The Bible often warns against pride and its consequences: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18, NIV)
But what about those who struggle with low self-esteem? Isn’t the opposite of low self-esteem actually high self-esteem? Isn’t that pride?
Pride vs. Self-Esteem
Pride is putting oneself on a pedestal, lording over others and acting grandiose. Many people who act this way actually have a low self-esteem. They act arrogantly in order to compensate. They are desperately trying to cover up their flaws. This is even the heart of some clinical disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
But what about the Christian who struggles with low self-esteem? Is it sinful to try to build your self-esteem? No.
Recognize Your Value
Low-self esteem can be a form of pride and selfishness because the whole focus is on self. True humility is focused outward. The humble person seeks the good of others and has a healthy self-esteem. They see themselves through God’s eyes, not their own.
The person with low self-esteem needs to let go of being preoccupied with their flaws and imperfections.This means fully accepting the grace of God and accepting yourself the way you are right now.
But Isn't Humanity Basically Evil?
Humanity is basically bad and good. Because of original sin (and our own sin), we are bad. Yet we are good because we are made in the image of God. Jesus took care of the bad when he died on the cross. If you have put your trust in Him, God accepts you fully as His child.
There is no need for low self-esteem, pride or arrogance. All those focus on self. Put your trust in God and see yourself through His eyes. Accept yourself and live out God’s calling on your life.
See Others as Valuable Too
No one likes to be judged, but we do it to others all the time. Many who are judgmental actually suffer with low self-esteem. They mock others out of their own insecurity.
If you struggle with self-image, try this experiment: every time you feel the urge to be critical or judgmental toward another person, give them a break. Recognize their limitations. Remember how Jesus sees them.
When you start doing this, watch your own self-image improve. When you stop judging others, you stop judging yourself. When you hold someone against your own standard, you internally set yourself higher. As a result, you set yourself up for a fall. Setting yourself on a pedestal will only lead to you beating yourself up every time you slip off that pedestal.
Take out the log in your eye so you can see just how small that speck is in your neighbor’s eye—if it was ever there to begin with. When you choose to love others unconditionally, it makes it easier to accept yourself and feel the grace of God.
See our other article on Viewing Yourself Through God's Eyes.
In the summer of 2013, there was a shocking story about two life coaches who committed suicide together. What was ironic and sad was the fact that they hosted a radio show called "The Pursuit of Happiness." Apparently the two were a couple and the woman suffered from major depression. This tragic story highlights an important issue. Those of us in helping professions need to take care of ourselves as we help others.
You can't give out of an empty cup.
When I was in a counseling class in seminary, the professor told us that all pastors and counselors should seek counseling for themselves. I found that odd at first but immediately recognized the wisdom behind it. It's easy to ignore our issues when we are ministering to others. Not only is it unwise to bury our personal problems, it can lead to inefficiency. I think this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he said:
"How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:4-5)
You are responsible for yourself.
It's obvious that Jesus is speaking to those who have a blatantly critical attitude but it's amazing how a lack of self-awareness can cloud the best of our intentions. It's so easy to hide our insecurity behind the busyness of taking care of others. We can't help other people with their problems until we own ours first.
If we don't take care of ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally, we will be ineffective in our attempt to help others. Even worse, we can burn out. We can't see clearly as we minister to others until we allow the Holy Spirit to take the plank out of our own eye.
How do you find time to take care of yourself?
Subscribe to My Newsletter
You don't have to have an eating disorder to struggle with body image. Many people avoid looking in the mirror and avoid taking pictures of themselves. We live in a culture that is bombarded with images of perfectly sculpted bodies and airbrushed faces. Even though these images are unrealistic, they can still take a toll on one's self esteem.
Compare and despair.
I once saw a sketch on Saturday Night Live with Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken, where he tried to counsel a guest on his show who was struggling with low self-esteem. Using his usual over-the-top sentimental tone, he gently recited to his guest: "Compare and despair." I laughed at his use of this cliche, not only because of its comedic delivery, but because of the truth of the statement itself.
When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we will always come up short. There will always be someone who is smarter, taller, and better-looking in one area or another. It's easy to do, but doing so will only lead to disappointment.
