Are You Enough? How to Win the Uphill and Downhill Battle of Self-Esteem
“When society’s way to combat issues of self-esteem and find inner peace fails us, we must change our focus.”
-Audrey Hardin, MS, LPC
By Audrey Hardin, MS, LPC
The struggle for self-acceptance seems too often to be an uphill battle for me. I remember sitting in group supervision with my supervisor and fellow supervisee sharing the woes of how I constantly felt like I failed to measure up to be the therapist my clients needed me to be, the partner my boyfriend needed me to be… and worse, the Christian God called me to be. I will never forget their response after I finished my rant. “Wow, that sounds like a really harsh voice in your head.”
Yes, a harsh voice indeed.
Can anyone relate? The harsh inner critic we listen to inside of us that drives us to be better, achieve more, create more, and appear more attractive as we age can dominate our thoughts, feelings, and cut deep into our belief system.
Society’s remedy for this “harsh voice” or low self-esteem is to build high self-esteem. Take more pride in yourself and practice self-compassion, self-love (these words of “encouragement” have spilled out of my lips to my clients’ ears far too many times) –all in order to puff-up or inflate what was once deflated. But at the end of the day, it’s all just air, not substance.
Another societal solution is to “not care” what others think –to not measure yourself by the standards of others but to measure yourself by your standards. So, does this mean I am to have low standards of achievement for myself in order to experience acceptance? That doesn’t seem right either…
The fact that our answers to this “see-saw” of low to high self-esteem, high to low standards is to just change the weight distribution of our view of self helps me see more clearly than ever why we are all SO exhausted!
Aren’t you tired of the see-saw’s restrictive movement? How the amount of weight it takes to achieve the perfect balance between ordinary and extraordinary seems to be unattainable?
Madonna seemed to understand this. In an interview with Vogue magazine she shares:
“My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.”
Madonna speaks to the exhaustion of the ever-changing verdict of her value. One day, she nails a performance or loses those 15 pounds and receives rave reviews –her value increases …until the reviews are forgotten or even countered by a misstep and suddenly she’s deemed mediocre again.
I have sat on this dilemma for a while –years even, fighting to prove my worth through perfect health, appearance, achievements… to combat the shaming voice of the inner critic that says I’m not enough or I could be more… believing that if I just got this one thing, it would counter the critic’s voice and give me value, just long enough to enjoy a bit of peace. That is, until I find a new pocket of cellulite or someone joins my social circle that is more successful.
What is the solution to the self-esteem battle? How can we combat shame? How can we end our anxiety-ridden efforts to daily build the evidence so that when we sit on the stand and plead our case, sharing of all our efforts, the jury deems us as valuable?
That’s all we want, right?
…For someone to look at us and tell us you are acceptable, worthy, loved; that there is nothing that you can do or not do, be or not be, look like or not look like that would ever change the way I love you.
In 1 Corinthians 4:3-7, Paul writes to the Corinthians, who are struggling with this very question of value, to share the secret of a never-changing self-worth, self-regard, and identity.
3“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
6 Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. 7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
Paul states that not only does he NOT care about how they “or any human court” judges him, he also states that he does not care how he judges him. Why? Because His only judge is the Lord. The Greek word for judge here is translated as “verdict.”
In other words, the Creator himself has already determined the verdict of our worth! YOU ARE VALUABLE. Court adjourned. No matter what others think of you, no matter what you think of you –neither are qualified to determine your worth –only the One who made you is.
This is how we solve the self-esteem battle: we remind ourselves that it has already been won.
Christ stepped down from heaven to subject himself to the most shameful death, taking on our sin and our shame so that we would no longer be measured by achievements, talent, beauty, mistakes, or failures but by Him alone.
As Christians, then, why do we still experience shame?
Simple –Because we forget.
We forget just as Punchinello, the wooden Wemmick, forgot his worth in the book “You are Special” by Max Lucado.
Punchinello lived in a town of small wooden people called Wemmicks, all carved by a woodworker named Eli. Every day, each Wemmick would apply either gold stars or grey dot stickers to the other Wemmicks based on their beauty or talents. Punchinello was not very attractive or super talented or well-spoken, thus was covered in grey dots. He began to believe that he was a mistake and found it difficult to leave his home until one day, he met Lucia. Lucia had no dots or stars…they just wouldn’t stick. When Punchinello asked her why, she said that every day, she goes to see Eli, the woodcarver; she suggested that he should too.
Punchinello, grey stickers and all, made his way up the hill to Eli’s woodshop.
“Punchinello! How good to see you. Come and let me have a look at you.”
Punchinello turned slowly and looked at the large bearded craftsman.
“You know my name?” the little Wemmick asked.
“Of course I do. I made you.”
Eli stooped down and picked him up and set him on the bench.
“Hmmm,” the maker spoke thoughtfully as he looked at the gray dots.
“Looks like you’ve been given some bad marks.”
“I didn’t mean to, Eli. I tried really hard.”
“Oh you don’t have to defend yourself to me, child. I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think.”
“No, and you shouldn’t either. Who are they to give stars or dots? They’re just Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you’re pretty special.
Eli later explains why the stickers don’t stick to Lucia.
“Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them …the more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers…”
“I don’t understand” Punchinello sighed.
“You will, but it will take time. You’ve got a lot of marks. For now, just come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care. …Remember, you are special because I made you, and I don’t make mistakes.”
As Punchinello let the truth of Eli’s words sink in, a dot fell to the ground.
Be encouraged that our Maker knit you together perfectly, that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that through death on a cross, our Savior deemed us valuable -forever.
I encourage you to sit with your Maker today so that you can REMEMBER that the battle has been won, His love for you is eternal, and the stickers cannot stick if you don’t want them to.
For further reading: “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” by Timothy Keller
Audrey Hardin is a Staff Therapist at The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology in Dallas, TX.
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