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Posts tagged ‘self-esteem’

Self-Image: Three Questions

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by Ed Welch

So much of life comes down to the following three questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You might not wake up in the morning with these questions on your mind. In fact, you might never have asked these questions. But, as a human being, those questions are part of your DNA. You will find them sneaking around in your anger, happiness, contentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, guilt, cutting, sense of purpose, life meaning, decision making, moral choices about sex, friendships, school, work, and so on.

Notice, for example, how jealousy answers these questions.

Who is God?

“He is someone who should give me what I want.”

Who am I?

“I deserve better—better looks, better athletic ability, a better boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“I am a judge who is authorized to stand over others.”

Who are these other people?

“They are below me. They have things that I deserve more than them.”

 

Sadness or depression? Listen and you will hear their answers too.

Who is God?

  • “He is far away and doesn’t care.”
  • “He is someone who didn’t give me what I wanted.”
  • “He could never forgive me for what I have done.”

Who am I?

  • “I am nothing, literally nothing. It isn’t that I am trash; I am just nothing.”
  • “I am needy, and I haven’t gotten what I need.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “I am God. I deserved something and I didn’t get it.”

Who are these other people?

  • “They are my life. I put my hope in them, and they let me down.”
  • “They don’t care, so I am trying not to care about them, but it isn’t working.”
  • “They can’t be trusted.”

You can see what’s happening. You already have answers to these questions. You just have to uncover them. You might know some right answers, such as “I am a child of God.” But our hearts are complicated. The right answer is rarely your only answer. Instead, you usually have at least two sets of answers: those that are “right,” and those that actually guide the way you live. To discover your real answers to these questions, watch how you live. In particular, track your emotions. Look for what makes you upset, depressed, angry, and anxious, or what makes you happy, calm, excited, and peaceful.

Once you settle into one of your less comfortable moods, who do you say God really is?

  • Angry
  • Far away and not aware of what you are doing in secret
  • Far away and uncaring about what is bothering you
  • Picky
  • Unfair

What about other people? Who are they?

  • Objects you manipulate so that they serve you
  • Protectors
  • Threats
  • Jerks
  • Things that can make you feel really good or really bad
  • Idols that you worship

And you? Who are you? Try to capture your view of yourself with a picture. If the picture is “child of God” don’t stop there. Find some others.

  • I am alone, living behind thick walls. I can see out, and everyone else looks normal, but I am isolated.
  • I am a leper who has to live with other lepers far away from everyone else.
  • I am the black sheep—unwanted, standing out in a bad way and not fitting in.
  • I feel like a baby bird, vulnerable, needy, waiting to be pushed out of the nest.
  • I am a piece of a puzzle, happy to fit in but not stand out.

Any you would add?

When it comes to being controlled by the opinions of others—the fear of man—there is one image that fits most of us: a vessel, cup, bowl, or some kind of container. Listen for words such as need, want, and empty. They hint that we want to be filled with something that only other people can give us. Ever feel empty?

Any thoughts on what you think would fill you?

Picture a cup, something like the animated walking teacups of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There is already something in it; call it self-esteem for now. Some people have more, some less, but no one feels like they have much. You waddle around, hoping that no one bumps you so hard that everything spills out. You also hope that someone close by is in the shape of a pitcher so you can be filled.

What would cause a spill?

  • “Loser!”
  • “We decided not to hire you.”
  • “We regret to inform you that you weren’t accepted to . . .”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?!”

What would fill you up?

  • “Nice outfit.”
  • “Awesome game!”
  • “Good job.”
  • “I love you.”

“I love you” fills you up best. Sometimes it is enough to hear it from a parent. More often, parents can’t fill you with their words of affection, though they certainly can cause you to spill all over the place with words of rejection. The job of filling you is usually reserved for your peers. Get an “I love you,” or even an “I really like you,” from the right person, and life is wonderful. You feel great. Full. Who cares if someone bumps into you? “I love you” is high-octane fuel for your self-esteem.

If you don’t get filled, bad things happen. You wander around with a case of the blues, though you might not even realize it. Some people try to fill themselves with other things: achievements, sex, drugs, music, video games, Internet porn, and fantasy. But none of it really works. Even if you receive love it doesn’t work for too long. It is like a drug that fills you for awhile—about an hour or so—and then you need more. And there will be days when you feel so bad that even “I love you” won’t make any difference. Either your cup has a leak in it, or you weren’t intended to live like a cup. Which one do you think it is? (Both answers are correct, so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong answer.)

Do you have any ideas why life as a love cup doesn’t work?

