The Problem With Low Self-Esteem
Back by popular demand, we have a new post from my wife, Ana — this time in response to an email from a girl who signed her name “nobody” and said she wasn’t good at anything. Ana wrote the following response:
Hello friend! Thank you for contacting us. I definitely understand the discouragement of feeling like you’re bad at everything and have no talents. I’ve been there too — always comparing myself to others, always feeling bad about myself, always focusing on my weaknesses and wondering if I could ever be good at anything. It is indeed, a miserable way to live! And I have come to believe that it is not only a miserable way to live, but a sinful way to live. Let me explain…
Most modern people would say that young girls who are perpetually feeling down on themselves have a low self-esteem problem and need to learn to accept themselves for who they are, and even love themselves. I absolutely believe that this is the wrong approach and that “good self-esteem” is a terrible goal to pursue.
Some people put a Christian spin on it and basically say that we need to feel good about ourselves because God feels good about us. But that completely misses the point. Feeling good about ourselves was never meant to be the goal of anybody’s life! The problem with low self-esteem isn’t the “low” part — it’s the “self” part.
When I was an anorexic thirteen-year-old, I spent a good deal of time thinking thoughts like, “She’s’ more beautiful than me. She’s funnier than me. She’s better at sports. She’s smarter than me. She has more friends than me. I can’t do anything right! Nobody likes me!” Do you notice how selfish those thoughts sound? Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!
Now, If I had embraced the world’s solutions I would have learned to replace those negative thoughts about myself with positive ones, “I am the most beautiful me. No one else could be better at being me than I am. My true friends love me. I’m good at this and that, etc.” Certainly, thoughts like these are less destructive to my immediate happiness but they are no less me-focused.
I am so grateful I had parents who offered me a different solution to my supposed “self-esteem” problem; parents who preached Christ and urged me to repent. I am so grateful they recognized how sickly and narrow a self-focused life really is, and spurred me on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). So now, I want to offer you the opportunity to embrace same solution they offered me.
Here are some thoughts:
If you have desired the talents of others, repent of your envy. If you have wasted time wallowing in self-pity, repent of your selfishness. If you have written yourself off from useful Kingdom work, repent of your pride. If in your self-doubt, you have neglected to serve others, repent of your lack of love. If you have desired the praises of man more than the pleasure of God, repent of your idolatry.
Stop, acknowledge your sin, and run to the cross. Look to Jesus, the only one who can blot out your sins. Place your trust in Him. Ask him to change your desires. Ask him to incline your heart to his testimonies and not to selfish gain (Ps. 119:36). Ask him to use your life for His glory. Our God is gracious and forgiving. He delights in answering these prayers.
2. You do have gifts and talents.
“I’m not talented” is a lie. It is a lie that fuels endless pity parties and a disturbing self-centeredness. It is me-focused and paralyzing. It is a lie from the Enemy who wants to keep you ineffective and unproductive in the Kingdom of God. You must learn to shut your ears to these lies and fill yourself with the Word of God. You may not be “talented” in the ways you would like, but you have everything you need to live a fruitful life in Christ. Seek to renew your mind. Memorize Scripture and meditate on it.
God made you and called you into his Kingdom. (1 Pet. 2:9). He has given you everything you need to serve Him and His body (2 Pet. 1:3). He has prepared good works for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10). If you are part of the Body of Christ, you are an indispensable part (1 Cor. 12: 14-26). You have been given gifts and will be given gifts through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4-8).
3. Seek the glory of God’s name.
Our gifts and talents are not really about us. They have not been given to us that we might enjoy attention and bolster our self-image.
God has invited us to quit wallowing in our putrid selfishness and join Him in spreading His Kingdom. When we accept this invitation, we must put to death any desire to make a name for ourselves in this world. We live for the glory of God’s name, and His name alone. We choose to walk in obedient submission to His commands and learn to love what He loves and hate what He hates. We give our entire selves to God and employ all our gifts and talents for His service. When we do this, we find that our gifts and talents are given that we might love others.
4. Seek to love others.
Love should be the driving force in the discovery and development of your gifts. You do not need to identify everything you’re good at in order to start loving. Look around you. Then do something about it. Who do you see? What needs are there? Is anyone sick? Pray for them. Is anyone discouraged? Write them an encouraging note. Is your mom stressed out? Clean the house for her. Does your church need someone to teach Sunday School? Volunteer.
You get the idea. Just start doing things to serve the body of Christ and reach out to the unbelievers around you. As you do, you may find that you are better suited for certain kinds of love and service and so discover what gifts you already have. Even more, a growing love for God and others will likely push you to step outside your comfort zone and work hard to develop new gifts so that you might serve even more effectively. So, stop trying to figure out what you’re good at, and start serving with what you have. God will direct your steps. He may even give you new gifts.
5. Cultivate an attitude of gratefulness.
The fact is, God made you the way you are and gave you the gifts you have. You may never be able to dance like your friend does. Are you okay with that? Can you thank God for what you have? Thank God for the opportunities he’s given you to love and serve him. Thank him for who He is. Thank him for His gift of salvation. Thank him for the everyday blessings. There is so much to be thankful for! Trust me, you will never run out!
6. Open your eyes and worship.
The secret to a happy life is not feeling good about ourselves, but finding something big enough to knock the planets of our me-centered universes out of orbit. That something is God, the One we were made for. And His glories can be seen throughout the earth. All of creation shouts His name.
I’ve found that there is so much to notice and appreciate when we finally tear our eyes away from our pitiful navel-gazing. There is so much wonder in the universe! Why should the water be so wet? Why should the trees have leaves? Why should the eye perceive color? Why should the ground be so firm? Why should people speak with audible words? Why should the fire burn so hot?
So my advice is, open your eyes. Look around. There are beautiful sunsets and terrifying oceans. There are delightful melodies and delicious foods. There are brave men and brilliant women. There are babies crying and children laughing. There are fish swimming and birds flying. Open your eyes and worship God for what you see.
These are the things that helped me to get out of that miserable pit of discouraged self-absorption. I hope they help you too. I believe that as you throw yourself into loving others, practice gratefulness, and enjoy God’s creation you will forget yourself and find true life and lasting joy!
Love you sister!