Taking A Different Approach
Non-believers often express dissatisfaction with Christianity because they see it as a system of oppressive rules and a crutch to use when facing life’s difficulties. In my estimation, they routinely fail to see how the Christian faith leads to mental and spiritual healing and health. Although my discussion is brief, I hope to provide a glimpse of the good news the Gospel has for us in the area of self-esteem.
We are made in God’s image and likeness.
This is a central truth in Catholic teaching. Because God made us in his own
image, we have a value and dignity that surpasses any human-defined value.
It also cannot be removed or diminished by the opinions or actions of others,
and we can’t earn it.
“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, after our
likeness.” Gen. 1:26
“What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you
care for him? You have made him little less than a god, crowned him
with glory and honor.” Ps. 8:5-6
“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I
praise you because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!”
No one is perfect.
Everyone has been wounded by sin. The world we live in has been wounded
by sin. People get cancer, have cosmetic defects, disabilities, depressed,
have abusive parents, etc. We have no illusion about creating a “perfect”
person if we can just apply ideal behavioral techniques and give people the
best opportunities. The theory that our hang-ups are just learned responses
doesn’t match reality. This knowledge doesn’t mean we become fatalistic
but rather alerts us to the fact that everyone needs help, not just the people
that were born with less opportunity than others.
“We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way…”
“… for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord,
but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself
would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious
freedom of the children of God.” Rom. 8:20-21
God loves us, and nothing can separate us from that love.
Is there something better than self-esteem? Yes! To be loved! But while
people, material goods, and circumstances can fail us in this life, God’s love is
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come
to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”
Lam. 3:22-23 RSV
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor
depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the
love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:38-39
It’s about love, not self-esteem.
What children need is not self-esteem, but to be loved. It starts with the
attachment infants have with their parents and continues as those caring for
them continue to meet their needs. As they get older, more processing occurs
at the cognitive level, but the sense of value comes best through a loving
Love also has a tough side that can seem to act in opposition to self-esteem.
Parents help children learn to self-regulate their actions by setting limits and
reinforcing right behaviors. Sometimes they allow natural consequences to
take hold so children can learn cause and effect. Sometimes they introduce
logical consequences. Your child at times may not like what’s happening.
As it turns out, however, children feel more secure and cared for when
parents maintain consistent limits in a loving way.
The correction for excess self-esteem is humility.
We often misunderstand humility as focusing on one’s weaknesses or enduring
humiliation. The more miserable you look and feel, the better. This is, in fact,
false. True humility is the ability to see and acknowledge oneself exactly
the way God sees us — as we really are. Strengths and weaknesses are
both recognized. Unlike some approaches to enhance self-esteem where one
tries to overlook the truth, humility welcomes it. In a world that distorts reality
and claims favorites based on appearance, possessions, or abilities, God
shows no partiality.
Humility and love are key ingredients for healthy relationships with others.
“Do nothing out of selfishness of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as
more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests,
but [also] everyone for those of others.” Phil. 2:3-4
Christ asks us to do the unexpected. Our natural tendency is to protect
ourselves, to guard our interests, and to protect our self-esteem by expecting
others to treat us a certain way. On the surface, these all seem to make sense.
But love trumps self-interest. No one has lesser or greater value, but out of love
we intentionally treat others as though they were better than ourselves. When
experiencing abuse, we don’t just passively put up with it, but decisively
decline retaliation and seek healing.
“But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone
strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”
This flies in the face of conventional self-esteem wisdom. But a curious thing
happens when we take this approach. Instead of feeling worse or inferior, we
find freedom. Instead of trying to negotiate a favorable position in the world
of social transactions, we willingly give it all up for a new way of living.
Christians embrace their weaknesses instead of trying to deny them.
Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, had every right to expect esteem from others.
Here is what Isaiah had to say about him:
“He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing
pain. Like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held
him in no esteem.” Is. 53:3
In II Corinthians chapters 11 and 12, Paul, one of the greatest apostles of the
early Church, talks about the difference between how others had treated him
and what he, by right, deserved. Yet, not only does he readily give up all
honor for the cause of Christ, he gladly accepts even his weaknesses so that
God can manifest his power through Paul. Instead of fighting against his
weaknesses, he embraces them. It seems counter-intuitive, and for those in
pursuit of self-esteem, might seem like ego suicide. There is a kind of death
involved, but it is one that leads to freedom and life, not enslavement.
“But he [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is
made perfect in weakness.’ I will rather boast most gladly of my
weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”
II Cor 12: 9
What Should You Do?
If you’re a parent, it’s time to step back and ask yourself what you’ve been doing. Are you giving your child the kind of love they need rather than what others say they’re supposed to have for success? Are you teaching your children to discipline their behavior, or are you holding back because you fear it will do them harm? Perhaps you’re just too busy? If you don’t teach them discipline, no one else will. Only don’t do it in a way that is harsh or punitive, but be gentle, firm, and respectful of your child as one of God’s own.
If you personally struggle with self-esteem issues, you can be free. But if you try to do it on your own and without the help of the Holy Spirit, you’ll just be substituting one kind of mind game for another. It takes a relationship with Jesus Christ. Seek the help of others. That’s one reason why Christ gave us the Church. And if you don’t have relationship with Jesus, it’s time you did.
All scriptures are taken from the New American Bible Revised Edition, unless noted otherwise.