Self Esteem Is Overrated

Does self esteem really deserve the place in our culture that we've given it?
Does self esteem really deserve the place in our culture that we've given it?

The Data

1,220,000 people researched the term "self esteem" using Google search engines last month. 301,000 searched for the term "self confidence," and 33,000 searched for the term "building self esteem." Are you included in one of these numbers?

A website dedicated to women's self esteem is taking a poll on how often women battle low self esteem. Currently 30% say they are always battling it, and 33% say they battle it one to three times a day. 25% struggle with it several times a week, and that leaves a mere 13% who say they only struggle with low self esteem once a week or less, or never. I wonder how many of the women who say they "always" battle low self esteem are now kicking themselves because they hate that they have low self esteem?

We all agree that this is a hard world to live in without being pressured by images of perfect bodies, perfect smiles, perfect personalities, perfect intellects. Meanwhile, the same media encourage their followers to cultivate high self esteem. The inconsistency is severe, though it would be more obvious if we came across an article titled "Increase your self esteem with these ten simple beauty procedures!" or "Feeling down about yourself? Try our new eyeshadow!"

Christian men and women are pressured to have high self esteem as well, and many rush to get their own glossy hardback of Your Best Life Now by the ultra-happy Joel Osteen. However, his advice is less than sound. Publishers Weekly insightfully analyzed Osteen's points:

"...although the first chapter claims that "we serve the God that created the universe," the book as a rule suggests the reverse: it’s a treatise on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals. Osteen tells readers that God wants them to prosper, offering examples of obtaining an elegant mansion or a larger salary ("don’t ever get satisfied with where you are," he cautions). In seven parts, he details how readers should enlarge their vision, develop self-esteem, let go of the past..."

According to Joel Osteen, the best life is selfish, greedy, discontented, and introspective, though those aren't the words he used. But don't forget, we serve the God that created the universe.

The God of the universe and the God of the Bible is one and the same, and the Bible has a different plan for esteem and who gets it.

Whoever said that ducklings were ugly?
Whoever said that ducklings were ugly?

"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

God has created each individual to be exactly what he or she is: a marvelously-crafted bearer of God's image, complex and beloved for those complexities. A lack of gratefulness and contentment with what God has endowed you with shows low God-esteem, not low self esteem. God is the one who has created you, not you yourself or even your biological parents. Your dissatisfaction with yourself is more a dissatisfaction with God's creation than anything else, because you choose not to see the good He has wrought in you, but see only what you judge to be bad. High self esteem starts and ends with high God-esteem. You worship the creator (God) rather than the creature (yourself). In doing so, you turn your infatuation for personal perfection into infatuation with God, and you who are infatuated with God cannot help but mirror Him in all His splendid perfection.

Low Self Esteem Is Spiritually Healthy

So we are to have high God-esteem, and with that comes high esteem for God's creation, including ourselves. This is not an arrogant, conceited esteem of ourselves, but rather it is an objective view from a position outside of ourselves, in a sense looking across the room at ourselves and saying, "God has given that person (me) much to be thankful for." This is the only kind of high self esteem that is honoring to God.

Now, there is a type of low self esteem that is also beautiful and precious to the heart of God, and that is humble repentance. It is the self esteem that confesses to God and to others that it has failed at keeping God's righteous and holy laws, and that there is "only evil in my heart continually." It is the self esteem that esteems others more highly than itself. It is the self esteem that lives to be trampled down and crushed if it will only build God's kingdom. The meek are blessed, Jesus says, for they shall inherit the earth. This is the opposite of what many influences will tell you, such as "Believe in yourself," "Follow your heart," "Fight for what you want," "Just do it," "Be proud of yourself." However, it is the meek who will inherit the earth. Who made Rome fall? Who founded America? Who freed a downtrodden people from a slave state? Who killed a giant with only a stone?

The meek.

So you see, a proper view of God will create a filter through which you can see yourself in a better light. Understanding that God has created you helps you to not despise the person He has made you to be. Understanding that your own sin mars the pure beauty God planned for you helps you to honor God's perfection and to keep you from elevating yourself above God and others."Let him who stands take heed lest he fall," [1 Cor. 10:12] and "let each esteem others more highly than himself." [Philp. 2:3]. Understanding that God is the one who deserves high esteem lifts the burden off of you from either being too "down" on yourself or too "high" on yourself.

