I incorporate a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy in sessions (CBT) and what Brené says at the beginning of this clip is very much CBT oriented. She says: If you go through the world looking for evidence that you don’t belong you will always find it.

What I point out to my clients is that you can fill in the blank with all sorts of replacements: “If you go through the world looking for evidence that __________”

-you are weak
-you are powerless
-you are bad
-you are inadequate
-you are a failure

Then she goes on to say “Our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people, we carry those inside of our hearts.” I think that people who sometimes come in with issues related to self-esteem find themselves in life in some ways battling with someone or something over their self-worth.

I see that as entering the “negotiation phase” as Brené Brown says. The automatic thinking goes something like this: “Well my boss did call me in to point out that I better improve my performance in this area and if I don’t I could possibly get laid off, so I must be a failure” or “My wife told me that if I don’t lose the weight she’s going to leave” or “I have difficulties letting people get close to me because they will find out how deeply flawed I am.”

In all of these fictionalized examples, the person speaking has placed a condition on their worth based on different situations they find themselves in. The underlying thinking sounds something like: If I can keep my job, I can prove my worth. If I can lose the weight, I can prove my worth. If I can sustain this marriage, I can prove my worth.

What’s being left out are two things: 1) all of the mitigating circumstances and contributing factors that lead to the situation, and 2) the idea in the first place that one’s worth could be a topic of conversation for the day. 

What if the person facing job loss is in the wrong profession? What if the person with the weight issue doesn’t, in fact, have a weight issue, but a marital problem? What if the person who does not find themselves in close friendship is not in any way flawed, but has difficulty finding people to connect authentically with in a world that at many times can be so unauthentic?

In other words, there are alternative ways of looking at each of these scenarios. But the one thing that remains constant throughout is that a person’s worth, a person’s dignity should never fall into question. Because we all have inherent worth and dignity. 

This is a nonnegotiable. Part of the work of therapy is to get a rock-solid grip on that concept. And there are various tools for getting there. Time and again in life we will encounter relationships that end, we’ll be the recipient of mean things said or done, we’ll make mistakes—it’s part of being human. 

Life can be god damn messy at times, no doubt due in large part to miscommunications and misperceptions and randomness. But here is the takeaway for me and part of what I want to try to impart to others as I do this work.

There doesn’t need to be the fear that people will hit on that thing of all things that we guard so well against, because if people only knew, then they’d reject us in the same way that we reject ourselves. That thing, whatever it is and whatever it causes us to believe about ourselves, isn’t true.

So there’s no need to fear it. It’s an opinion, a false assumption.

Once that is realized instead, the above list can be replaced with:

-you might feel powerless at times but you can control what you can control
-you may have done “bad” things, but that doesn’t make you a bad person
-there are times in life where we miss the mark and fall short in some way and feel inadequate, but we can accept ourselves despite our shortcomings, as we are on the path towards self-improvement

If perfectionism is about meeting all conditions, and those conditions are tied to our self-worth, then we can let go of the need to be perfect because our self-worth is nonnegotiable and from that perspective, we already are perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

Existential Psychotherapy

by Monica A. Ross, LPC

I want to talk a little bit about existential psychotherapy since it is another modality I lay claim to operating within. For existential psychotherapists, a primary concern in working with clients isn’t so much about focusing on defects due to mental illness or flaws in character or personality. What existential psychotherapists want to get at in working with clients is to assist the client in uncovering where the client draws meaning and purpose in life and to encourage the pursuit of that meaning and purpose. Existential psychotherapy takes into account the fact that we all exist here on this earth and therefore have challenges in life to face as a result. But for each of us our existence precedes our essence.

That before each of these statements about a person comes the verb “are”—people “are.” We exist. That’s the starting point for all of us.

In a way, we are thrown into this existence.

And because we exist and because human life is finite, the task becomes then to make something of our existence despite all the things that may have been thrown upon us at birth. For example, we may have been born into poverty, we may have been born with a genetic defect, we may have been born male/female, etc.

Existential psychotherapy concerns itself with four dimensions of existence in particular—the physical, social, personal, and spiritual—and each of these dimensions has its own paradox. We break that down like this.


At some point we will physically die. If we deny that our existence is finite, we run the risk of wasting the life that we have. If however, we keep within our awareness the idea that we will one day cease to exist, we might be motivated to live our lives more fully.


The paradox of the social realm is that we exist on this planet with others. Our option is to either live in conflict or cooperation with them. Because we are aware of our separateness, we can develop the capacity to relate and respect the separateness of others. At the same time we are individuals with a need to be part of a greater whole.


In the personal realm we discover that there are no hard and fast rules to life and that we all have vulnerabilities. Because of that, taking on personal responsibility becomes of way of creating rules for ourselves. If we deny our vulnerability and refuse personal responsibility we might lose the strength and stamina that come from the freedom to choose.


We develop our own value systems outside of the context of absolute truth and this is where we relate to that which is unknown. We make up our own ideas for the reasons for our being here on earth and determine for ourselves what we believe to be right or wrong. Here, too, is where we create meaning and where we find purpose in life. This is where we get our worldview.

This type of therapy is very future focused. It acknowledges that the past, though seemingly fixed, is in fact changing because our view of the past can change over time. In addition, life presents a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty and the goal often becomes developing the ability to tolerate the anxiety that this may produce.

For existential psychotherapists the mind and body are connected and not functionally distinct. In other words, it’s not so much that we have a body but that we are a body. We are also connected to the world we exist in so that how we think about ourselves is often a reflection of our experiences with our environment and how we interpret the outer world.

Because life is in constant flux and ever changing, the meaning that we make of our lives is also in flux, but to be able to make meaning of the life that we are in is an essential thing. The loss of a sense of meaning in life can lead to depression.

We are all born into the world with assumptions and biases that influence our actions. The first step is to become aware that we have biases. That having been said, it is possible to do reality checks to verify our assumptions. This fits very nicely with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which aims to look at evidence for and against negative core beliefs that we might have.

For more information on existential psychotherapy see Emmy van Deurzen’s work. Much of the information contained in this post comes from a class I took on existential psychotherapy with Skills in Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy by Emmy van Deurzen and Martin Adams as the text.

The following are existential authors taken from one of Emmy’s presentations.


"Shoulding" and "Musting"

On to the next unhelpful thinking style—“shoulding” and “musting.” This unhelpful thinking style comes into play when we put unreasonable demands or expectations on ourselves and other people.

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Mental Filtering

I guess this will be part one officially in the coverage of CBT concepts. There are ten unhelpful thinking styles in total. With this post I’ll hit just one of them.

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I have an idea for the next series of blog posts that I’ll try to tackle. One of the therapeutic approaches that I use with clients is CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s an evidence-based approach and by that I mean there is research behind its effectiveness as a therapeutic tool.

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