Do you like yourself? Is it possible to like ourselves, even if we have character defects, as we all do? Is there any difference between how society conceptualizes self-esteem and how God our creator defines it?
I came across a good article by the journalist Emanuelle Sales, entitled: The Different Way God Treats Self-Esteem.
In addition to being a journalist, she is the creator of a blog and author of books such as: “Mirror, Mirror, Now the Mirror is God”, as well as the book “Image and Likeness” and “Daughter of the King”. I now bring you insights from her text and my own thoughts on the subject of self-esteem. Between 2005 and 2007 I studied and worked in a Lifestyle Center in Wildwood, GA, when I changed my concept of self-esteem, living with a couple of scientists, Dr. Bernell Baldwin, Ph.D. in Neurophysiology from George Washington University, and his wife, author Marjorie Baldwin, a physician specializing in the digestive tract and nutrition. Both had been professors at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California.
I often had lunch with them in the cafeteria of that institution, where I learned, among other things, a new concept about self-esteem. As Christian scientists, they based their ideas about self-esteem on biblical teachings. And one of them commented to me about how he can have self-esteem if we look at our spiritual contamination.
I kept thinking about this as I began to understand that I would need to change my concept of self-esteem. But what is self-esteem anyways? One of the definitions may be: Self-esteem means a value we give to ourselves and has to do with our ability to love ourselves. Self-esteem relates to self-respect, self-acceptance, and self-knowledge.
A person can have good or bad self-esteem. You can have high, low or normal self-esteem. When you keep putting yourself down, disrespecting yourself, and rejecting yourself, then your self-esteem is low. On the other hand, exalting oneself is not synonymous with good self-esteem. It can be the result of insecurity, pride, or arrogance.
Part of developing good self-esteem is self-understanding. When we improve our self-awareness, we can become more humble, because we see that we have strengths and weaknesses and that we are not better than anyone else. Emanuelle cites in her article a survey conducted by photographers Viola Gaskell and Alisson Luntz, who asked the following question: What makes you feel beautiful? They asked the question to people passing through the streets of Seattle and New York. The survey was part of a project called: What Makes Me Feel Beautiful? created for Ebay’s fashion and style blog.
The two photographers heard testimonials such as people saying: The only thing that makes me feel beautiful is my body and my heels. A girl always feels beautiful with her curves and high heels. Another person said: my smile, my skin. Those are some of my favorite things about myself.
One person commented on what makes her feel beautiful, saying: Getting all dressed up like I am now! I’m just going out for a walk with some friends, so I put on this dress and this jewelry, which I love. It definitely makes me feel beautiful.
An interesting comment came from someone else who said, in a more spiritual way: I think your beauty is your posture, you know? A person can be very beautiful, but when he opens his mouth he can kill all his beauty.
One person commented: My self-esteem is much better when I’m painted and made up, I feel prettier with well-designed makeup and beautiful high heels.
It’s funny how people generally link self-esteem solely to what they can see in the mirror. And when you grow old? And the skin is not silky anymore, what now? And the age wrinkles appear? Will plastic surgery fix everything? If you build your self-esteem based solely on your image, this parallels what Jesus said about the danger and imprudence of building a castle on sand.
The journalist Emmanuelle went on to write that a woman is likely to feel more powerful and confident, standing in beautiful high heels, using careful make-up, wearing expensive designer clothes, and exhaling the smell of an imported perfume. And a man is likely to feel confident, wearing a suit custom-made by an elite tailor, wearing a gold watch, putting on designer shoes, and having spent some good money to trim his beard.
But what do you feel for yourself? When you get back home, you take off your makeup, throw your expensive dress on the bed, take off your imported suit, take a shower, and stay in your natural body, without paint, without makeup, without jewelry, without perfume. Do you like what you see or not?
The Bible advises us not to build our self-esteem on external things, because they pass and will not sustain us forever. She recommends that we build the notion of value as people, in things that moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in to steal. The physician Dr. Luke narrated these words of Jesus in his Gospel like this:
Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.Luke 12:23
Our self-respect, our self-esteem must be based on what God sees in us if we are to submit to his help through his power called grace.
Whenever Jesus was meeting a person, no matter how bad his behavior was, he looked and dealt with that person, thinking about what he could become if he surrendered to him and followed him by practicing the master’s instructions. Emmanuelle commented in her article that self-help books and self-love gurus, raise banners that collaborate to inflate the ego in search of the applause of crowds and a feeling of power. But our creator looks at us and says:
“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”Isaiah 40:6-8
In other words, we are small, mortal, limited, and we die. This comment in Isaiah is not a depreciation of life and the human person, but a statement of our limitation, smallness, and finitude. God so loved and loves people, his creatures, that God himself, Jesus Christ comes into the world to lift us up, heal us, save us, and restore our self-esteem. Your value as a person and your self-esteem needs to be based on the value that the creator gives you, and not on your outward appearance, because that will change. Think it through deeply.
We can respect ourselves, even being imperfect as we are. Along with the bad characteristics of our personality, God sees that there are potential virtues that he can develop if we want to, if we let him act in our life, and if we surrender to him and follow the beauty and simplicity of the Master Jesus Christ, as described in the Gospels.
Proper self-esteem depends on what God establishes in our character. Think about it. Leave aside this idea of constructing only your exterior. Of course, you are not going to be a relaxed person, wear poorly ironed clothes, or not have proper personal hygiene. It’s okay for you to take care of your body aesthetics, that’s healthy. It just can’t become an obsessive thing. It’s not good for your mental health if you put that external view, what you see in the mirror, as the only source of satisfaction, the only source of self-worth. Think about it, God will give you a wonderful self-esteem.
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Dr. Cesar Vasconcellos de Souza is working as a psychiatrist and international speaker. He is author of 3 books, columnist of the health magazine “Vida e Saúde” for 25 years, and has a regular program on the “Novo Tempo” TV channel.