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Worthlessness is an extremely desperate and hopeless feeling. People diagnosed with depression often describe feeling worthless. When someone feels worthless, they feel as if they are insignificant and have nothing valuable to offer the world. They feel as if their entire life is cast in a negative light with no prospect of improvement. Often, this perception is extremely distorted and is the result of an underlying condition, such as depression, anxiety, grief, or stress. Children who were neglected or abused may carry feelings of worthlessness into adulthood.
The feeling of worthlessness may be related to other feelings, such as:
Often associated with depression, worthlessness can consist of many factors:
In the DSM, worthlessness is associated mainly with depression, but might also appear as a symptom of schizophrenia, anxiety, or certain personality spectrums. Strong feelings of worthlessness in children may be a sign of peer conflicts, or possibly of neglect or abuse, and should be taken seriously.
Circumstances such as job loss, divorce, or financial difficulties can quickly cause someone to become overwhelmed. Feelings of worthlessness can infect every other area of one's life. Worthlessness can spiral out of control rapidly and can develop into prolonged states of negative mood. The longer someone experiences feelings of worthlessness, the more difficult it is for them to imagine feelings of relevance and consequence.
Signs that someone is feeling worthless may include withdrawal from relationships, abuse of alcohol or other drugs, lethargy, diminished emotional expression, verbalizing their negative thoughts, avoiding eye contact, diminished self-care (showering, brushing hair, washing clothes, etc).
Brittany, 29, sees a therapist because she cannot stop crying, and feels she has no value as person and can never be loved. Anti-depressants have helped, but they cause her to feel anxious and lose sleep, as well as having sexual side effects, which in turn increases feelings of worthlessness. After several sessions, Brittany reveals deep feelings of anger towards her parents, whom she describes as critical and distant. Therapy--and hard work in her personal life--helps Brittany develop a sense of competence and trust in other people, which in turn strengthens her sense of self.
Tim, 14, has a sudden change in personality, showing little emotion, withdrawing socially, and performing poorly in school. His parents suspect drug use (his older sister went through a period of abuse) but Tim denies it and there is no hard evidence. The therapist meets alone with Tim and discovers he is questioning his sexuality in a number of ways, and is afraid to tell his parents. The therapist assists Tim in preparing to reveal some – though not all – of his inner turmoil to his parents, who, with guidance from the therapist, are able to remain supportive as Tim takes his time learning who he is. Because the family remains close and communicative through this small crisis, Tim is more willing to accept limits and agreements about his behavior, and to hear information about responsible relationships and his parents’ hopes and expectations for him.
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Last updated: 12-15-2013