Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I read a blog post by Matt Walsh that started me down a path of changing my thinking on self-esteem. At the time, I was barely starting to recognize and resist the mental, emotional, and spiritual effects of my codependency mixing with the codependency of others — and I may not have even gotten to the point that I recognized codependency was the real issue.
I had been searching for years for the ability to love myself — truly love myself for who I was and not feel that I had to be better to have enough worth to be liked by others. There were times when I thought I was doing pretty well, but there were still times when I felt that my passing would be almost completely unnoticed. (Ironically, I know recognize that my passing will have little, if any real effect on the cosmos, and I’m totally ok with that idea — fame, with all of its trappings, is no longer a measure of success for me.)
So, it’s hardly surprising that, at this point in my life, anything related to self-esteem intrigued me to no end. By the title of his post, I just knew that I might have stumbled on the secret that would end all of my inner turmoil. I read his post eagerly, just to see that he denounced the typical American self-esteem as overblown narcissism and attributed many societal ills to the self-esteem movement.
His points were persuasive and deep-down I felt he was on to something, but all I knew at the time was that I had gotten nowhere. I was back to wondering if, to be a true disciple of Christ, I had to look a lot like the picture at the beginning of my post — weighed down and haunted by the knowledge of all of my shortcomings and mistakes. This is the image of humility that I had lived with my entire life, and self-esteem was turning out to be a bust.
The Beginning of Change
Just a few months after I found the blog post, I began to find myself receiving messages that I knew were sent by Heavenly Father through his Holy Spirit — sometimes, I was even admonished in blessings to seek one thing: to see myself as God sees me.
It’s been a long road, because when I started, I just knew that God saw me as being as much of a loser as I did. It took time, prayer, and other blessings and tender mercies for me to begin to understand who I really am.
- “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” This verse from Philippians has given me courage since childhood, but only recently have I begun to understand the deeper meanings in such a simple statement. The truth is, left to my own devices, I really am a loser. I am broken, I am imperfect, I can be childish and petty — the list can go a long way. The secret to true success in mortality is learning to partner with my Savior on his terms.
- To become a partner with Christ, I have to let go of a lot of pride. In today’s society, pride is linked with self-esteem. First I have to love myself and be proud of who I am, and then I will have enough emotional stores to love the people around me. In 1989, Ezra Taft Benson gave a paradigm-shifting talk about what is totally wrong with pride — it pits your will against God and against the will and well-being of the people around you. The gospel teaches humility and meekness.
- Humility and meekness are not to be feared — they are powerful. Humility and meekness are mental and emotional states that make a person teachable. What is more powerful than being able to learn from Someone who is all-powerful and all-knowing?
- I am a child of God — my worth is inherent and never changes. One of the most powerful teachings of the restored gospel given to the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints is that each and every person who has, who is, or who will live upon the earth is a son or daughter of God.This is a powerful teaching that can ultimately change the way a person sees himself or herself. Along with building a sense of worth, it helps to reduce the sense of competitiveness that often is an outgrowth of seeking self-esteem.
- God is the true source of love, both love of myself and love of others. As I have gone through the process of changing my focus from myself to having my “eye single to the glory of God,” I have found what I was looking for. Heavenly Father has communicated to me that I am loved more deeply than I can imagine, and He has proved that He will meet my every need in the most perfect way possible. This knowledge has released me from the need to be “noticed” or to be the “best,” and has allowed me to focus on how I can be more of a benefit to my family, my coworkers, and my church family.
The Savior promised that anyone willing to lose his life for the gospel and for Christ’s sake would save it. To me, that was my path to true self-esteem. I know who I am on my own, and I know who I am because of the power of Christ’s Atonement. I know how being obedient to the gospel has changed me. I know that if I were to choose to turn my back on God, I would return to being a shell of who I now am. My life has been salvaged from the wreckage I was making of it because I decided to let go of my pride and my need for control and turn it over to God, who knows things I don’t and can do more than I ever can.