Too Much Self, Not Enough God

I just went back and read my first two posts on this subject, and I think I may not have as much left to say as I thought I did. There’s been a little feedback, but not nearly as much as I’d like. What are you all thinking, so far?  Agree?  Disagree?  I’d love to hear from you.

If you are a person who feels you have low self-esteem, I’d like to offer you a challenge.  Just for today, put aside your concerns about what people think of you.  Disallow the worried thoughts of what people are saying about you. Don’t concern yourself with whether or not others think you’re a cool person.  Instead of focusing on what others think of you, discipline yourself to focus on how you treat others. Look around you and see if there is someone else who is walking with shoulders bowed and head hanging down.  Offer help to someone who is struggling. Offer a smile, if that’s all you have.  Offer a word of encouragement.  Tell a friend who is wounded and grieving over something that you love her, that you’re praying for her.

Just for today, center your thinking outside of your own stuff and focus instead on the needs of others.  While you are doing that, you will not be worrying about your self-esteem.  I want to point out again that we are all born with an over-abundance of self-esteem.  To love our neighbors as we love ourselves is a pretty telling commandment, isn’t it?  The assumption is that we DO love ourselves.  Self-love is not the problem.

You may ask, “But what about people who hurt themselves?  Aren’t they acting out on a lack of self-esteem?  People who have anorexia, people who cut themselves; people who are addicts, people who attempt suicide, aren’t they suffering from a lack of self-esteem?”

That’s really a pretty good question.  Counseling people with addictions is a very difficult field of work, and not my particular specialty.  However, there are counselors in my office who do a lot of addictions counseling.  What they tell me is that an addict  becomes an addict for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it’s the reaction to early childhood sexual abuse. That’s a very complicated situation, and one I may dig into next–not sure yet. Sometimes addiction develops over time simply because of experimenting with drugs and alcohol at an early age.  There are other scenarios.

The one common thread, in my understanding, is a desire to escape to a world of no worries. Even cutting is an attempt to feel better about one’s situation and one’s self.  Cutting, I understand, causes an endorphin rush and relieves the inner emotional pain and turmoil the victim feels. It’s all, as I said, very complicated.

But what about that desire to escape into a pain-free existence?

Believe me, if I could do so without using some substance or behavior to do so, I would!  For more years than I care to number, I have experienced daily, chronic pain. In my early thirties, I was told I had rheumatoid arthritis.  Later, in my mid-forties, I was told instead that I have fibromyalgia. At this point, it doesn’t much matter what it is.  I just know daily pain, daily discomfort. Sleeping is the most difficult thing for me, because I wake up from the ache of being in one position too long.

I’m not whining here.  I’ve learned to accept it and live with it, and I don’t usually talk about it much.  It’s very boring to others to listen to my list of complaints.  I’ve also learned some things that are non-medication techniques to bring some relief.  The best help is low-impact, graduated exercise.  Walking.  Stretching.  And right now, I’m learning Zumba.  Great fun, good exercise, and low-impact movement. You don’t have to resort to drugs, alcohol, or self-harm to get relief.

I’ll tell you one thing that takes my mind off myself:  The work I do three days each week.  It focuses me on the difficulties others experience, and I promise you that I’d rather carry my own bag of bricks than trade it for anyone else’s. The really cool thing about my work is that as I focus on how I can help my client, I’m also focusing on the Word of God–and that’s really where the answer lies to this whole question.

I found this graphic in my search for a way to illustrate today’s blog:

A very apt illustration of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

We need to get over ourselves.  We need to quit worrying about the secular humanistic ideal of self-esteem.  We need to concern ourselves with working out our faith in serving others, and thereby honoring and serving God.

When our focus is always on how we feel, we’re going to feel lousy.  We’re going to feel that others don’t appreciate us; that we’re not getting the recognition we deserve; that no one understands what we’re going through or how important we really are.

When our focus is outward and upward, we’re going to feel a lot better about ourselves. Try it.  You’ll like it.

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Self (esteem)(confidence)(aggrandizement)(centered). . . . .

Note:  I’m bumping this up to the top because the topic keeps coming up.  I first published this on February 22 of this year. You can scroll back in the archives to March 1 for the second post on self-esteem.)

Remember this little ditty?

I love myself. I think I’m grand.

When I go to movies, I hold my hand.

I put my arm around my waist,

And when I get fresh, I slap my face

And this: I am the greatest I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was

Which of the four words in parentheses in the title would you choose as an attractive trait? An acceptable  attitude toward life?  As being biblically sound?

Let’s take a look.  I can think of only one verse in the Bible in which the words self and esteem both appear, either in its hyphenated form (self-esteem) or separately. Philippians 2:3. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than  themselves.”  This directive is certainly  the opposite of what we are taught by the purple dinosaur or even the very kindly Mr. Rodgers.  The philosophy there is that we are wonderful just the way we are; that we don’t need to change a thing, and we deserve to be loved by one and all. The unavoidable outcome of self-esteem is that we have no concept of humility, of putting others before ourselves.  Instead, we grow up believing we are the best and should always be first.