There is nothing wrong with wanting love. It would be positively inhuman not to want it. The problem comes when we desire it too much—when our desire for love becomes the center of life—which, when you think about it, makes us the center of our own lives. The problem is when we want to be loved more than we want to love. If only life could be a little bit less about us.

Then it gets worse. When we live as love cups, we will get hurt. There is no doubt about that. We can never get filled enough. When the hurts pile up, we feel ashamed and protect ourselves. We hide behind masks. You can’t let others see you or really know you. You try to spruce up your facade with grades, thinness, or some other accomplishment, but you never feel covered up enough. When other people are staring, it’s as if they can see through the mask. So you move on to something less revealing—if masks won’t work maybe walls will. But walls have problems of their own. Have you ever experienced the transition from love cup (or approval cup or success cup or . . .) to mask to walls? We all have, so what was it like for you?

What masks do you wear the most?

  • Intelligence
  • Athletics
  • Popularity
  • Creativity, being different

One problem with masks and walls is that, though their purpose is to protect you from hurt, they hurt you even more because they don’t allow relationships. You can’t have a deeper relationship if you won’t allow yourself to be known. All this leads to a dead end: if you allow people to know you, you get hurt; if you protect yourself from people, you get hurt. It ends in misery. But there is another way. This better way allows us to be open and honest and part of a community where we don’t have to put up self-defensive walls. Ever been there? Have you ever had the pleasure of being open with another person?

Think about it. What’s better than having relationships that let you be yourself? If you have ever experienced that, be sure to thank those people.[1]

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[1] Welch, E. T. (2011). What do you think of me? why do i care? answers to the big questions of life. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

The Timeless Quality of BIBLICAL PARENTING

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

SOURCE:  Ed Welch

Yes, that’s what you might overhear among mental health professionals.

The self-esteem revolution is officially over. The writing was on the wall when Baumeister identified that violent prisoners did not suffer from low self-esteem, rather they suffered from egoism. They thought too highly of themselves. As a result they had to seek revenge when someone showed them a hint of disrespect.1

Now it is stylish to bash our decades-long infatuation with self-esteem. Helicopter parenting, extreme parenting, parents who rebuke teachers for giving a B to their 3rd grader, parents who need their children to be happy and successful and will do anything to make them that way, teachers who embrace “different learning styles” to shield a 7th grader from the simple fact that he isn’t that great at math, parents who try to protect their children from all hurt and failure, and little league coaches who give life-sized trophies to every five-year-old—they are now being told to let the kids cry and let them learn how to deal with hard things. If there aren’t hard things in their lives, then feel free to impose some hardship.

And, for crying out loud, stop trying to make your kids feel so special and learn how to say “no”! It’s time for them to earn their stripes.2

Perhaps the next decade will be filled with “Tots week with Bear Grylls,” cold showers in every locker room, and drill sergeants in elementary school classrooms.

Indeed, as Ecclesiastes says, nothing is new under the sun. It isn’t only the nutritionists who change their tune every five years. Pop psychology does the same.

The reality is that not every kid can be President. Kids are like the rest of us. We are good at some things, bad at others, and average at most. Wise people consider their strengths and weaknesses, and have sought the help of their critics so they don’t indulge in wishful thinking.

“An accurate self-image.” That’s what I remember John Bettler3  teaching almost thirty years ago. Not an inflated self-image, not a low-self image, but an accurate one. It sounded like heresy then. Now it is mainstream! And though John’s teaching was wise, he wasn’t ahead of his time, he was just thinking biblically about this topic. There is a timeless quality to that.

In other words, expect your biblical thinking about morality and human nature to have two distinctives: (1) parts of it will be ridiculed because it will be out of synch with popular thinking, and (2) parts of it will be received as ordinary wisdom that has broad, popular appeal (there are facets of God’s wisdom that are available to the naked eye). And—if you wait long enough—what was once ridiculed will often become ordinary.

What does this mean for parents? If you never really signed on with the self-esteem movement, then it means nothing. If, however, your parenting philosophy is that your children must always be happy, they have unlimited potential, they could be great at everything if it weren’t for that pesky algebra teacher and tennis coach, both of whom are blind to real talent, and your children live in a world where life is about them, then now is a good time to recalibrate your understanding of discipleship.

But you certainly can pay attention to your kids’ feelings.

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Baumeister, Bushman and Campbell, “Self-esteem, narcissism and aggression: Does violence result from low self-esteem or threatened egoism?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol.7, no.1, Feb 2000, pp.26-29.

2 E.g., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel; “How the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids,” by Lori Gottlieb, The Altlantic Monthly, July/August 2011); and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

3 John Bettler was a co-founder of CCEF and Executive Director for more than 20 years.

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Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology

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