Comparing is Coveting.
I think we often forget that God's commands in the Bible are meant to help us. The final instruction of the Ten Commandments is:
"You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet...anything else that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17, NLT)
This command connects with every single one of the commandments that come before it. Coveting leads to idolatry, which eventually leads to a lack of love for God and neighbor. Coveting ultimately destroys everything of value in our lives.
What I find fascinating is that so many people compare themselves to others, so they can feel accepted by others. We want to better ourselves so we can feel loved and accepted. In reality, only when we embrace and reveal our flaws to people we trust, will we find true acceptance, grace, and love. It's just like the Devil to convince us otherwise.
Things to Keep in Perspective
We live in a very conflicted culture. On one hand, we have food corporations that constantly tempt us with delicious but unhealthy food choices. On the other hand, we have entire fashion, cosmetic, and fitness industries all aimed at preying on our insecurities. It's difficult to chase after an impossible physical ideal while also living in a society tempting you to make unhealthy lifestyle choices. Here's some tips to keep in perspective.
1. Be the best version of you.
Don't try to achieve a celebrity's body. Pursue balanced goals that keep your body type in perspective.
2. Embrace your differences.
Everyone has positive physical qualities—maybe you get complimented on your eyes or your smile. Focus on the positive attributes that make you stand out. Also, compliment others on what makes them different.
3. Keep your thought life positive.
If you are constantly putting yourself down, you are going to feel bad about yourself. Keep negative thoughts in check. Learn to accept yourself the way God does. This takes time and practice through journaling, prayer, counseling, and opening up to others you can trust.
4. Confidence is attractive.
Ultimately it is not physical attributes that people find the most attractive, it's confidence. If you are healthy emotionally, it will come out in the way you carry yourself.
Subscribe to My Newsletter
Tres Adames, MDiv, BCPC provides Christian counseling in Peoria, Arizona for adults, teens, couples, and families. He specializes in helping those struggling with depression, anxiety, self-esteem, anger, addiction, codependency, and relationship issues. If you would like to contact Tres or set up an appointment, visit his contact page.
I work with a lot of people who struggle with self-esteem, and many lack a sense of purpose for their lives. Even after fully surrendering themselves to God, another part of them still struggles with completely believing that God loves them or that God is for them.
God is not distant.
Satan wants to distract believers from the reality of God's love. He wants to convince them that God doesn't really care about them, that He still will punish them, or that He will change His mind and go back on His promises. Scripture often uses the imagery of adoption to show how God really views believers:
"So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:15, NLT)
A pretty accurate translation of Abba is "Daddy." This indicates a very close, intimate relationship. When you put your faith in Christ, you are adopted as a child of God. I really like how Charles Spurgeon explains it when he says:
"He who counts the stars, and calls them by their names, is in no danger of forgetting His own children. He knows you as thoroughly as if you were the only creature He ever made, or the only saint He ever loved!"
Embracing your true identity.
The statement below (in bold) is an affirmation I use to teach others who are struggling with self-esteem or a deep-seated belief that God is not really for them. I encourage you to write it out and place it in a location where you see it daily, either on your bathroom mirror, in your car, or in your Bible:
God loves and accepts me unconditionally the way I am right now, therefore I accept myself unconditionally the way I am right now.
It's interesting that John, who wrote several books of the Bible, and who was Jesus' youngest disciple, refers to himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved” or the “Beloved Disciple.” It is clear that He rooted his whole identity in Christ.
In our modern world, many people link their identity to their job. In fact, it’s the first thing people ask after learning your name. We can often hitch our self-worth to our productivity and base our identity on what we do. But whenever we root our identity in anything other than God, it is idolatry. It is God who created us—only He can define us. There are even good things we can try to base our lives on: our job, our relationships, our family, and even ministry itself!
John doesn’t do this. He doesn't just call himself a disciple, but “the disciple that Jesus loved.” His identity was not rooted in Himself but in God.
I challenge you to memorize and quote the affirmation listed above whenever you feel defeated. Your feelings and mood may shift day to day, but God's heart toward you will never change.
Subscribe to My Newsletter