Talk to CEO’s of large companies; ask them what kinds of application letters they get from newly minted professional graduates.  You will find that 21-year-old grads these days are letting their prospective employers know that the company would be privileged if the newbie condescended to come on board, and that they were waiting to negotiate with said company for the pay level,  benefits, and corner office on the top floor that was their proper due.

No, self-esteem isn’t an especially good concept. Obviously, neither are self-aggrandizement  nor self-centeredness.  Self-aggrandizement?  What is that?  Simple.  “It’s all about ME, all the time!  I am the most important; everyone loves me and approves of me and I will make sure to tell you so; everything I do should make the front page of the New York Time and be reported on all the major news programs. I am the best, the greatest, the most wonderfully gifted person you’ll ever have the privilege to meet.”

Would you like to go do lunch with that person?  No, I didn’t think so. He really just needs to get over himself.

We all know people who are self-centered.  They usually aren’t very happy, because no one else seems to recognize how special they are.

We are left, then with self-confidence.  Attractive?  You bet. Good attitude toward life?  Indeed.  Biblically sound?  Absolutely.  But what’s the difference between that and self-esteem?

If you look at the words themselves, there really isn’t a lot of difference.  But if you examine how self-esteem has been presented; if you look at the deterioration of morality, honesty, just plain godliness in our society, you will begin to understand how damaging it has been.

Along with the proliferation of self-esteem manuals, self-help books, classes, etc., there has also been a proliferation of a turning away from standards of moral behavior taught in the Bible.  Why? Well, they go together.  Self-esteem teaches us that we are wonderful and have no need of improvement.  If that is so, then nothing is really forbidden to me if I want it. Because self-esteem creates an attitude of entitlement, nothing can be kept from me that I want. So if I want, for instance, to live with my boyfriend/girlfriend without benefit of marriage, there’s really nothing wrong with that because I want it, so it’s okay. People who think it’s wrong are just stuck in old-fashioned standards that don’t apply to me. They need to mind their own business.

If a grandfather  wants to use his three-year-old granddaughter for his own sexual satisfaction, who is to say it’s sinful?  Who is to say it’s wrong?  He wants it, and he should have it.  He’s wonderful just the way he is.  And if, in the process, he creates appetites in the child that would not normally be there until much later in her life, well, that’s okay too.

I once read a case history in which a father stated that it was his right and his privilege to introduce his daughters to sex and sexuality.

That kind of thinking comes not only from a sinful heart, but from having way too much self-esteem ,  However, in a society  that holds each person’s desires to be right for him, there really is no such thing as sin.  Poor choices, maybe, if it hurts someone else, but not sin.  After all, no one else has any right to judge me.

Okay.  Ranting. Back to business.

Self-confidence is biblically acceptable?  Sure.  Let me give you some examples.

Philippian 4:13.”I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.”

Psalm 139:14. “I will praise Thee: for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”

Ephesians 2:10. “For we are His workmanship (masterpiece, work of art; poema,in the Greek), created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

I could go on and on, but you can see clearly here that we are not to think poorly of ourselves.  In fact, when Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is to love others as we love ourselves, it is implicit that He knows it is our nature to take pretty good care of ourselves. In Ephesians 5, men are told to love their wives as they love their own bodies, nourishing and caring for their wives as tenderly as they care for themselves. No lack of self-esteem there!

Well.  I just scrolled back up to the top and realized how long this has become. Can you tell that it’s a real soapbox issue with me?

More next week.

Friday Counseling Issue: Self-esteem

I can’t tell you how many people come into my office to tell me they have “issues with self-esteem.” They then go on to tell me they aren’t good enough, always feel put down, always fail, never have friends, everybody always ignores them, no one wants to talk with them, they’re never going to succeed.

So the first thing I notice is that they use a lot of 100% words, leaving no room for any possible change or improvement.

The second thing that is very clear, but always shocks these  sad people, is who the center of their own attention is.  Do you have it figured out yet?  Where is their focus? Who are they worried about?  Who is it that occupies their thoughts and, therefore, their emotions and behaviors?

Got it yet?

If you entertained these miserable, negative thoughts all day every day, you’d end up miserable and negative, right?  So one of the first things I have to do is help these clients get over themselves.

Before I follow that train of thought, I want to talk about the origins of the whole self-esteem idea.

For many decades, psychologists and other mental health professionals have touted the idea that if people just felt better about themselves, the problems in society would practically disappear.  The obvious vehicle to encourage self-esteem has been the public school system.  Self-esteem has been incorporated into the curricula of schools across the country.  Teachers were encouraged, and in some cases mandated, to give awards to every child so that no one left the classroom feeling bad.  Candy and other treats began to be distributed as rewards; for children who could not excel academically, awards were given for all manner of things including neatness, perfect attendance, being polite, remembering homework, and so on. No child left behind, right?

