As a pastor, I have spent my career working in contexts where most of the people I deal with need a self-esteem boost. As a missionary in East Africa, I worked primarily with theology students and church leaders and only a few church people–but again, the majority of people I worked with needed some help in loving themselves. At one point, I was a part-time chaplain in a correctional facility for young offenders and discovered that most of the youth I was working with needed a major infusion of self-esteem. Some of the staff probably would have benefited from some help in that department as well.
Basically, I understand and can deal with low self-esteem. I approach people with an awareness of the issues and difficulties that can cause the lack of self-appreciation. I have studied, researched, practised and developed some ways of helping people improve their self-evaluations and have used my skills as a pastor, preacher, teacher and counsellor to help them. And because right now, my self-esteem is fairly healthy, I can write that I have helped people develop a better view of themselves without feeling too uncomfortable.
The low self-esteem thing is something I can deal with and am comfortable dealing with. However, I have to confess that I have real problems dealing with the other side of the issue. When the self-esteem crosses the barrier and gets too self-focused and too self-impressed, I begin to have serious problems.
Partly, that is because the nature of my contacts is that I don’t see it too often and often when I see it, I am not really in a position to do anything about it. But mostly, the problem is that when people have an overly inflated view of themselves, they alternately scare and anger me–and neither fear nor anger are particularly good things to base a relationship on.
Sometimes, I have been able to deal with the person when they begin to realize that their problem is really an underlying lack of self-esteem that they are trying to cover up. Once they see their over-compensation for what it is, we are in territory that I am comfortable and familiar with and know what to do.
But in general, I really don’t know how to deal with the other side, either as a helper or as someone who has to be in relationship with such people. I tend to avoid such people since they are a serious vexation to me. I also tend to avoid them because they make me angry and I have to confess that my anger comes out in some unpleasant ways that benefit neither me nor the other person. When I have to be around such people, I find myself being very uncomfortable and looking for a way out before my anger gets the best of me and the situation.
That is probably a weakness in my personality and training and professional life–after all, not everyone is going to suffer from low or acceptable self-esteem. Given that self-esteem can be distorted and become too strong, there is a need for people who understand and can deal with this distortion–God loves these people as much as he loves all the rest of us and wants them to be healthy as well.
But I can truthfully say that up to this point in my ministry, this has not really been part of my calling. My gifts and abilities and experience have all been focused in other areas. I might joke that I am glad I haven’t been called to deal with many over-inflated egos, but in the end, the more prosaic truth is that I recognize my limits and until God sees fit to call me beyond those limits, I don’t really have to worry about what I can’t do.
I would like to think that if God really needs me to intervene in the life of such a person, he will give me the skill and knowledge and courage to do so and I would be willing to hear and follow his call. But up to this point, he has not called me in that direction so I am comfortable continuing with what I have been called to and have been doing. I have enough self-esteem to know that I can do lots of things and not enough to think that I have to do everything. I am sure that God is still working in me, though, so who knows what he plans.
May the peace of God be with you.