Self-Esteem

“I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” So goes the mantra of Transactional Analysis, that is, if you have a healthy adult relationship of mutual esteem; feeling good about yourself and others. Other transactions can consist of “I’m O.K., you’re not O.K.”; “I’m not O.K., you’re O.K.”; or, “I’m not O.K., you’re not O.K.” According to the theory, these take place within the roles of Parent, Adult, or Child. Each one, other than the first one, indicates some sort of deficiency in ones psyche. If I don’t think I’m O.K. I have a problem. If I don’t think you’re O.K. I have a problem.

For several decades the “Self-Esteem” movement has insisted that anyone dealing with children must use some form of the “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” designation or risk damaging the little ones self-esteem probably beyond repair. To not do so would result in a lack of self-esteem which could affect performance, maybe forever. In the last decade or so there has been a move away from the “Self-Esteem” movement because the results have been counter productive. The ones keeping it alive, to date, are government schools and many parents. Even within some Christian schools it is thriving since the teachers were trained in universities where it all started. And unfortunately, without realizing it, many Christians have adopted the framework.

A person does not develop “Self-Esteem,” or feeling good about oneself, because someone continually says that you’re great even when you know you’re not. Or that your work is terrific even when it’s not. Or by giving you an A grade for mediocre performance. Massive grade inflation is a by-product of the “Self-Esteem” movement. Grades were originally inflated via the “Self-Esteem” movement so that students wouldn’t get their feeling hurt and consequently become failures. Now it’s expected and demanded by parents. Startling as it is, the virus has also infected universities. It’s not so much the professors, as it is the insistence of students who expect “A” grades regardless. In protest, one ivy league university professor was giving two grades; an “A” that the parents paid for, and the real one that the student earned.

As in most instances, our personal experiences are the best authoritative references we can access to understand the world we live in, but even those can be suspect at times. Regardless, my experience of “Self-Esteem” is based on achievement not false praise and “strokes.” My education essentially went from the 6th grade to college. The intervening years were taken up having fun playing music. I remember when I was accepted as a freshman into college, I proudly told an adult whom I admired and respected. His comment was, “You won’t make it.” Since this pre-dated the “Self-Esteem” movement he was simply saying what he thought to be true, knowing my background. My thought reaction was not, “Oh my, now I have had my self-esteem battered, I will be a failure forever. He must be right, I shouldn’t even attempt to do something beyond my caste system like go to college.” Rather, my thoughts were, “I’ll show you!” My respect for this gentleman was so great that I couldn’t even tell him that. But I did show him!

There is a difference between encouragement and false self-esteem building. Everyone should be encouraged to achieve, do a good job, and pursue their dreams providing they are healthy and realistic (who’s to say what that is), especially if God is directing their lives. As they become experienced with some degree of success, their “self-esteem” will be positive. Actually their “self-competence” will be the basis of feeling good about themselves (self satisfaction). There is a story in the bible, among others, that illustrates the fact that encouragement can lead to accomplishment and to self competence.

When the angel of God first spoke to Gideon about leading Israel, He called him a “mighty warrior.” Gideon, who was working for his father threshing grain, objected to the name, explaining that he was from the clan that was the lowliest of the tribe of Manasseh, and besides that he was the lowliest in his family. He would have been an “I’m not O.K., Everyone Else is O.K.” Despite God’s encouragement, Gideon doubted that it was even God speaking to him. After the apologetic double fleece exercise he finally decided that it really was God and decided to go along.

After a successful routing of the Midianites, under God’s direction, he became a fearless leader of Israel for some forty years. His ultimate confidence and competence were in stark contrast to his beginning when he majored in self-deprecation and fear. He progressed, with encouragement from God, to success as a powerful leader. It is an incredible transformation from a nobody to somebody. Just on the surface it is a perfect example of everyone’s need for encouragement to attempt bigger things and with the resulting achievement, to a person of confidence. Of course, the real dynamic is the fact that when Gideon was convinced that God was in fact with him, his purpose and commitment became divine destiny and.

Well, one might ask, how does all of this square with Scripture? Is there such a thing as Biblical Self-Esteem? Strange you should ask. Much has been made of the passage in Mark 12:30,31 concluding that self love is the prerequisite for loving anyone else. That is, ones self love is a measure, in part, of their “Self-Esteem” and ability to love others, even God. Many Christian psychologists, trained by humanistic psychologists, express the same idea. However, according to Dr. Jay E. Adams, author of more than 100 books including the landmark work “Competent to Counsel” states that there is no such thing as a Biblical teaching promoting “Self-Esteem” or “Self Love.” The Bible does, however, have myriad examples of the destructive effects of selfishness and self love.

Adams explains that the Mark passage to love God and your neighbor as yourself, has only two commandments: love God and your neighbor. There is not a third commandment to love yourself. The “love yourself” can be translated “You must love your neighbor as you are loving yourself.” Jesus presupposes a love for self (Eph. 5:28,29). In contrast, the Bible teaches us to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24,25). Romans 12:3 is clear about thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. We are to have sound judgement regarding our opinion of ourselves according to the degree that we exercise the spiritual gifts God has given us. We can be satisfied with ourselves (“self-esteem,”if you will) to the extent that we are doing that for which He has equipped us.

For anyone wanting more detailed information, I recommend the book by Dr. Adams, “The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love and Self-Image.”

Well, then, where are we? I’ve often thought that if I was rejected by everyone, never accomplished anything, but sought the heart of God with my whole being, I would be the most satisfied, most complete, most joyful and contented person possible. Come to think of it, that seems to be the calling of all Christians. It’s amazing to read of Paul’s trials in II Cor. 11:23-28 that ends in Ch.12:9 with Jesus telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This flies in the face of wanting an easy life, hoping that people don’t hurt my feelings and will just be nice to me. Jesus will take care of my “Self-Esteem”, no? My version, and I believe the Christian version, of TA should be, “I’m not O.K., you’re not O.K., but that’s O.K.”, because only in Christ are we really “O.K.”

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    I hope it’s okay to forward you blog to my followers. I think they can truly use your great take on this….

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