By Barney Armstrong, MA, LMHC
Part 2 of a 2-Part Series
In my previous article entitled Overcoming Social Anxiety: A Christian Counselor’s Magic Bullet, I discussed social anxiety and gave an example of how someone who suffers from it was able to take steps to overcome his anxiety. In this article, I look at how low self-esteem functions in a social context and give an example of someone who sought to overcome it. I also look at the origins of both social anxiety and low self-esteem.
Where Does Low Self-Esteem Come From?Perhaps when you were a child you were told that you were going to be president someday, or that you could do anything, or that there was something better about you just because of your “superior” DNA. When superiority failed to materialize, you fell short of the minimal expectations of the credible authorities in your life. The only solution was for you to downgrade others, to set them at naught, put them down, and discount them. But as you “judged others” in this way it also became your judgment. Consider one of Jesus’ one-liners that we have not paid much attention to: The way you judge others is the way in which you will be judged (see Matthew 7:1-2). This became the source of your low self-esteem and/or your constant need for validation.
Ironically, the same scenario is acted out if a child is given the opposite and is dismissed, downgraded, or discouraged with negative evaluations. If that happened to you, you may have developed defenses such as, “Oh yeah, well, who cares? That’s crummy anyway, who wants to do that? I don’t care.” If that was you, you used your low self-esteem as a defense and amplified it.
What is the solution to this dilemma? The solution is to turn it totally around.
Tim was the perfect example of the above. His two older siblings were achievers in every way and he received no validation from them. He was not included in their small circle of acclaim, either socially or academically, and his parents went along with this.
Our natural tendency in this situation is to diminish others. If we don’t have acclaim, then we feel that we must withhold it from others – if we are not high enough, we must make others lower. We do just the opposite of what Jesus said – instead of giving what we want, we withhold what we want. We feel that we have too little and that if we give some away we will have even less.
But Tim has a new frontier for when he is with people socially, and even more so at work. He now ventures out, although no one sees this happening in his heart. He is actively giving high regard to others and valuing them in their endeavors and efforts. Instead of withholding acclaim, he is giving validation wherever he sees anything commendable.
Giving From the Little You Have
This does not come naturally to us, which is why it is not just a formula. It takes faith – faith in Jesus’ words and in God’s action in whatever form that might take. It comes by His Spirit changing us, by providential supply, and by new situations and relationships that arise.
As you consider giving a bit of the paltry thing that you lack, and that you most want, read the story of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:9-16. She had a smidgeon of meal and oil left as there was a drought and a famine in progress. She was about to make a cake to eat with her son and then die of starvation with him. Elijah asked her to make a little cake from it first and to give it to him. “You’ve got to be kidding! Poor, poor me – I’ve got virtually nothing and you want some of it?” But her act of faith was to give out of her lack. She and her son (and Elijah) never lacked meal or oil from then on.
So Tim is giving what little he has. Until this point, he had been hoarding it and starving. But what you discover by doing this is that no one understands as well, or is more able to give, than you are. Tim knows more about high regard and valuing others’ efforts than anyone else. Frank understands being liked better than most people because he has experienced its absence. If you have ever fasted for very long, you will have gained a whole new appreciation for even the most mundane of foods. (Proverbs 27:7) A thirsty man thinks very highly of plain, simple water.
The God of Inverses
God is glorified in the inverses He works in our lives – the stingy become generous, the starving widow becomes a giver, Tim and Frank become the source for others of what they themselves had so lacked.
Christian Counseling to Overcome Low Self-Esteem
Do you need some inverses in your life? You may need a little help to identify them as we naturally tend to avoid recognizing them. Consider speaking to a Christian counselor who can provide a safe face and a safe place that may help you to uncover gems in what has always been gravel to you.
“All The Young Dudes,” courtesy of Garry Knight, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Give us this day . . .” couresty of Kris, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)
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