Perhaps it is because I see so many people who are plagued with self-doubt, guilt and self-recrimination. It may be because so many of my clients slip easily into depression and hopelessness. For myriad reasons, people are terribly hard on themselves.
While I’m aware that many believe we are a self-absorbed nation, focused solely on doing whatever feels good at the moment, I’m also aware of many people who, at their deepest level, don’t like themselves.
Yes, this is an apparent contradiction. Self-centered people who don’t like who they are. Obsessed with meeting their every need and yet never satisfied. Perhaps it isn’t as much of a contradiction as we might imagine.
See if the following doesn’t fit you to some extent:
Having so much, yet never satisfied;
Enjoying physical comfort, yet always uneasy;
Living longer, yet enjoying the years less;
Having more opportunities for friendship, yet having fewer friends;
Having more opportunities for work, yet enjoying your work less;
Having greater access to counseling, yet feeling less happy.
The common denominator to the above list of symptoms is the lack of a general sense of well-being. So many of us feel that we don’t measure up, aren’t successful in our work, family or marital life. We have an underlying feeling of failure.
Consider this recent email from a woman clearly struggling with issues related to self-esteem:
Dear Dr. David,
No matter what I do, I never feel like I do enough. No matter how much I perform at work, church or in my marriage, I never feel satisfied. I’m always afraid someone is or will be critical of me.
The truth of the matter is that I’m critical of myself.
No surprise, but this isn’t a new feeling for me. I grew up feeling abandoned and neglected. I have fought my entire life to get rid of the feeling of not measuring up.
Now, no matter what my husband or pastor tell me, I feel insecure. Is there any hope for me?
--Low On Myself
Sadly, you’re rejection as a child is still having a profound impact on your as an adult.
Many who have experienced profound neglect as children carry feelings of insecurity and inadequacy into adulthood.
That’s the bad news.
Now for the good news.
Like the saying goes, ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.’
What that means is we can, as adults, learn to accept ourselves. We can, especially with God’s help, accept ourselves, treat ourselves with value and see ourselves through God’s eyes of love.
Let me offer a few more specific suggestions.
First, get into counseling. You need to talk about the rejection you experienced and specifically, the lies you have come to believe. For example, you may be carrying around a message that nothing you do is good enough. You will need to combat those lies and discover the truth—that you are good enough, not because of anything you do or don’t do, but because you are a child of God’s. Counseling can also help in giving back the shame you may be carrying from your parents. While our goal is not to blame parents, it is important to let go of feelings of shame you may have picked up from them. As the saying goes, “That’s not my stuff!”
Second, make an asset inventory. Each of us has been created with unique talents, none identical to others. What are your unique strengths? What can you do that few others can do? You may have to think hard about this, but I’m sure with a little help you can smile at your unique attributes. We aren’t encouraged often enough to celebrate ourselves, but remind yourself that God delights in us!
Third, give up comparisons. Comparisons kill. Any time we compare ourselves to others, we will find others better at something, and of course some who are worse. The key is to discover your unique, God-given abilities and spiritual gifts and embrace them. See Romans 12 and read about the gifts of the Spirit.
Fourth, associate with those who build you up. There are those who steal our joy and those who give us joy. There are those who put us down, and those who build us up. Hang out with those who build you up and celebrate you.
Finally, forgive yourself, again and again. You are only human and have undoubtedly made a lot of mistakes. It is important to remember that we’ve all made mistakes—in fact, we all make mistakes every day. No one’s mistakes are worse than others. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23) In spite of our shortcomings, we are loved infinitely by God.
I’d like to hear from others. How have you coped with chronic feelings of low self-esteem? What has helped you overcome them? Send your comments to me at HYPERLINK "mailto:TheRelationshipDoctorfirstname.lastname@example.org" TheRelationshipDoctoremail@example.com, reading more about my work at HYPERLINK "http://www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com" www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com.