Human beings customarily struggle with the issue of self-esteem. We seem to esteem ourselves too much or too little. Though some of us camp out in one or the other of these erroneous extremes, many others vacillate back and forth between these faults.
Christians struggle with this, too. In fact, imbalanced teachings, prevalent in the Christian community, fuel our confusion. Where wholesome self-esteem ends and sinful pride begins is admittedly unclear. A distorted application of self-denial, often used to keep us from crossing that line, is not God’s solution to the problem. We cannot resolve our problems with our “self” by denying that we have one. Likewise, we’ll never overcome the foul influence of our self-concept by denying its size and shape.
Self-esteem is part of our self-concept. “Self-concept” is a term for the way we see ourselves and the way we feel about ourselves. This concept, like Rome, was neither built in a day, nor by an individual worker. Our self-concept is formed as we interpret innumerable interactions with others in our world. Based on these interpretations we place ourselves somewhere on a continuum of worth extending from “a god to be worshiped” to “refuse to be discarded.” Furthermore, our position on this continuum is not static; it is continually influenced by ongoing interactions in life.
At least from our time of birth, we begin receiving messages about ourselves. Long before we know the meaning of the words acceptance, rejection, love and hate, we know the feelings those words represent. So all of us, for even longer than we can remember, have been storing away information that forms our self-concept and our sense of self-worth.
The home is certainly one of the most powerful places where our self-concept is formed. For most of us, the school environment rivals the home for the most powerful influence on our self-concept. These two environments function independently; their respective messages sometimes concur and sometimes contradict.
Most of us receive mixed messages in both places. Thus, most of us need help finding the truth. Our homes are a natural place of self-concept formation. They should also be safe places to discuss, with trustworthy people, the conflicting messages we receive, wherever they are received, in order to claim the truth about ourselves.
Bear in mind that every interaction your child experiences helps shape the self-concept. How you talk to or about him, how you discipline or don’t discipline her, and how you deal with your child’s weaknesses are all interpreted in a way that shapes his or her self-concept. We should make sure our contributions shape favorably. You may need to address your daughter’s desire to dress inappropriately. Please do, but you should avoid calling her a prostitute in the process. You can protect her self-concept while you address her “dress” problem.
Teach your children that we all have great worth, assigned by the Creator. It’s a gift, not something we earn through effort. It’s certainly not dependent upon our ability to impress people. We live in a world that regularly tells us otherwise. Train your children to recognize and counter these cultural lies.
Remember, too, to relate with your children in ways that confirm these truths; and when you fail at any of these things, be sure to inform them that what they experienced was a result of your failure, not their unworthiness to be treated better. Finally, remember, everyone you know has a self-concept, somewhat out of shape. Allow God to use you to help re-shape it with truth. And invite Him to reshape yours, too.