Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. I saw you created a national day about being worthy. I liked that and it made me think.

What if I feel I’m not worthy? I don’t see how I can be worthy with my life the way it is.

Only my gram is a stable adult in my whole life. I never knew my dad. My mom had a string of bad boyfriends. The worst one broke her jaw when I was a kid and we went to a shelter together. She got rid of him, but then started drinking and hooking up with men who got drunk too.

I spent time living with my gram off and on. Like I said, she’s the best grown-up in my life. Mom’s been to rehab again and again. She’s there now. I doubt it will click with her this time.

When I started talking with guys, I seemed to always pick losers who put me down. My gram says I’m a “bum magnet.” I think I’m destined to follow in my mom’s path. I don’t think I want kids. If I end up like my mom, my kids won’t even have a gram like I have. They’ll be even more messed up than me.

Nobody knows this stuff about me except my gram. I almost told my guidance counselor before COVID-19 and now I don’t feel close enough with anyone to share. That’s why I’m writing to you. Sorry to lay all of this on you.

16-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: From my heart, I know you are worthy. You were worthy with your first breath. You don’t need to earn worthiness. It is your birthright.

My proclaiming your worthiness won’t help you believe it, I know. Self-worth needs repeated affirmations – words and actions showing your worth. I want to try to start you on the path to believing in you.

Imagine yourself as a baby or toddler. Ask to see pictures of you as an infant, as a one-year-old, as a three-year-old. If your mom doesn’t have those kinds of pictures, I’m hoping your gram does. I’m a grandma and pictures of my grandchildren are all over my house. If you can’t find a picture of you, look at any baby’s image and think of yourself.

Once you’re holding pictures of you, I want to you to study your younger self. Look at your face. See how ready you are to try new things. Discover your smiles. Notice the way you look at the camera. Think of your curiosity. You were born to learn, to be excited about life and to be happy. You were born different from any other baby or child and your uniqueness is a great gift.

You’ve faced challenges growing up, but that eager little person is still part of you. If you’ve not shared the hard times with anyone but your gram, you are skilled at wearing an “I’m fine” mask. You’re good at pretending.

I know things about you. You’re a survivor. You are resilient. You are brave. You’re not giving up. When you wrote to me, you really said, “I want to be worthy,” and you opened yourself to hope.

You aren’t laying anything on me, my wise young person. What you’re doing is reaching out because you do not want to experience the kinds of unhealthy relationships your mom modeled. You are not your mom. You have the power to choose. You have the ability to select healthy relationships.

Start to figure out who you are, seek worthiness from within, and only then consider talking to someone you might want as a partner. The more you own your self-worth, the less you will select people who aren’t good for you. Having children is a personal decision for the future. Be cautious now and avoid risk that could cause a pregnancy.

You do not need to do this alone.

Your gram is here. I am here. Your guidance counselor at school wants to hear you. I will help you set up a zoom together if you like. Counselors are trained to listen. They help people put together the puzzles of their lives. You took an incredibly important first step by writing to me. You are worthy of support. You are worthy of a healthy relationship. You are worthy of love.

I hope this rehab does click with your mom, but you will be OK if it doesn’t. What you’ve experienced is trauma and a trauma-informed counselor will guide you. I’ve seen so many young people move past childhood trauma and succeed. You will, too. I will help you connect with an out of school counselor as well.

If you’re local, hang out at our Common Ground Teen Center. You will join other young people who will reflect the worthiness I know is yours.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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