November 2015 Final Issue
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The Problem With Self-Esteem

Rarely a day goes by in my office when I do not hear either a parent lament over a child’s lack of self-esteem or an adult patient admit to his or her own diminished self-esteem. God’s heart is for us to be both physically and emotionally well. God gave me the privilege of helping others in their search for emotional well-being. During a recent conversation with a pastor-friend of mine, I shared how much I detest the term “self-esteem.” Not only do I detest the term, but I think self-esteem is a huge contributor to many of the problems my patients deal with. My friend’s eyes widened as he asked me to explain. The following is a glimpse of our conversation. For many years, if you asked me to describe myself in three words, I likely would have answered by telling you that I am a doctor, I am an achiever, and I am a go-getter. What God revealed to me, however, was those words are not who I am—they are what I do. It was only when I came to the end of myself and could no longer “do” that I truly began to understand. Ever since I was a child, I was a “do-er.” When something went wrong, or hard times hit, I just jumped in and did more. When my father died during my early teen years, my first thought was, “What do I have to do to support the family?” This became the lens through which I saw the world and my role in it. The enemy of my soul whispered lies during a time when my defenses were down, and I nurtured them and let them grow. At the time, I did not recognize those thoughts as lies from the enemy. Just as Satan did with Eve in the garden, he convincingly twisted the facts and offered them as truth:
  • “If God loved you, He wouldn’t have taken your father from you.”
  • “You don’t have your father to provide for you anymore, so it’s up to you now.”
  • “It hurts too much to lose someone. Don’t trust God because it’ll hurt to lose Him too.”
As a young child, I began to believe relationships weren’t permanent and the only one I could depend on was myself. But deeper still, I began to believe that if I didn’t want God to leave me, I needed to do more and be better—I needed to be perfect. Therein lay the problem. I began to depend on myself rather than trusting and depending on God. It took a devastating illness to teach me where I had been led astray. Hospitalized numerous times, two surgeries, and four months of bed-rest later, while being kept alive on IVs, I was no longer able to “do.” And unable to “do,” I no longer knew who I was. I was no longer the doctor helping her patients. I was no longer achieving anything. I was doing nothing, much less doing it perfectly. I lay in bed weighing 74 pounds, having a real-life identity crisis. All I could do was sleep, pray, read, and listen to praise music or sermons online. How could God love me now when I could do nothing for Him? In desperation, I called out to Him. Somewhere in that quiet room I heard the answer I could never hear before in the busyness I surrounded myself with: “I do not love you for what you do. I never asked you to do. I love you for who you are because you are mine. I love you. End. Of. Story.” The problem was that for so many years, I listened to what the enemy said to me. I believed what he told me the Lord thought of me instead of asking the Lord Himself. All the while, the father of lies didn’t want me to believe what God said. And truthfully, I didn’t know what He thought of me. Jenni Catron, who is the author of Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence, said, “To know yourself, you have to know your creator.” But I didn’t really know Him. I spent my life afraid of Him. Afraid that He would abandon me. Afraid that He couldn’t and wouldn’t love me in my imperfection. All my life I received my identity from what I did, not from Whom I belonged to. And that’s the problem with self-esteem…it depends on self. Whenever we depend on ourselves rather than depending on the God who created us, we are headed for trouble. When we base our perception on self, as in self-image, rather than on the fact that we were created in His image, we will always come up short. But the enemy so cunningly whispers lies to us about ourselves. If we do not stay alert and actively refute his lies, we are apt to come to believe them, altering our beliefs about our identity. What if you stopped listening to the father of lies and asked the Father of Light what He thinks about you? When you are tempted to review your faults or beat yourself up, what if instead you stopped and asked for an honest appraisal? Perhaps something like this, “Father, you know I’m not feeling too good about myself right now. Help me to see myself like you do.” That might just change everything. Friend, that was the prayer of my heart for several years. I consistently prayed and asked:
  • God to give me an accurate perspective of Him (because I knew life experiences and the enemy’s whispered lies had colored my perception of Him)
  • God to help me understand how He viewed me
  • for God to help me view myself the way He viewed me
It took time, but when I chose to listen to Him, to agree with Him, and let go of my own perspective, truly “He reached down from heaven and rescued me; He drew me out of deep waters” (Psalms 18:16, NLT). It wasn’t a quick process. It required surrendering my faulty thinking in exchange for His truth. It required “taking every thought captive” and determining if my thoughts were coming from God or from the enemy of my soul who wanted to destroy me, my identity, and my esteem. Despite having been a Christian since childhood, I actually didn’t know what the Word said about me. Do you know what God says about you? You are beautiful. “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord” (Psalm 45:11, NIV). You are a masterpiece and you are destined for greatness. “For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). You are wonderfully made. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14). You were created in His image. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27, NIV). You are worth it. "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT). Self-esteem is a counterfeit and will leave us empty. The admiration and approval of others, which affects how we feel about ourselves, will never sustain us. Self-worth leaves us defeated —we have no worth apart from Him. Self-image always reveals to us our flaws. Yet, when we stand on His truth, He esteems us. He finds us worthy. We reflect His image. If you ask me now to describe myself, I would tell you that I am redeemed by amazing grace, I am accepted in the beloved, I am more than an overcomer, and I am a daughter of the Most High God. I am esteemed and accepted by Him. He deems me more than an .    My worth comes from the fact that Jesus redeemed me by His amazing grace when He died on the cross. And I bear His image as a daughter of the Most High God. Now the important question is, how do you describe yourself?  
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About Michelle Bengtson

Michelle Bengtson
Author, speaker and board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother, and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith. She addresses issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for those who suffer. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Michelle Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She blogs regularly on her own web site.

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