Restore Your Self-Esteem
It is amazing what we accept as truth if we hear it enough times.
Has this ever happened to you:
You take a risk and get a drastic haircut. You look fabulous. You leave for work the next day in your favorite outfit feeling like a million bucks, You think “I’m so glad I did it, I love it!” You step into the elevator at work and someone turns to you, frowns, and says, “Oh, you cut your hair, what made you do that?” Your hand goes to your hair and you’d give anything for a hat. You feel terrible. Why did you have to go and cut your hair?
Self-esteem is an issue for many women and in these days of ultra-thin models and SuperMom expectations it shouldn’t surprise us. What is surprising is how quick we are to accept another person’s judgement and how serious our lack of faith in ourselves can become. For me it started during high school because of a group of four or five guys who told me that I was stupid and ugly every single day. I believed them.
It didn’t matter that I came from a home where both parents still loved each other and there was a steady supply of love and encouragement. It didn’t matter that my grades were excellent and that I had a best friend who had stuck by me since third grade. I was told that I had no value and I believed them with all my heart. My self-esteem was at an all time low and it almost killed me.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem can be hard to define. More than just feeling good about yourself, taking pride in your accomplishments or liking what you see in the mirror, self-esteem is concerned with the way we judge our own worth. In his book Foundations of Psychopathology, Dr. John Nemiah defines self-esteem as the “ability to look upon yourself as having value.”
We tend to look at the equation backwards. We think that how we look dictates our level of self-esteem when in fact it is our self-esteem – our ability to see ourselves as having value – that dictates how we react to the face in the mirror.
Impact of low self-esteem
As my confidence faltered and my self-esteem withered away I stopped talking in class, in groups, or in the hallways. I dreaded lunch hour, never stepped foot inside the cafeteria and the thought of class presentations literally made me sick. I withdrew and stopped smiling altogether.
Convinced I was worthless, I stressed over every test and paper even though my grades were consistently excellent. My whole life revolved around being as invisible as possible. I thought that I couldn’t get hurt if everyone forgot I was there. The situation continued and I needed a way out. I couldn’t imagine anything that could help me. Because I saw myself as the problem, I began seriously considering suicide. I wasn’t dreaming about an escapist fantasy, I was frighteningly practical. My experience is a common one.
Low self-esteem and depression
Low self-esteem does not necessarily lead to depression but studies have shown that the two often go hand in hand. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) uses low self-worth in its description of depression. 1 Low self-esteem makes you your own worst enemy. Thoughts of “if only I were prettier, if only I was good at sports, if only I was funny or popular, if only I was strong enough to fix this” crowd out everything else. Even if we receive praise, the voices inside our own heads discount it. Like Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman “the bad stuff is easier to believe.”
The symptoms of depression are often internalized, and so the problem may be dismissed as unimportant, hormonal, or just a part of growing up. The WHO has found that, worldwide “fewer than 25% of those suffering from depression receive appropriate care”. 2 It is critically important to pay attention to low self-esteem, especially in teenagers where suicide is in one of the three leading causes of death. 3 Even as adults low self-esteem can affect performance and advancement at work, make us a reluctant partner or a ineffective parent. Low self-esteem affects every part of a person’s life. It is overwhelming.
For me, things did not improve so halfway through grade eleven I transferred to a different high school. The insults stopped but I still had to face myself, running wasn’t going to fix that. Recovering a sense of self worth takes more than a change of scene, it requires a change of perspective.
The summer of that year I attended a conference with a group from my parent’s church and found answers in the last place I would have expected. At the conference I came to realize that God loves me very, very much. Here, finally, was a lasting source of value I could fall back on. I had a sense of self worth to build on and the healing could begin.
The world is a scary place when you stop liking yourself.
Now I had hope. I had learned about God as a child, but just trying to survive had consumed me and I had long since forgotten about Him; God had not forgotten about me. During my second year of university, I came across the verse in the Bible that is one of my favorites,
“I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9&10)
Who am I? What a terrifying question when you don’t like yourself very much. Now I have an answer: I am a woman loved by God. You can say the same. You matter to God. He loves you so much that He gave His only Son for you. You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as He is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Saviour and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
Does this prayer express the desire of your heart? You can pray it right now, and Jesus Christ will come into your life, just as He promised.
If you invited Jesus Christ into your life, thank God often that He is in your life, that He will never leave you and that you have eternal life. As you learn more about your relationship with God, and how much He loves you, you’ll experience life to the fullest.