And this flood of approval on all children all the time was going to fix problems like teen pregnancy, abortion, and early sexual behaviors (while, of course, kids in elementary school were being taught how to put on condoms and where to get The Pill.) It was going to improve statistics on smoking, drinking, crazy driving, violence, theft, drug use, rebellion–certainly, Utopia was just around the corner.

Here’s a study that talks about the results of the self-esteem mania:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-01-15/local/35440671_1_praise-esteem-academic-standards

Bottom line, it hasn’t lived up to its expectations.  It’s true that teen pregnancies resulting in delivery of healthy babies are down; that’s probably because abortion is up.  It’s not true that high self-esteem programs have kept kids from premature sexual experiences.  Everything else they see and hear in our society promotes sex, so why shouldn’t they give it a try?  Kids of 14 or 15 come into my office and talk to me about whether they are straight, bi, or gay.  Younger kids don’t because I won’t see kids under 14.  They’re talking about it too, from the things my co-workers tell me.

I usually ask these poor youngsters why it matters.  Are they planning to get into a sexual relationship, so they need to know RIGHT NOW what their orientation is?  Well, no, but. . . .well, everybody talks about it, that’s all.  But I digress.

Teen smoking, drug use, violence, gang activity, theft–anything else you can think of?  Still exists.  It’s not Utopia quite yet.

What the self-esteem movement has actually done is to present us with a population of teens, twenties, and thirties–and older–who have a huge sense of entitlement. “If I want it, I should have it.  If you won’t give it to me, I’ll take it.  If you have it, you have to share it with me.  I’ll make sure you do. The government says I deserve it, so hand it over.”

And yes, you’re right.  I can already hear your arguments.  There are plenty of parents who are doing the job right in spite of having their power curtailed by government at so many levels; there are lots of really good kids out there.  They’re not the ones I’m talking about.

You can plan on seeing more of this topic for some time.  Once I started writing, I realized I have a LOT to say 🙂

Ponderings

So.  It’s been a busy workweek, leaving me no time to post.  Tomorrow I should be able to get back to Thessalonians.  In the meantime, I have a little free  time, but this afternoon I have a session I’m really not looking forward to.  I have to be a “good counselor” and listen patiently, when what I really want to do is grab this poor unfortunate soul by the cheeks, make him look at me, shut up, and listen!  I really don’t care how he feels about much of anything, because his emotions are all centered on himself.  That kind of focus will surely lead to depression and other miseries, which he will then blame on all the people around him who don’t understand (read “agree with”) how he feels about the way he’s being treated.  Which, by the way, is with a great deal more patience and forbearance than he would get if he lived in my house!

So I’ve been thinking about what this young man really needs to hear.  This is my list:

1.  No one died and made you the sheriff of the whole world.

2.  No, the universe does NOT revolve around you.

3.  You need, more than anything, to just get over yourself.

4.  You need to apologize to your family for what you’re putting them through with your obsession with yourself, your feelings, your desires, and what you consider to be your rights.

5.  No, an iPhone is NOT a right.  It is a privilege.  You lost it because of your 3D personality.

6.  What’s 3D personality?  Disobedient, Disrespectful, Dishonest.  These behaviors come packaged together, with a neat little Buy One Get Two Free label.

Parents, I wish I could speak with every one of you because if you have one of these entitled, self-important people living in your house, you need to understand that we do indeed teach people how to treat us. They behave the way they do because it works for them.  Parents have given up their power to try to appease these little ghouls who feed off the guilt and psychobabble that parents have absorbed in their efforts to make sure the child is never unhappy.  These kids can’t ever hear “NO!”  or they may feel bad about themselves.

I wish more of them DID feel bad about themselves, because they ARE bad!  We’re so messed up in this ridiculous child-centered society.  Don’t you understand that you never have to teach a child to be selfish, throw a tantrum, lie, or be otherwise horrible?  They already know how to do all those things.  Our job is to teach them to think of others, to control their angst, to behave with courtesy and respect to the other members of their families.  These are traits we all admire, but we seem to feel helpless to demand them from our kids.  We work our fingers to the bone to provide them with everything they think they need, and then when they turn on us and snarl and snap, we’re just shocked and hurt.  After all, look at all we’ve done for them!

The problem is, we’ve missed the boat. Instead of training their character to be upright, outwardly focused, and godly we’ve taught them that they deserve anything they want, and that parents are a temporary inconvenience they have to put up with until they can leave the nest and REALLY start to live.  And do you know what happens when these benighted youngsters do leave?  Yup, you got it–they come back.  They come back because the boss didn’t appreciate how valuable they were, and now they don’t have a paycheck.  Or they come back because the school they attend expected them to actually DO something about getting their grades, and they just can’t tolerate having anything expected of them.

Yes, I understand that in today’s economy they may have no other place to go, blahblahblah. But you know what?  If they didn’t have the safety net of mom and pop, whose lives become one long misery when Junior plops his laundry back in Mom’s lap, they’d figure out something else.  Maybe they’d go on the dole, which is a whole ‘nother topic for a rant.

Ok, I think I’m done for now.  Maybe I should have titled this post “Rant #2.”  I’m sure there will be more.