This post is largely in response to a comment left by Beth on my previous post. But it is one that I have been planning to write for some time now. So thanks for the prompt, Beth! 🙂
As part of a course I have taught a number of times over the past few years, I came up with a way of expressing what I have called “An Alternative to the Usual Understanding of ‘Self-Esteem’.” Here is the basic structure of the argument that I present:
The term “Self-Esteem” is usually used in our culture to mean having a high opinion of oneself. It is often used synonymously with the term “self-love.” It is not uncommon to hear people say of someone who has a low opinion of himself that he has no self-esteem.
But the word “esteem” is a cognate form of the word estimation. “Self-esteem,” then, may be seen as an estimation or estimate of the self. Thus defined, self-esteem is something that everyone has, whether it be high, low or whatever.
Thus, in esteeming myself, the goal should be neither deprecation nor agrandization—but rather accuracy. If I am a god, then I should see myself as a god. If I am a worm, then I should see myself as a worm. (Notice how this immediately implies an objective standard of measure to which I must conform my self-image.)
So an accurate estimation of myself means seeing myself:
• As the unique and purposeful creation of God.
• As a sinner in need of God’s grace.
• As the object of God’s love – someone for whom Christ died.
• As neither more nor less important to God than any other human being.
• As someone God can use.
• As someone who is accountable to my Creator for the gifts and opportunities He has given me.
The last point is important, because it reminds me that I have work to do and that I do not have time to waste in the dungeon of self-loathing. (That, of course, is not always sufficient to prevent me from doing just that; but it is a crucial catalyst for getting me out sooner than would happen otherwise.)
All of this is quite different from the world’s blathering claptrap about “self-esteem,” which is not only wrongly defined, but unfoundedly assigned. We are told that we are supposed to love ourselves and believe in ourselves. And that, to me, just sounds like the Genesis 3 serpent all over again.
Personally, I am of the opinion that the term “self-esteem” is irretrievably compromised. I say, let the world have it to use for their insipid and hollow psychology of the self. I would like to see Christian psychologists and counselors stop using it and, instead, speak of something like a “BSI” for “Biblical Self Image.”