Breaking the curse of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is rooted in the anxiety of not feeling good enough. No one is born with low self-esteem. It is a self-debilitating condition developed from childhood as a result of feeling unappreciated, undermined or misunderstood by authority figures, mostly parents. When our spirits are crushed by those we look up to the most during a vulnerable age, we begin to question our value. Eventually, we find it hard to celebrate who God has made us to be. Our focus becomes our inadequacies rather than God’s saving grace. Low self-esteem and shame often go hand in hand.
Psalm 139:13-15 ESV For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Some level of anxiety is normal in life but low self-esteem turns our anxieties into a chronic, debilitating, all-consuming whispering monster.
Those who suffer from low self-esteem tend to be hyper-vigilant about any (real or perceived) sign of inadequacy or social rejection. Comments are perceived as critical when they are not, failures are magnified when they are just part of life, and simple gestures can be taken as personal rebuffs.
Our minds are preoccupied with our shortcomings and failures, and we rarely feel truly comforted no matter how many reassurances we receive. There seems to be a critical inner voice that drowns out all other voices, including God’s Spirit.
Recognising signs of low self-esteem
There is no one standard profile of someone who suffers from low self-esteem. Different people respond differently. For example, they can come across as either:
- Accommodating: Highly helpful, self-effacing, always smiling and respectful
- Nervous: Shy, withdrawn, awkward
- Risk-averse: Insecure, cautious, and hyper-analytical
- Hostile: Arrogant, antagonistic, critical, and bullying
- Stuck: Indecisive, procrastinating, prone to quit easily
It can be hard to tell if someone suffers from low self-esteem by outward appearances alone. Only God knows what truly goes on in one’s heart. Here are some typical secret workings inside one’s heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 ESV … For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
Typical symptoms of a heart with low self-esteem
Critical inner voice
Compensating inner voice
“I’m not good enough.”
“I am stupid, incompetent.”
“I am ugly.”
“I am not worthy of love.”
“I am broken, dirty, and worthless.”
“No one truly loves me.”
“No matter how much I try, nothing is going to be good enough.”
“Why can’t I be ‘normal’ like everyone else?”
“I am doing great.”
“I will make all things perfect (to avoid criticism or failure).”
“At least I am better than that person.”
“I will work hard to prove my worth.”
“I will just sleep this over and forget everything.”
“I need to avoid such people or situations.”
God wants to heal us of our anxieties
Praise God that He knows everything that is hidden in our anxious hearts. He has great compassion for those of us who worry about not being good enough.
God calls us to cast all our anxieties on Him. This includes each and every anxious thought or feeling – past, present, chronic, or recurring. God will heal us when we ask Him to search our hearts and show what hidden ungodly roots we need to unplug.
1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Psalm 139:23-24 NIV Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
He will meet us exactly where we are, whether we are feeling ashamed, frustrated, grieved, hopeless, angry, or overwhelmed with ourselves. He knows all our frailties and will be gentle with us when we humble ourselves before Him.
Psalm 149:4 ESV For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
1 John 3:20 ESV …whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
Patterns of the critical inner voice
Humbling ourselves before God, however, can take some conscious effort on our part.
Our critical inner voice will stir up uncomfortable (but familiar) emotions that will resonate very closely with our anxious hearts and pull us in the opposite direction.
We will hear logical-sounding (but deceptive) “rationalisations” from this inner voice about why we should not turn to God. Here are some examples:
- “I made the same mistake again. I am so hopeless. I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. (I will reject God because I have rejected myself. I don’t see that God will keep extending forgiveness to me as long as I keep asking until I am delivered fully from my sins.)” | 1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- “I am not good enough for God. I need to “fix” myself before I ask God for anything (even though I have no real ability to change myself, only God’s Spirit can transform me).” | Psalm 51:10-12 ESV Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
- “This is not something I need to “bother” God about. I will evaluate myself and find a solution for myself. I just need to try harder on my own. (I won’t ask God for wisdom, even though He promises to be generous with wisdom, because I am too ashamed to.)” | James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
- “I don’t have enough faith to be a good son/daughter of God. I might as well give up (even though I can ask Him to help me overcome unbelief.)” | Mark 9:24 ESV Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
- “God will be angry with me (like my parents who were always angry.) God will reject me (like they did). I can’t go to Him with this issue.” | Psalm 34:17-20 ESV When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
- “Why did God make me this way? Why me? (I don’t know I can ask God to turn all that is broken in my life into something very good for His glory.)” | Genesis 50:20 NLT You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.
- “How can I go to God when I am sure to sin again? It is pointless for me. I am condemned (even though God does not condemn me, He wants to help and save me).” | John 3:17 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We may be convinced that we should just go with our familiar patterns, rather than turn to God. We may even falsely believe that God won’t help us because we are unworthy.
Eventually, our low self-esteem will lead us away from humbling ourselves before God and listening to His Spirit.
Galatians 5:17 ESV For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
The real accuser behind the critical inner voice
We may not realise that our critical inner voice, the one that keeps looping in our thoughts, is actually Satan’s accusing and deceptive voice.
God’s Word shows us that the devil accuses God’s children non-stop, day and night. It is the devil’s full-time “occupation.” (The name of Satan itself refers to “accuser” or “adversary.”) The devil will weave his lies into our anxious thoughts if we are not alert and sober-minded because we are being led astray by our emotions.
Revelation 12:9-10 ESV … Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth… the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
1 Peter 5:7-8 ESV casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Praise God that through Jesus, we can be set free from our accuser and from low self-esteem, if we obey God’s Word.
Romans 7:22-25 NLT I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…
Silencing the critical inner voice
Once we accept Jesus as our Saviour, something significant changes in our identity. We now belong to Jesus. We are no longer our own. Jesus has purchased us with His blood and deposits the Holy Spirit in our bodies.
Jesus has ultimate authority over all spiritual powers, including Satan. Because we share the same Holy Spirit that He was filled with when He walked on this earth, we too can pray with power in our Master’s authority. This is the incredible promise that God has prepared for us who believe in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Philippians 2:9-11 ESV Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Ephesians 1:18-20 NLT I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Therefore, just as Jesus silenced ungodly spirits, we can too in His name. All we need to do is silence the devil’s critical voice with a spoken command, “Satan, I command you to be silent in Jesus’ name.” We will notice that the accusations will cease, at least for a little while. (To be set free for good, we will need to go deeper into our hearts. More on this later in this post.)
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Luke 4:41 ESV And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ.
The reality is, Satan does not have the right to accuse any of Jesus’ possessions – unless we give the devil the grounds to. Where we have judged and condemned someone, Satan will come to judge and condemn us too.
Luke 6:32,35-37 ESV “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
Romans 8:1 ESV There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
It is important to note that it is not God who condemns us, it is Satan that does.
The Bible shows us that we need to resist the devil and submit our hearts before God for purification. God allows us to experience the critical inner voice because it actually points to “unfinished business” in our hearts. It is the very alarm bell that can set us on a path towards freedom, if we know how to recognise it.
James 4:7-8 NLT So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
Also, see When to agree or disagree with Satan.
Breaking our afflictions of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is like a mental disease that is passed from one generation to the next. It is not a condition we are born with.
Here are three common sources of this “infection.”
1. Cultural influences
Social rules, ethnic biases, and family expectations, usually supported by the media, school systems, or political propaganda, can place us under unnecessary pressures. We are told to conform to a type of body shape, a type of skin tone, a type of thinking, a type of belief system, a type of education, a type of job etc. Otherwise, we risk being openly shamed or ostracised “for our own good” or for the “good of society”.
Other times, our family’s standing may be looked down upon because we lack the money, status, or education that our society worships. We are left feeling like an outsider, unwanted and “defective.”
Our truth as believers: We follow a Saviour who was born to a woman who was pregnant when she got married (Matthew 1:24-25), who trained as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), and who lived in an area that other people looked down on (John 1:46). He had no home of his own and relied on other people’s goodwill for His ministry.
It has always been God’s plan to choose those who are despised by the world to bring down people’s high and lofty opinions of themselves. We may not have the material, physical, social or relationship status that people hold in high esteem, but we can outshine others by loving God and loving people exceptionally well. These are the two most important commandments in God’s eyes.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being[a] might boast in the presence of God.
Matthew 22:36-39 NIV “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by people but He was willing to humble Himself to care for and bear other people’s grief and sorrows. The Bible states that neither did he have an outstanding appearance. Yet He did not try to prove anything to anyone, He simply followed God’s will for Him and was eventually exalted to the highest place in heaven. Jesus lacked social status and worldly riches but His life transformed millions of other people’s.
Isaiah 53:2-4 NIV … He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Philippians 2:8-9 ESV And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
Also, see Jesus wasn’t macho.
BREAKING THE CURSE OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Here are some general guidelines on how to break the curse of adopted low self-esteem due to our nationality, ethnicity, or family.
2. Negative experiences in early childhood
A more pervasive root of low self-esteem are negative childhood experiences. We can have the highest status in society and still suffer from low self-esteem because of negative self-beliefs we have picked up as children. These are mainly:
- “I am not good enough.” – We failed to meet someone else’s unrealistic or unfair expectations of us as we were growing up. Perhaps there was favouritism at home. Instead of being given the freedom to nurture our God-given gifts, we are forced to submit to another human being’s constraining viewpoints, stress, and fears.
- “I am bad.” – We were harshly punished, abused, bullied or neglected growing up. Instead of experiencing kindness and guidance, we felt abandoned and isolated.
- “I am the odd one out.” – We were made to feel like we could not fit into the social norms around us.
- “I am not worth anyone’s time or attention.” – We did not receive appropriate and comforting nurturing, teaching, praise, encouragement, affection, or reassurance growing up.
Where there was no adult to soothe, comfort, and guide us, young children can feel forsaken and flawed. They may even begin to blame themselves for what happened.