It doesn't really matter what you think of yourself! But what you think of God is a matter of life and death.

Lift high the cross, the symbol of lowest self-esteem.
Lift high the cross, the symbol of lowest self-esteem.

It's not all about you and how you view yourself.

The many, many articles out there on increasing self confidence, self esteem, and "loving myself," are hindering more than helping. By unintentionally causing their readers to focus on themselves and their own mental attitude, these advice columns are decreasing the ability of their readers to ever be free from the bondage of Self. Instead, they are giving their readers a self-centered, self-gratifying, self-obsessed perspective of both themselves and others.

What if self esteem really isn't as big a thing as we think it is? What if being joyful, fulfilled, and confident didn't depend on a set of cheerleading mantras and motivational exercises to get you feeling better about yourself? What if it's not even about you in the first place?

If our life truly is about serving the God of the universe, as Osteen said, then why don't we really start serving Him instead of ourselves? Why don't we go through the rigors of "God-esteem" exercises to get ourselves to esteem God higher? Why don't we remind ourselves every time we look in the mirror that God is great? Why don't we practice being content with less and less, selling our riches to feed the poor, and losing our own desires in pursuit of the mighty God's desires?

You were created to highly esteem God, to have confidence in God, to spend life seeking to please Him. It's not all about you. 

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Comments 25 comments

Kendall H. profile image

Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

This was lovely Jane! Thank you so much for writing this because I definitely needed to remember this lesson. I've been feeling down on myself about grad schools but I need to remember that God never gives us trials that we cannot handle. Trusting in him will help through all circumstances.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thanks, Kendall! One point, though. God does give us trials we can't handle, but He never gives us trials that HE can't handle. Perhaps there is something He desires to teach you by taking you to the "end of yourself" through this hard time! Trusting in Him will help through all circumstances, as you said. Just today I came across Isaiah 30:15, "In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength." We are not strong through self confidence, but through quietness and trust in God.

Thanks for reading and leaving your kind comment!

SaMcNutt profile image

SaMcNutt 6 years ago from Englewood, CO

I love it. In the last few years I hardly ever think about myself in a way that would be termed low self-esteem, because I really have learned to be happy with who I am. I surround myself with like minded people while reaching out to others to encourage them. Even when I do things that prove my inperfection I accept them as a challenge to grow, just accepting where I am at in life. Love the Isaiah verse, especially as it speaks to peace and rest. Thank you for your words.


ACSutliff profile image

ACSutliff 6 years ago

You are so very insightful! In a world where we all are truly happy with what we have, life would be truly great. This is well written and thought provoking.

Callie 6 years ago

Great article, Jane! I completely agree with your perspective on this - the focus on increasing self-esteem in our society does put too much emphasis on the "self", when what we really need is to be thinking about others, and then the self-esteem problem could just take care of itself.

E. Nicolson profile image

E. Nicolson 6 years ago

A wonderful and insightful article. Words to live by. Thanks, Jane

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

SaMcNutt, that's a great perspective. If only we would focus on others more than ourselves, there would be no reason to even talk about "self esteem."

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Thank you, ACSutliff! It sounds like you understand true contentment. If only we can encourage others to do the same! Thanks for your kind comment!

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

Callie, you have it exactly right. God is more concerned about "others-esteem" and "God-esteem" than having esteem go to any other place. Philippians 2 has a lot of esteem of the proper kind! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your kind comment, Callie.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

You're very welcome, E. Nicolson. I'm working on living by these words too!

Rose West profile image

Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

Great perspective, Jane! I'm a little tired of this concept of self esteem being forced down our throats. To truly be happy, to live a fulfilled life, we need to turn away from ourselves and look to Christ. It seems that self esteem is just about lying to yourself - you know, people aren't perfect and we need to accept that.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

So true, Rose. We've perfected the art of lying to ourselves by making ourselves believe we are better than we are. Christ is the center of all joy, not our own tangled submerged human emotions!

