Several weeks ago, at Artisan Clinical Associates, the sliding door that separates the waiting room from the therapy rooms fell apart. Literally. By the time we gave up on fixing it, the white door was covered in black, greasy handprints, and it hung open and askew at an awkward angle. Defeated, I printed out a sign.
Out of Order.
It looked a little tacky but, to tell you the truth, I think the sign was just right for a therapy office. Not because our clients are out of order, as in broken and broken down. But because our clients—and our therapists and all human beings for that matter—try to live life out of order, as in out of sequence.
What I mean is, our lives revolve around the search for three core human experiences: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. And we seek them for good reason, because when we don’t experience our worthiness we feel ashamed, when we don’t experience belonging we feel lonely, and when we fail to experience a purpose we feel meaningless. The problem is, at some point, most of us begin to seek these experiences of worthiness, belonging, and purpose out of order.
Worthiness, belonging, and purpose can only be truly experienced in that order.
In other words, you can’t experience true belonging until you have first embraced your fundamental worthiness, because only by trusting your worthiness can you truly, bravely reveal yourself to your people and receive the love they give you in return. And when the people you belong to support your passion for doing something authentic in the world, no matter how ordinary it may seem, your purpose comes into clearer focus.
Yet, most of us try to give love and get love and live a lovely life before we embrace that we are fundamentally loveable and, in doing so, we accidentally sabotage our search for belonging and purpose.
Worthiness. Then belonging. Then purpose.
This is a psychologically and spiritually sound way to progress through life.
My new book, Loveable, is an exploration of this core insight that guides all of my therapy and all of my life. Of course, it can’t be unpacked completely in the space of a blog post—you need a book for that. (See what I did there?) But, here, we can look at a small slice of this progression.
A small slice that starts with my shame and ends with my pillow…
On Tuesday nights, I arrive home late after two long days at my office—the office with the broken door and black handprints. When I arrive, my wife is usually asleep and my daughter Caitlin is asleep in our bed next to her. So, I pick up Caitlin carry her to her bedroom. Some nights, I appreciate this tender moment for what it is.
Other nights, though, it makes me feel lonely.
After all, here I am, getting home after two long days at work, and no one is thinking of me. All I want to do is fall into bed, but I have to do more work—I have to carry Caitlin to her bed, retrieve her pillow and teddy bear from my bed, take those to her room, tuck her in, and I have to do it all without waking her up permanently. Then, I have to go back to my room, find my own pillow somewhere in the cold and dark, and get myself into bed. I feel like I’m all alone in the world.
However, for months, I never noticed my pillow was always in the same spot.
Then, a little while back, in the middle of an ordinary day, I dropped something on the floor and bent over to pick it up. Which is when Caitlin said, “I know your back hurts when you bend over. That’s why I always put your pillow up on your dresser where you can reach it.” Every week, my pillow was in the same spot. Every week, my daughter had been caring for me in ways I’d been unable to see, even though she put her love right where I could see it—at eye level.
Why do we first have to love ourselves before we can be truly loved by others? In part, it is because we are the gatekeepers of our heart. If we do not feel worthy of being loved, we will not allow ourselves to receive the grace that others want to give to us. When we feel ashamed, we’re blind to the love and the pillows right in front of us.
We can’t start feeling unlonely until we stop feeling unworthy.
These days, when a client tells me they feel lonely, instead of going to work on their relationships right away, I ask, “Do you love yourself? Do you know you’re unconditionally worthy?” First things first.
Most of us have an Out of Order sign hanging on our life.
It’s time to take it down.
You are loveable.
It’s time to embrace your truest, worthiest self,
so you can truly embrace your life.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.