Proverbs 12:18 ESV There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Our truth as believers: God has created every one of us for good works and equips us with specific spiritual gifts to accomplish them for His glory. Our low self-esteem tends to stem from our weaknesses, areas that may not even be relevant to God’s plan for us in the first place.
For example, God may want us to create beautiful artwork for His glory, but we were made to feel bad for doing poorly in sports or chemistry in school. One can say that neither is relevant to God’s will for us. However, we begin to develop anxiety and envy.
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
BREAKING THE CURSE OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Here are some general guidelines on how to break the curse of low self-esteem as a result of negative social experiences.
Also, see Inner vows must be revoked.
3. Parental pressures
People with low self-esteem will pass on their negative self-beliefs to their children. This can happen in a few ways.
- Passing down of negative beliefs: They may unwittingly repeat their negative self-beliefs onto us, such as “let people call you names”, “people just don’t like our family” or “you are useless.”
- Over-compensation: They may try to compensate for what they did not receive in childhood and impose their own desires on us so as to make themselves feel better. This is often subconscious. In the process, however, they subject us to undue pressures that make us feel inadequate. “Tiger mums” can fall into this category.
- Redirected stress: They may have released their anxieties and frustrations on to us, making us feel as if we are unworthy of love, protection, and respect.
- Withdrawal: They may have suffered from too many negative thoughts and withdrawn from parenting us. Children will not be able to understand this. Instead, we can begin to wonder if we have done something wrong to deserve this treatment.
- Neglect: Some parents can be too preoccupied with the world. They may be too engrossed with their mobile devices or away from home for long periods of time. Children may feel neglected, even if we are provided for materially. Emotional neglect will affect a child’s self-esteem.
Our truth as believers: Most parents truly try their best, but their own “infections” of low self-esteem will affect how they parent. Their words and actions are largely influenced by their own imperfect upbringings or societal pressures. No one taught them how to parent perfectly.
It is not uncommon to find that the way our family sees us is nothing like how God sees us. Take Gideon for example. As he was hiding out in a winepress, an angel appeared and addressed him as a “mighty warrior.” Gideon tried to reject this God-given identity and described himself as the least in a family from the weakest clan in Manasseh. God patiently guided Gideon to walk in his God-given identity, rather than his earthly one. When he followed God, Gideon became known eternally as a military leader, judge, and prophet. We too should all allow God to decide our destiny and legacy, rather than our family background.
Judges 6:11-12,15 ESV … Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
The good news is that when we turn our hearts to God, our only true perfect Father receives us as His own. God will attend to our emotional, mental, physical and material needs – if we choose to obey His will and walk in His righteousness. He will restore our hearts to experience His love, joy, and peace.
Matthew 23:9 ESV And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.
Psalm 27:10-11 ESV For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
BREAKING THE CURSE OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Here are some general guidelines on how to break the curse of low self-esteem as a result of parental wounds.
Some further clarifications about low self-esteem
We live in a sinful world that mocks, belittles, condemns, and judges (tear down) more often than we appreciate, forgive, encourage, apologise to one another (build up).
1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
We may have become so accustomed to the corrupted patterns of this world that we may think our low self-esteem is “normal.” We can even confuse our condition with low self-confidence, humility, or high self-awareness. Here are some important clarifications.
Low self-esteem vs. low self-confidence
Confidence is having the assurance of what we can do (skill) while esteem is the assurance of who we are (worth). It is possible to have strong confidence because we are very competent in something, and yet struggle with low self-esteem because we think we aren’t worthy of love and acceptance. Relying too much on our self-confidence can be a dangerous thing as it blinds us to God’s providence and enabling. We use our abilities to build up our self-worth to compensate for our low self-esteem.
Philippians 3:3,7 NLT We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.
Low self-esteem vs. high self-esteem
The opposite of low self-esteem is not healthy either. High self-esteem or egotism tends to make us think too highly of ourselves and also blinds us to God’s providence. Its symptoms are arrogance, narcissism, self-absorption, and self-entitlement. Ironically, high self-esteem can be an over-compensation for low self-esteem as well. It is often the root for spiritual pride and religiosity.
Romans 12:3 ESV For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Low self-esteem vs. humility
While low self-esteem is about thinking that we are never good enough, humility is about not thinking about ourselves first. Humility puts our own feelings, views, or desires aside to consider other people as more significant. False humility will pretend to consider others as more significant when in reality, we are more concerned about our own feelings than others’. Low self-esteem prevents us from being truly humble because our views tend to revolve around how we feel. Some symptoms of false humility include selfish ambition and vain conceit.
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Low self-esteem vs. high self-awareness
Low self-esteem can sometimes be mistaken for having high self-awareness but there is a crucial difference. It is true that those who suffer from low self-esteem have high self-awareness but they tend to use this knowledge to beat themselves up instead of going to God for His redemption and guidance. It leads to dependence on our flesh for “self-improvement” based on a fear of other people’s opinions, rather than dependence on the Holy Spirit based on His love, power, and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
To close, may the words in Romans 8:13-18 be an encouragement to us all.
Romans 8:13-18 ESV For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
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