Self-esteem is such a dicey thing.
When you’re a child, most of your self-esteem comes from your parents and how they treat you. If your parents are kind and loving, you come to believe that you are deserving of love, deeply worthy of time and attention, and that your potential is unknown and therefore you are capable of almost anything! Sadly, if your parents are unkind and unloving or unavailable, you learn the exact opposite: that you are unlovable, unworthy, and your potential is meaningless.
I was blessed with loving and kind parents and I came away from my childhood deeply aware of my own lovability, worthiness, and potential.
As a teenager, you start putting more faith and weight into the words of others, and your parent’s opinion of you comes to mean less and less. This is why the teen years can be such damaging years. It doesn’t matter if you are utterly geeky or unbelievably popular, there is always someone in your peer group who is glad to tell you how worthless, stupid, and disgusting that you are. It’s during our teen years that we learn to hide ourselves lest we become open to criticism and character assassination. Some of us discovered that no matter how much we hid, that we become the target of people whose need for power and attention drove their need to belittle and harass others, and we become the target of bullies. That’ll kill your self-esteem for sure.
If you aren’t careful, you can come out of your teen years with no self-esteem left at all, believing that you are utterly worthless with nothing to offer and no one who cares enough to challenge your self-evaluation.
It can take years to stop believing in the opinions of others and regain your self-esteem.
I spent plenty of years learning to care less about what other people thought of me and more about what I thought of myself. I learned to ask myself crucial questions: Would I trust me if I was my own friend? Am I honest? Am I genuine and kind? If I met myself coming down the street would I want to be my own friend? If I met myself and took an hour to talk to me, would I respect me when it was over?
These questions changed me and how I behaved, because I could no longer betray myself in the interest of getting other people to like me better. With only myself and my God to judge me, I became less beholden to the opinions of others and more free to be authentic in all my interactions.
This whole experience led me to share what I learned with my clients. I tell them to be themselves all the time, no matter what anyone else is doing, because at the end of the day there is only yourself, the mirror, and your God to evaluate you. God will always love you, but…if you met yourself coming down the street, would you want to be your own friend? Would you respect you? Would you trust you?
Sometimes it is painful to discover how little respect people have for themselves, how untrustworthy they feel they are, and how disgusted they are at the thought of being their own friend. It breaks my heart.
Over time you learn not to believe what other people think about you because of the damage it can do. You learn to create your own self-esteem lest you find yourself at the mercy of others who don’t care how their opinions take you apart and render you worthless.
But what do you do when what other people think of you…is amazing?
This week I led a two-day meeting that was supposed to be led by a friend of mine. It was a last-minute change brought on by a severe illness that he could not control. He was so sick that I wasn’t even able to get direction from him; I couldn’t call him and ask me what he wanted me to do.
In my own evaluation of me, I was irritable, exhausted, freaked-out and barely functioning.
That’s not the feedback I got.
Certainly people sensed how taxed and exhausted I was. Many of them asked if I was okay and I was honest with them: I was so anxious that I wasn’t sleeping well at all. No sleep leads me to be cranky and brainless. I admitted that I was overwhelmed. Why lie? It’s not like they couldn’t see it on my face.
But still…when all was said and done, the praise was effusive and more than kind. After the meeting was over I led a training that ended with even more praise and kind words.
I was stunned and didn’t quite know what to think.
What do you do when you discover that others think you are better than who you think you are? Do you believe them? Do you disagree with them openly and tell them that they are wrong? Do you secretly discount their opinions and ignore what they say?
My daughter is in a 12-step group where they teach that “what others think of you is none of your business.” It can be daunting to live by the opinions of others, and when you have no self-esteem you can find yourself seeking the approval of everyone, yanked hither and yon as you try to please each and every person that matters. I get that. I have it in me to be a people-pleaser, and it has taken years for me to get comfortable with people who are angry with me or people who think I have failed. I still beat myself up when I have genuinely failed another person because I have trouble forgiving myself for being human. I am still growing as a person and I hope that by the time I am 60 years old, I will have mastered the art of forgiving myself after I genuinely disappoint someone else. You think that I’d be disgusted with myself for still being this sensitive after 52 years on the earth, but the idea of still growing as a person as I move through my sixth decade of life is actually an exciting thing for me, so hey…I guess I’ve got to be failing somewhere or I’d have nowhere left to grow.
The funny thing is that I struggle with praise almost more than I struggle with criticism. When others criticize my failures, I find myself agreeing with them most of the time. It’s not like I don’t know where I have failed. But when they praise me, I feel…
There. I said it. When other’s praise me, I am terrified that I am not who they think I am. I fear that I am much less than they say I am; I fear that they will trust in my skill and my fidelity and that I will fail them terribly.
I guess that’s because I’ve had people trust me before and I’ve failed them so badly. I can tell you each and every person I’ve failed because I never let myself forget. NO…I’m not saying that I don’t forgive myself for being frail and human and incapable. I just try to remember where my weak points are and how I have failed others in the past, because the past is a great predictor of the future, and I want to do so much better next time.
So why does praise terrify me so much? Honestly, I don’t know.
I could say that it’s fear of failure or an acute awareness of my own frailties. Maybe I still don’t have enough self-esteem, but honestly, I doubt that. I know what I’m worth, and I know what I am good at.
I think the truth is that I struggle to accept how much impact I have on the lives of others. It’s so much easier to believe that I could fall off the face of the earth and only the people who love me would notice.
I think I struggle to trust in my own worth because my creation is much more magnificent than I can understand, and my potential is so much greater than I am willing to believe.
I truly believe that God created each of us with the seed of greatness already planted inside of us. I guess that I just want to believe that my seed is smaller than yours and therefore so much less meaningful then yours. It’s easier for me to see what you are worth and why you have that worth than to actually step back from myself and admit that I have the ability to do great things over and over and maybe even the ability to make a difference.
I think that I struggle…just like everyone else does…with what I’m capable of, and I mean that in all the best ways. And so I’ve come to believe that everyone struggles with praise and positive feedback the way that I do.
I think we struggle with the image of Jesus within us because we think we cannot possibly be that kind, loving, and self-giving. We like to forget that Jesus was also irritable, occasionally wrong, and short tempered. Lest you not believe me, let me remind you that Jesus went a little off the hook, braided a whip out of cords (wow that’s so loving!!) and then turned over tables, screamed, yelled, and beat people while he chased the money changers out of the temples. Do something like that in the food court at the mall and you WILL get arrested no matter how much you talk about zeal for your Father’s house. You can zeal all you want and you’re still going to end up in the back of a patrol car. Jesus may have been sinless, but perfect in all things? Not so much.
My point is that we think we are so NOT like Jesus, so not loving, and not patient, and in the end, not capable.
You have been created in the image of God Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth. Jesus Christ dwells within you and guides you with His wisdom. The Holy Spirit fills you and produces fruit like love, patience, kindness, and humility deep within you when you aren’t looking. Don’t be surprised when other’s see the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing in you before you can see it in yourself.
Give your life over the One who created you and you will discover that your potential is limitless. Your worth is beyond measure. Everything you are is all that God intended you to be and nothing about you is a mistake.
Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you…and believe them. Not because I want you to become a people-pleaser, fearful of angering those whose approval you seek, but because there is no way to step outside yourself and objectively see all that you have become in the Father’s hands.
Maybe it’s time to start listening to what other people say about you so that you will understand just what good you are capable of, what potential the Lord has given you, and the exact ways that you reflect the image of God. You have an impact on others and you should know what it is. Let them tell you.
What other people think about you still isn’t your business, but it might be your resume.