On Self-Esteem

Been chatting recently about the issue of ‘self-esteem’ and I’d love to know what you make of it.

I find it a difficult topic to address because it comes laden with so much cultural baggage.  I tend to use other phrases – like identity or acceptance, because it’s easier than having to take on the raft of associations (both positive and negative) that surround it.

I think it’s vital that we see the enormous worth that Jesus gives us – independent of what we look like or how we perform. Many women’s magazines for example, talk about the importance of loving ourselves, but then base it on achievement or a nebulous self-acceptance that varies along with our dress size and blood sugar. If my worth is something that others give or that I can achieve, it means I’m only as good as my most recent performance or at the mercy of other people.  If however, it comes from the Lord of the universe – this frees me to stop looking at myself and to genuinely live in freedom and to love others. Our worth isn’t self-determined; but rather than being a cause for sadness, this is tremendously liberating – it’s unshakeable and irrefutable, grounded in Christ and not youth or job or family or anything else.  I find myself not as the final goal, but a side-effect of seeing Him.


12 thoughts on “On Self-Esteem

  1. Wow Emma, this is the issue that I struggle with the most, self esteem. Am I worth it? The way I see myself when others don’t give me what I feel I need. Then I start to see myself as lacking. “What did I do wrong”? “Am I not good enough”? But as I make the move from seeing others as the source of what I really need and making Jesus that source, and returning home, I am releasing other humans from giving me what I think I need. Letting them off the hook! As I continue on this path, Jesus is allowing me to see I am worth it to him. LIVESTRONG Emma!!!!!!!!!!

  2. You’re right about all the associations that surround the phrase. On one level we are encouraged to gain self-esteem from who we are and what we do (status), and also, as you say, from our attractiveness and so on. It’s fairly well-known though that high or low self-esteem is rooted in childhood experiences of acceptance or rejection, which is almost wholly unrelated to the above. It’s the difference between self-esteem based on qualities we can earn and self-esteem based on our unearned givenness. What I find weird is when someone has experienced acceptance as a child and still struggles with self-esteem issues when they become an adult (I’m thinking mainly of myself here). It becomes hard to believe what you know to be true, which is the same in matters of faith as a Christian.

  3. Such an interesting topic, and a hugely loaded term. Just spent five months working with a bunch of clinical psychologists and counsellors of various kinds, and it’s all about looking inward, finding peace with yourself to deal with your issues. Which might fix it for a while, but really misses the heart of the problem, we need to look out!

    Have you read Perelandra (C.S. Lewis)? A Satan-like character tempts an (unfallen) Eve-like character to sin by giving her a mirror. She is confused, saying that a man cannot ‘be’ by himself, but Satan’s (lie) is that through mirrors man can walk beside himself, and that on earth, we learned this wisdom long ago. Slippery stuff.

    Tim Keller is excellent on this topic, particularly in his sermon ‘The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness’. Luther’s definition of sin as man curved in on himself is pretty poignant…I’m certain a lot of our struggles today come from this very same thing, call it incurvature, an obsession with self-esteem, introspection or anything else. It infects our Christianity too. Andrew Fellows of l’abri has done some excellent stuff on introspection, it’s worth heading to the l’abri ideas library online to download & listen.

    I find it a fascinating topic. I imagine it’s supremely relevant in your ministry too, and a pretty hot topic? Keep preaching the good stuff. :)

  4. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in what you say with regards to seeing the value God gives and defines – we need to see humanity created, fallen and redeemed to get the perspective right. It’s only with that back-drop that we can truly ‘see’ ourselves well.

  5. Hi David – yes, it makes sense that if we’ve experienced rejection as a child it would make it harder to have a healthy self-image as an adult. And yet, most people I know struggle with self-image; regardless of their background.

    The other problem with self-esteem is not its lack but having too much of it – and most of us fall down on one side or the other. I can’t help thinking that it’s an inescapable part of fallen humanity; which isn’t to say that we’re stuck in it, but that every one of us needs to have our identity redeemed by Christ.

  6. Thanks so much James – I’ve listened to Fellows on detachment, but can’t remember if he talked about introspection, so will have another look. The Keller stuff is excellent, but will check out Perelandra too – if Lewis can’t sort me out I’m not sure anyone can!

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