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Great article and a topic that surely needed to be addressed in a thoughtful way, which you have done. The worst manifestation of this is the self-esteem movement in public schools, where they teach "disadvantaged groups" false history to supposedly build up their self-esteem (since their "group" frankly hasn't accomplished much for mankind). It backfires. It makes children think that their group has been robbed by achievers, and creates boulders on their shoulders. Self esteem should follow accomplishment—not the other way around. Besides the fact that teaching blatant lies is always bad.

That said, you are spot on that we should be meek. A narcissistic nihilist is not who God wishes us to be.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 6 years ago from Oregon Author

James, I was not aware of the self-esteem movement focusing on particular people groups as well. You are right in that self-esteem should follow accomplishment, particularly the kind of accomplishment that gives no glory to us but gives all to our Creator. Nothing good has come from teaching false history. I say, the more kids we can get out of the public schools the better. Thanks for reading, and for your insightful comment!

lambservant profile image

lambservant 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

Thank you for this exceptional hub with a healthy, and unique perspective on the "self-esteem" movment. I loved where you pointed out the contradiction of our culture telling us we must be perfect and beautiful, yet are very concerned about building self-esteem. I'd never thought of it that way, but you are right. Our society is so focued on being the best me I can be, so I will be be worth something of value. As you so beautifully pointed out it needs to be less of "me" and more about Him.

 5 years ago

LambServant, You have it down to a "T"! God is the focus of all creation, all existense, all honor, all worship. Why do we try to bring so much attention to ourselves? Thank you for your insightful comments-- it's a blessing to hear from someone who has such a Biblical understanding of this issue.

chelseacharleston profile image

chelseacharleston 4 years ago

Wow, I couldn't disagree more. If we were made in his image, then call us by our names-I believe we're all part of God, enough so that we should be able to call ourselves God comfortably. Not knowing what we are is the root of the self esteem issues. If we understood it humbly, the world would move in the direction of love they feel. There's nothing wrong with feeling good about ourselves. God wouldn't want us to feel bad AT ALL lol-I know that's in the Bible somewhere. There's no need. No need to look outside yourself for God either, try looking within. Much love.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 4 years ago from Oregon Author


Thanks for your comment. You are right that not knowing what we are is the root of all self-esteem issues. God has beautifully and intricately fashioned us in His image. Who are we to slap Him in the face and ask why He has made us this way? At the same time, you cannot deny that there are many things about us that are not-so-good, and those are our own fault: bad habits, hypocrisy, selfishness, rudeness--it's all there. And these are the things that God DOES want us to feel bad about-- and change! There are numerous Bible verses I can give you in which God is pleading with sinners to change their ways, because they don't feel bad about the things that He denounces. If He has saved you, then He is working in your heart to help you change the bad things about you so that you are an even better person because of His work in you. We should be confident in the fact that God has saved us in spite of our troubles, and humble in the fact that God has saved us in spite of our troubles. This humility should be God-confidence, not self confidence.


lg 3 years ago

Yes! We do need a biblical perspective on self-esteem. Unfortunately in spite of the self-esteem pop self talk by gaining self esteem through education and career, etc, women are still finding themselves in verbally and emotionally abusive relationships and the message the church gives to these women who are married to verbal and emotional abusers are self-esteem destroyers - no matter how rock solid one's faith is. I really learned a lot from Pastor Mark Gungor in speaking about "Strong Confident, Respectful Women" and his "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" series. My husband has withheld sex from me for our entire marriage (six years). I realize now that it is not me anymore (jumping from a size six to a size eight), but rather his abusive and Mark Gungor talks straight to women about not tolerating bad behavior from men.

Other resources that have helped me increase my self esteem and self respect have been tools that have simply helped me identify abusive behaviors ad attitudes - so my self-esteem is no longer rattled when I am belittled, ignored, dismissed, etc, etc, etc. These are:

1) The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

2) The Verbally Abusive Man - Can He Change by Patricia Evans

3) The Emotionally Abusive Relationship by Beverly Engel

4) The Respect Me Rules and Workbook by Marshall

5) Safe People by Cloud and Townsand

6) Other helpful sources showing that God and the Bible verses that do not support abuse of any kind and definitely not in the name of being submissive or long suffering: 10 Life Saving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages and Biblical Perspective of What to Do When You Are Abused Your Husband.

Too often it seems one must suffer in an unidentified abusive marriage or get a divorce. It does not have to to be an either or. Mark Gungor does a great job showing how sometimes temporary separation (verses outright divorce) is necessary to save a marriage - especially in cases where man engages in masterbation, porn and therefore withholds sex from wife or requires her to perform uncomfortable acts; are physically abusive; etc.

France now recognizes verbally and emotional abuse in the courts. Let's work on identifying, naming, and calling out abuse in order to not just preserve self-esteems and self-respect, but also to save our marriages!

Self-respect and self-esteem go hand in hand.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

Glad I came across this, it has been on my mind a good bit lately how un-biblical it is to put ourselves on a pedestal. Throwing ashes over our head and showing Who is important is the fact. Will everyone just get so good they don't need God? Of course we know better. ^ and sharing.

lambservant profile image

lambservant 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

Hello again Jane, I was just having a discussion about self-esteem with someone the other day and they made the point that when parents are trying to build their child's self-esteem because they have a low self esteem, they put them on a baseball team or give them dancing lessons, or find something they can be good at so they will have better self-esteem. While it's important that children find their niche, the message the parents are unknowingly sending their kids is "If you're good at this or that, you are worth something." Its a pitfall millions of parents fall into every day.

We need to we have value because God values us. He values us because he made us, and he did it with love, and intricate care as seen in Psam 139. I wrote a hub about this a couple of years ago.

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 3 years ago from Oregon Author

Jackie, thanks for your insightful comment! I especially liked your question, "Will everyone just get so good they don't need God?"

I was reading today in a new book by Jerry Bridges about how "justified" means "Just as if I'd never sinned." Praise the Lord that when He looks at us He sees the righteous perfection of His Son, and not our filthy rags!

Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 3 years ago from Oregon Author

Hello lg,

I'm sorry to hear about your sad marriage, but am glad to hear that you are finally able to truthfully identify it as "abuse" and not a problem with who you are. Though we are all sinners and all need Christ to make us beautiful, it is the command of Christ that husbands love their wives "as their own body" and that wives respect their husbands and love them back. I want to encourage you to seek some actual in-person counsel from a spiritual leader. The peacemaking principle in Matthew 18, is to first confront the person who has sinned against you *yourself*, and then if that gets nowhere, bring in another person who can verify what you are saying and reinforce the fact that your husband's behavior needs to change, and finally, if that gets nowhere, it is time to request help from the church authorities (your pastor or other church leaders who are in a position of authority over your husband). If you don't belong to a church, then seek out help from a biblical counselor. Focus on the Family has marriage counselors always available, who can meet with just you, or just your husband, or both of you. Neuthetic counseling is the best because it uses actual Biblical principles.

I really don't think you only have the two options you listed. I have seen God change the hardest hearts and fix the most abusive relationships. Don't lose faith that God can change your husband and give him real affection and care for you! And know that "Your Maker is your husband," as it says in Isaiah. He loves you and holds you in the palm of His hand. Every tear drop is known to Him, and I believe that He wants to grow beauty out of the ashes of your marriage.

May God bless you; I hope this has helped--


Jane Grey profile image

Jane Grey 3 years ago from Oregon Author

Lambservant, you made some great points! Too often parents idolize their own success and seek to live vicariously through the successes or talents of their children, often to the detriment of their children's character. A good parent will let their child fail so that their child learns the lessons he/she needs to learn from that failure. If a child never fails at something when he is young, he will going into life believing that life will be handed to him on a silver platter, and parents will get 30+ year old sons living in their basement playing video games instead of young men who honor their creator by working hard at whatever skill set the Lord has given him to develop, even if it is a completely different occupation than the parents had in mind.

mrs.T 3 years ago

Self esteem IS important. But it must be biblical selfesteem. You are loved by God, and He has made you. And if you know this, you will not take any sort of abuse by anyone, but you will also not abuse any one. Verywell knowing that the other is also loved and made bij God.

Unfortunally i have a friend whoms "very christian" parents only told her to obey, obey, obey, obey....and all that was wrong with her. And now she cannot find a hsband, because she isto insecure. So a healthy self estee is important. A blown up self esteem is a bother...

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