ourselves; sometimes we don't. When we feel right about ourselves, we are happy, confident, relaxed, and alert. When we don't, we become pressured, anxious, irritable, or "down." Some people have such a poor self-concept that they are constantly riddled with self-doubt, depression, and feelings of inferiority and worthlessness.
Our attitude toward ourselvesour self-concept or our self-imageis one of the most important things we possess. Research shows that people with good self-concepts perform better at school and on the job. They have fewer marital and relational problems. And they are less prone to depression, anxiety and anger.
Steve, a college junior, could never compliment a classmate who had been honored for his work. Instead, he always found something to criticize or made some observation that suggested the project could have been better. He could not be happy at another person's success because he was basically unhappy with himself. He was headed for problems in marriage because he would probably carry his competitive critical spirit right into his relationship with his wife and children. He had a very low self-image.
We humans are both very strong and
very fragile. We have a strength that can
survive the horror of a concentration camp and
at the same time weakness that cannot tolerate
a social slight nor rejection by one we love.
How could Steve be anything else? During his childhood he could never please his dad, no matter how hard he tried. He was never complimented or made to feel like a successful, worthwhile person. His mother had such a fear of upsetting the father by supporting Steve that she caved in and remained silent. In a real sense, Steve was programmed to be competitive and critical because he felt so insecure about himself.
We humans are both very strong and very fragile. We have a strength that can survive the horror of a concentration camp and at the same time weakness that cannot tolerate a social slight nor rejection by one we love.
In his book, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton once wrote, "I felt and feel that life itself is as bright as the diamond but as brittle as the windowpane, and when the heavens were compared to the terrible crystal, I can remember a shudder. I was afraid that God would drop the Cosmos with a crash."
Remember, however, that to be breakable is not the same as to be perishable. Strike a glass, and it will not endure an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years.
We, too, are often breakable—but not perishable. We can endure much suffering, but like the piece of glass windowpane, one sharp blow can almost do us in. How sharp that blow must be and how breakable we are depend largely on the strength of our self-image.
What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem or self-image is the view a person holds of himself. It is the estimate one makes of one's self. Sometimes that estimate is accurate; sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is conscious. At other times, it is unconscious. Sometimes our self-concept is unconscious because it is too painful to face what we really think about ourselves. The person who drinks excessively in order to "get courage" to fulfill obligations may rarely admit that he or she does not like him–or herself. Even more rarely would the conceited person who claims to be better at everything than anybody else admit or even recognize that conceit is an unrealistic cover for self-hate and self-doubt. Excessive drinking or pill taking, high levels of generalized anger, self-pity, excessive shyness, loudness at parties, a martyr-like attitude and even some physical symptoms may in essence stem from a low self-image.
The advertising business is tuned in to this tendency to doubt ourselves and the temptation to meet the need for greater self-esteem by the use of superficial, easy answers. Prestige cars, clothes that sell more for their labels than their quality, impressive homes and the need for important friends who have the right jobs and social status are all feeble, ineffective efforts to feel worthwhile. The end result of using such things to elevate one's sense of worth is at best a temporary, superficial lift. And at worst, it perpetuates an endless, fruitless search. Yet millions are spent every year on such things. In spite of our expensive attempts at easy answers, low self-esteem is still a major problem in our society and is probably the root factor in most people's emotional problems.
Among Christians and non-Christians alike, the terms low self-esteem, conceit, pride, and humility have become confused and often distorted. Some Christians are hesitant to feel good about themselves or their successes for fear of being proud. Others think humility means disliking themselves or putting themselves down, or even hating themselves.
True humility recognizes our strengths
as well as our weaknesses and
is not preoccupied with either.
Low self-esteem is a feeling of worthlessness or inferiority about oneself. But humility does not mean groveling, or feeling inferior or worthless, nor does it imply hating oneself. True humility could best be defined as seeing and accepting ourselves as God sees and accepts us. The Bible tells us we were created by God and that we need to live our lives with Him at the center. We are not gods who can independently run our lives. We are not to "think more highly of ourselves than we ought" (Romans 12:3). But the Bible also reminds us that each of us has been given gifts. It is wrong to think poorly of ourselves when we are God's gifted children.
True humility recognizes that we are finite creations of an Almighty God and that He has created us with many abilities. But it also recognizes our failures and our needs.True humility recognizes our strengths as well as our weaknesses and is not preoccupied with either. People with a solid sense of self-esteem do not have to keep evaluating their worth. Because they have a settled identity, they get on with life and serving others.
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