‘I have low self-esteem’
How many times have you heard, said or thought that? I am unable to even estimate the amount that statement, or words to its effect, has entered my ears or crossed my mind.
The importance of how much we value ourselves has become a dominating phenomenon in this age. It is a concept I was first introduced to at school; I remember hearing girls using it as an explanation for their make-up, their wardrobe, their behaviour. Soon enough it became something I was obsessed with too.
Thoughts incited by my ‘low self-esteem’ would grow and combine and swirl until they became an overwhelming wave of chaos, which impacted my whole demeanour, and leeched into the way I interacted with other people.
I’m fatter than her. I wish I was pretty. My parents don’t love me as much as my sisters. I’m not as clever or funny as them. People don’t like me because I don’t like drinking or drugs. Maybe they don’t like me because I have low self-esteem? Maybe I should try to be more bubbly? But I’m not bubbly… Why aren’t I bubbly? Trying to be bubbly makes me feel worse about myself. Why am I so mopey? I feel rubbish. Oh I’m overthinking and making everything worse. See, of course I have low self-esteem – I’m awful!
These thoughts would consume me, and I descended into a self-oriented world.
Whether or not you’ve asked yourself, ‘Do I like me?’ in so many words, the obsession with self-love has taken over our society and thus entrenched itself in our psyches as something to strive after.
Watch a TV advertisement, scroll through your news feed, glance at the billboards lining the streets, the story is the same wherever you look; it’s a story of glorifying the self.
Google ‘self-esteem’ and the results are flooded with information from NHS pages, mental health charities, and self-help blogs alike. Suggestions of how to improve one’s happiness, how to live a better life, how to ‘feel fabulous’ are thrown our way without ceasing: eat wholesome foods, work out regularly, spend time with people you love, practice mindfulness, remove yourself from toxic relationships…The list goes on.
None of these things are innately evil, indeed they all help improve one’s quality of life to some degree, but when we fixate on them as core standards and rules to live by, these seemingly beneficial things become destructive.
My self-centric perspective led to a distorted concept of right and wrong, and of peace and guilt. My morality and my justification for my behaviours were all focused on me. I’d like to suggest the same is true on different levels for all those who grapple with their self-worth.
When we are thinking of ourselves, we end up justifying our actions based on how they make us feel, not on their moral weight. We feel false guilt over trivialities; often over our accomplishment or failure to match standards set by society, be they related to health, relationships or work. The fact that we base self worth on activity, or whether or not we have a partner, or if we got a job promotion, comes from the value placed on these things by society. Yet humans are fickle. We change our mind about the values of things constantly. Look at the fashion trends as a trivial example: flared jeans were in, and then they were hideous, but now they’re pretty cool again. We just can’t decide!
Glance back over my depressive rumination. All the things I was valuing my self by (looks, sociability, brains, approval from others), all of these are temporal – not one is constant throughout the course of life.
Trying to build your worth on the fragile foundations of human tastes and values is like a polar bear standing on a melting ice cap. Soon enough you’ll be up to your neck in freezing water with nowhere left to go.
It seems a hopeless and miserable situation, right? Life really is, as Thomas Hobbes so charmingly captured, ‘nasty, brutish and short’.
But what if I told you that there’s a value placed on you that is unchangeable? One that has always stood and will always stand. One that cannot be shaken, not even if 3,000 tonnes of explosives were placed under it (metaphorically speaking of course, I know you can’t actually blow up an abstract concept).
Well, there is.
There is someone who knows you completely, and who loves you despite your flaws. He never changes, and nor do his standards or his love. I grew up attending church and believing in God, but coming to understand his deep, personal and unconditional love is something I have grappled with more recently, and continue to understand more fully every day. The Bible tells me that God ‘will take great delight’  in me, and that God ‘rescued me because he delighted in me’ .
This love is the only thing with the power to counteract all my narcissistic misery. It answers the question, ‘Do I like myself?’ with the infinitely more important statement: ‘God loves me’. This has liberated me from only looking inward, to looking up and out, enabling me to enjoy my life free from the burden of trying and failing to perform.