28th October 2012

Through His eyes – Thoughts On Self-Esteem

My experience over the years of helping young people through their problems and struggles has always confirmed what I knew from my own journey and what I learned in pastoral care training: there is a challenge facing everyone to come to a healthy self-acceptance and therefore a proper self-esteem.

Yes we do cling to our ‘crutches’ and masks, going through great pain to present an outward self which is acceptable to ourselves and to others. Thus success, wealth, popularity, image and so on have become the criteria through which many define themselves in today’s society. But deep down, if we are honest, something is amiss. And if we have the guts to acknowledge it, this becomes more apparent in certain situations than others.

On a psychological and emotional level, one of the most essential ingredients for a healthy self-acceptance is the love and nurture we received as children. There is immense power in the words that parents and others have spoken to us.  At best we have experienced this love imperfectly and at worst, we have been rejected or even abused in way or another. The result is that we carry different degrees of woundedness. Then even as we grow, certain feelings and patterns of behaviour actually highlight our struggle of self-acceptance.

Yet we are not just material and psychological beings – we have an essential spiritual core which we ignore to our own peril.  This real centre is what is eternal and unique in all of us; it is the place of communion with God. And so if it is true to say that on a psychological level we come to know ourselves through the eyes of others, on this spiritual level we can only come to know ourselves through God’s eyes, through discovering and experiencing how much we matter to God. As the Scripture says ‘we are fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) and we are precious in His sight (cf Isa 43:4).

This is what the spiritual walk is all about. Opening our hearts to the love of God, allowing His truth to penetrate our conscience and His light to dispel our darkness. We then begin to see  the sin that blocks us from Him and prevents us from becoming the free and authentic individuals that created in His image, we are called to be; we also grasp  how great His mercy. To receive it however we must not hide as Adam and Eve did, but we need to come to Him in genuine openness and prayer.

As we embark on this journey of grace and healing we are made aware that we are called to respond to what God begins to show us: there are sins to be confessed, people to forgive (often also ourselves),  Biblical truths to be transformed by and a closeness to Jesus we are to constantly seek. We are not called to walk it alone but with the help and support of others, we will see that we can live out of our true centre and learn how to love and give ourselves in service to others.

Yet we are a work in progress. A healthy spiritual life will also effect our psychological and emotional growth but self-acceptance and self-esteem are vulnerable so we must constantly look to the Lord. As we learn to live in God, how to listen to and obey His voice we will find more and more that Jesus truly fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear. (Gaudium et Spes 22).

Our hearts must never lose sight of eternity where He ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Rev. 21:4