Self-Respect, Self-Esteem, and Self-Worth
Do you light candles instead of cursing darkness? Do you strain to look for the good in others instead of hoping to find the bad? This article takes a close look at the origins of self-esteem and how it is connected, uncompromisingly, to self-respect and self-worth. Where does self-esteem come from and how do we get it? Is it something we’re born with that just gets more mature as we age? Or is it something that must somehow be “instilled” within us? Can self-esteem be created or destroyed? Can it be lost and regained?
The Origins of Self-Esteem
What is self-esteem? It is the ability to feel confident about your worth, value, talents, and abilities. It also means having the ability to accept, approve, and respect oneself. Now, let’s deal with the question of where self-esteem originates. The root of self-esteem is grounded the concept of self-respect. The word “respect” means, “to consider worthy of high regard.” And when it comes to self-respect, I would have to say the word is more about “respect” than it is about “self.” Therefore, “respect” is the more operative word.
Respect for other people is an indicator of self-esteem, because if someone doesn’t consider others to be worthy of respect, it’s probably an indication that they haven’t learned to consider themselves as worthy of respect either. But where do we learn to have respectful regard for self and others? Where are we first taught, or how do we learn about our “worth” as a human being?
From Childhood and Beyond
Most psychologists would say, and I agree with them, that childhood is the place where self-esteem needs to begin. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that development of the foundation for a child’s self-respect and self-esteem begins with parents.
The parent-child relationship establishes the foundation of respect in general. As children, we begin to understand the concept of self-worth when we’re taught to believe in and to value ourselves. When our parents are effective at passing down to us the concept of our worth and value to them as a human being, we accept that we must have value. By accepting our parents’ estimation of us being worthy of their time, love, adoration, and concern, we begin to feel confident enough to take risks. Eventually, we courageously venture beyond the parent-child relationship, and we develop friendships with other children; friendships that ultimately challenge us to learn, to grow and develop as social human beings.
The foundation for our growth and development, however, is laid in the home by our parents; our first teachers. When we are blessed with loving parents, they provide us with the foundation we need for respecting human life, our own and the lives of others. A child that learns to hold self, as well as his or her parents, in high regard will most likely acquire the building blocks needed to grow up respecting other people. Once a child is old enough to go to kindergarten or pre-school, he or she learns (or should learn) to respect the worth and value of teachers and other authority figures, as well as other children. But, since the roots of self-esteem are grounded in childhood, children who are not taught how to value their worth are at-risk of growing up not holding others in high regard, because they themselves have low self-esteem.
When parents are not effective in teaching children to consider the worth of self or other people, they can grow up lacking a general respect for their humanity, and therefore for the humanity of others. The world has long witnessed the results of this kind of disrespect for humanity throughout history, where people have been enslaved, used, abused, and mass murdered by other people who had no respect for their humanity.
The roots of self-esteem and self-worth begin with the notion of humans having respect for other human beings. Society either reinforces or it tears down this notion in the images and information sent out every day to the masses through popular culture. Even the work parents are able to accomplish in the home can be put in jeopardy if worldly standards are allowed to become a young child’s greatest influence. Parents must counter negative influences by being in authority in the home, and by sitting down and talking with their children, explaining why the world’s standards and ways, often, are incongruent with God’s ways, and are therefore unacceptable to those who love and obey God.
What about those who don’t get a good foundation for self-esteem in childhood? Is there hope for them gaining it as adults? The good news is, there is always hope, and anyone who wants to become a self-loving person can learn to love self and others. You see, once we become adults, we become the “gatekeepers” of our own self-esteem. It becomes crucial then to learn what it means to love oneself. When you learn to love yourself, you will want to treat your mind, your body, and your spirit with love. You will strive to do all you can to nurture, protect, and care for you in loving ways that will lift you up, and that will not tear you down.
If you think your self-esteem might be in need of a check-up, read, think about, and then answer the following questions—truthfully.
1. Are you happy with yourself when you are seen exactly as you naturally are, no matter how unflattering?
2. Putting God’s wisdom first, do you follow your own mind, even though you respect the opinions and rights of others to disagree with your personal choices?
3. When times are tough, after praying and connecting with God, do you make your own choices, or do you relinquish your power by allowing others to make decisions for you?
4. Do you stay connected to God through prayer while listening, continuously, to the rhythm of your life—to your mind, your emotions, and your inner voice—before deciding on any course of action toward achieving any of your goals, big or small?
5. Do you allow any and all expectations of others to be the primary influence in your decision making process?
6. Do you give others permission to make you feel inferior?
7. Do you believe you are valuable and worthy as a human being, sacred to touch?
8. Are you committed to being a “work in progress” with a goal of working on those areas of yourself and your life that you know are in need of work?
9. Do you admit when you are wrong or in error?
10. In relationships, do you find more joy in competition than in cooperation? Do you feel good, secretly, when you discover another person's weaknesses, flaws, or shortcomings?
Self-Respect and Personal Fulfillment
A person who has a healthy regard for self finds joy in life in other peoples' strengths, and is not threatened when someone else is able to achieve goals that he/she may want to achieve, but so far, has not. A person with self-respect will find a way to achieve personal fulfillment in activities and interests that are meaningful to her/him. He/she is happy for the success of others, and can empathize with the suffering of others. And, whenever possible, will seek and discover ways to give time, talent, skills or money, and/or prayer in an effort to help ease someone’s suffering.
Do you believe you are valuable? Paul reminds us of our worth and value in 1 Corinthians 6:20, where he asks, “. . . know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Think about what that means. To be in charge of a body that is a temple of the Holy Ghost of God. To belong to God, and to have access to His Holy Spirit. That’s something that should fill you with a great amount of respect for your worth as a human being.
Knowing you are part of the body of Christ should inspire and drive you to learn, to achieve, to grow, and to gain God’s wisdom so that you can live your best, most fulfilled life on earth. It should make you impervious to feelings of low self-esteem or low self-worth. If you’ve been bought with the blood of Christ, you don’t even belong to yourself, you belong to God. How could you ever consider God’s child to be anything other than valuable and sacred?
Author S. B. Middlebrook, Ph.D., writes often about Christian principles and provides insight on how we are to use them, based on the words of holy scripture, to help meet the challenges of our daily lives.
© 2012 Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD