Giving yourself permission to feel worthy

Yesterday, I went to London’s Camden Market. Stepping out of the tube station into the vibrancy and colour of this magical place, I felt a deep sense of appreciation sweep over me. After the isolation of COVID-19 and the Groundhog Day of months stuck within familiar four walls, it was deeply refreshing to feel back in the world, my senses soaking up every rich morsel; the music blasting, the eclectic fashion of passers-by, street food wafting delicious smells and happy chatter of people walking the streets.


Years ago, I lived in London. Then, still in eating disorder recovery, life for me rarely meant living in the moment and appreciating days like these. There were always to-do lists to complete and crazy exercise regimes to squeeze in before others woke. Life was all about productivity and cramming in as much as humanly possible. 

Without the busyness, I was lost and aimless, feeling irrational but inconsolably guilty for slowing down. Days blurred into weeks and months, seemingly living but partially so, running through days and then collapsing into bed with sheer exhaustion, only to repeat on auto-pilot again and again.

When you have an eating disorder, you are often caught in ‘fight or flight’ with adrenals pumping and anxiety bubbling, whilst simultaneously striving to do more, chasing the dopamine hit of accomplishment. Whilst allowing yourself the pleasure and permission to slow down, soothe, experience joy and pleasure – it feels impossible and wrong.

Because deep down self-worth is precarious and conditional.

‘I’m only enough if I’m achieving, doing, busy, losing weight’. 

Stopping the spinning feels terrifying, as worth plummets to the depths of the darkest well and unbearable feelings descend. The critical voice is loud and bullying, and never satisfied. You’re chasing the end of the rainbow that always moves, with the illusion of, ‘Just one more task and I’ll feel better’.

  • It can feel preposterously challenging to stop.
  • You might feel unworthy.
  • You don’t feel that you have permission.
  • You don’t trust yourself.
  • You’ve lost who you are, along the way.

How to feel worthy

1.  Acknowledge

Place your cards on the table and bravely acknowledge your current situation. By recognising this, you are in a powerful place to make a change, even if you don’t feel ready yet.

2. The roots

Appreciate the roots of your coping strategy, showing yourself kindness and compassion. Show yourself understanding about why self-worth feels so conditional and commit to baby steps of treating yourself as you would a good friend, moving away from the inner bully.

Acknowledge that you deserve the kindness and respect you freely give to others. You have permission to slow down and take care of yourself. 

3. The costs

Be frank and honest about the costs of spinning so fast and not allowing yourself to follow your joy and happiness. Friendships lost, adventures missed and opportunities squandered.

4. Write it down

Create a self-soothe crib sheet, personalised to you. 

  • How could you incorporate mini ways of soothing day-by-day? 
  • What experiences or adventures might you include?
  • Maybe more friendship, fun, pleasure and playfulness? 
  • What does this look like? 
  • What is the first baby step?

5. Inner bully

Commit to slowly changing the dialogue in your head. Access the deep and wise nurturing voice and engage less with your inner critic. If you find yourself feeling guilty, acknowledge this as ‘irrational guilt’ and begin to let it go.

You might wish to write down compassionate and affirming statements that resonate with you.

Remember, when you’re 90 years old and looking back on your life, it is the small but meaningful moments that will stand out in your memory. The ones where you experienced your life more vividly and brightly. Hours slogged at work or calories calculated will count for little.

Have kindness and compassion for yourself in this process. It can be incredibly challenging to let go of old ways of coping and to truly allow yourself the permission to change. 

You may have lost self-trust as your busy rules offer safety and stability. So do not struggle alone. You might wish to think of getting further support through counselling.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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