As a pastor, a pastoral counsellor and a friend, I have a deep concern for people I know who struggle with low self-esteem. Their inability to really like or love themselves is painful for me–not nearly as painful as it is to them but it is still painful for me to observe. As I indicated in my last post, I have discovered some things that don’t really work to change the way people look at themselves.
I can’t really say that I have figured out a sure-fire way of helping people change the way they look at themselves. I would love to be able to help them change and become the confident and comfortable people I would like them to be and which they show lots of evidence that they can be but as much as I would like that, I can’t. But there are some things I can do that have helped some people sometimes.
One thing I discovered is that it does help some people to shift their focus. Rather than spend their time looking at themselves, the messages from the past and their inadequacies, it helps to encourage and enable people to look at themselves theologically. As we discover who we are in God’s eyes, we can develop a different foundation. Now, I am aware of the danger this approach presents–there is some really bad theology of people out there, theology that encourages and reinforces low self-esteem.
But theology based on Scriptures like Psalm 139, which talks about God’s perfect knowledge of us and his eternal love for us, can help re-build a foundation of personal understanding and acceptance. If the God of all creation loves and values us enough to send Christ for us, who are we to argue?
I have also found that honestly sharing with people what I see as their personal value and ability and importance can be a help. I make sure what I say is true and I never push them to accept what I say–I just tell them what I see and leave it there. I do need to be careful not to create a dependence of this sort of support but used well, it does provide some help.
Another thing I have discovered is that it helps people to understand they have the freedom an ability to either change or stay the same. I am not going to force people to change and in the end, if they are content to go through life thinking they are less important than dirt, that is their choice. I probably won’t ever agree with them but I will still go for coffee with them and still appreciate them. It is interesting that the power to stay the same can become a motivating factor in changing.
I think people struggling with low self-esteem suffer because of the messages and hurts and abuses they have dealt with in their lives–and these external factors create a feeling that they have no control over their lives or thinking. Realizing that they stay where they are because of the decisions they make here and now can sometimes open the door to making different decisions. They are beginning to shift from reacting to external factors to an internal control of their lives.
And one of the major things that I have found important in the process of changing from low to healthy self-esteem is time. Most people don’t flip a switch and change immediately, no matter how much I would like that to happen. The journey from low to healthy self-esteem is generally a slow and painful process. It can take years of incremental steps, complete with set-backs, regressions and frustration for all involved.
I like my friends even if they struggle with low self-esteem. And while I would like them to be different, if I push too much in my concern, I have really become one of the external factors giving them the message that they aren’t good enough. They have has enough messages like that already–that’s why they are in the place they are in. While I can contribute to their development of healthy self-esteem in the ways I have mentioned, I also have to learn to accept them as they are. If enough of us would learn how to do this all the time with all people, there would probably be a lot less trouble with low self-esteem.
May the peace of God be with you.