In a healthy individual, the sense of self is rooted in reality. In other words, the identity we understand ourselves to bear matches up, more or less, to the collective view of who and what we are with respect to feedback from the world. We have a more or less accurate perception of our attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. There is little self-delusion. Good self-esteem means that one respects and values oneself—as we all need to do—to be healthy. The feeling of regarding oneself as worthless is one of the most destructive and desolating of all human experiences. But to be healthy, our evaluation of ourselves must be balanced and based on accurate self-perception. If we tell ourselves we are wonderful, clever, and successful, but we have no achievements to back this up and others see us as dull, foolish, and ordinary, we are setting ourselves up for a thousand attacks on our self esteem each day. We must fight off threatening feedback from reality in order to maintain our inflated view of ourselves. Conversely, if we focus entirely on our failings, overlooking our strengths, we are equally out of touch with reality. If we do this, we bring ourselves low, where a more balanced view would paint a different picture. We also need to remember that:
• Self-esteem, our very self-image, is not a constant thing.
• Self-esteem can fluctuate with events, over minutes or years.
• Self-esteem can change as our skills, insight, and values change—or as they fail to change and develop to meet fresh circumstances or our new roles in life.
It is important to remember that as spiritual creatures, precious in God’s eyes, we are eternal and constant. God knows us. Our basic essence is unique, precious, beloved, and anticipated by God from the beginning of time and will remain forever.
At this level, our understanding of ourselves starts, not from catching a glimpse of ourselves in other people’s eyes, but from seeing our true selves through the eyes of God. We are precious just as we are. In the eyes of God, there is no cruel rejection, no possibility of failure, death, or decay. There is only the danger of failing to find or failing to acknowledge that true self, failing to become the person we are meant to be.
Excerpted from True Self-Esteem: Precious in the Eyes of God by Jim McManus, CSsR,
(Liguori Publications 2005)