Question: Self-Pity, Self-Loathing, and Low Self-Esteem

Two anonymous questions:

– Hello, thank you so much for this blog. It’s a great spiritual resource for my friends and me =). I am struggling w low-self esteem & self-pity right now. I feel that amongst my siblings & cousins, I’m the least intelligent, fun, & the plainest-looking. Nothing about me stands out, I’m just subpar or terrible at everything: school, controlling my weight, sports, etc. I know God loves me & that I should only care about what He thinks, but I’m still stuck on these thoughts. Help, please? TY!

– I know that this is disgusting, but I’m pretty desperate at this point. I’ve pretty much given up on any chances of a guy ever wanting to pursue me. First of all, I’m not even pretty and secondly I guess I have STDs that have no cure and a scar on my face. Who would ever want a girl like me? To be honest, I’m not seeing any kind of hope at all in my life for anything.

Hey dear friends: Please first know that you’re NOT alone in thinking this, and no matter how perfect someone’s life is going, they’re just as capable of feeling the same exact way.

While both of your questions are sort of different, I think they stem from the same idea that, I’m not good enough, I’m damaged goods, I’m not wanted, I’m undesirable.

I could easily tell you that God loves you and He handcrafted you with precision and loves you regardless of what you’ve done or who you are — and while I still think God’s love is an incredible truth, of course there are days when it falls flat.

So please allow me to first tell you the hard truth.

A certain number of people, regardless of who you are or how hard you try, will reject you simply because they feel like it.  In other words — It’s not you, and you’ll really have to be okay with the simple reality that you and I will be shut out of certain places, not let inside every inner-circle, and cut off from “cool people.”  It has nothing to do with you and doesn’t determine your value.  It is impossible to please people, and in the end, only possible to please God.

As for what goes on inside you —

There will always be a gap between who you are and who you want to be, and the Christian faith is really the only truth that says you can never ever completely fill this gap.  It’s very uncomfortable, so everyone else tries to fill it with religion and achievements and money and drugs and fame and sex and thrills — but the gap remains.

The Gospel tells us to 1) embrace the tension of the gap, and 2) believe that Jesus crossed the fallenness of the gap for you so that you wouldn’t have to.  When you believe that Jesus accepts you as you are, it’s his acceptance that gives you freedom from your desperate insecurity while also empowering you with his grace to strive for better.  Instead of lowering the bar to compare yourself with others, you are raising the bar to Jesus, who is so perfect that you must cling to him and only him.  After that, you can appropriately handle your own craziness and other people too.

I’ll make this simpler.  If you have low self-esteem: it’s certainly not low enough when you stand before God.  Before Him, we have no esteem.  We have zero idea how it is to stand next to perfect holy purity.  I don’t say this to be mean to you, but to graciously offer perspective for your self-examination.  We really have this whole thing upside-down.

Now if you base your worth on how much you’re “accepted” by worldly standards, you’ll not only be really hard on yourself, but you’ll double-underline your own faults against the so-called success of others.  What’s strange is that even the “perfect people” do this with each other, because we’re all equally prone to fall into the quicksand of comparison.

I mean really — who even set these goal-lines in the first place?  Who controls “beauty”?  What in the world defines a beautiful person?  Many of us grade ourselves on self-righteous scales because it’s easier than standing before God, and in turn we enter this self-hating race to compensate for the gap.  You and I know this doesn’t work.

It’s part of the devil’s schemes to condemn you.  But some of us are onto these schemes, and at a glance they fall apart quickly.  Logically speaking: Even if you have a 9.9 GPA or out-tennis the Williams sisters or you were freakishly good-looking, we always sense we could be “slightly better” than we are now, and someone else already is.  That gap never goes away.  There’s no winning the battle of inadequacy except to be content in Christ and excel at your own pace.

So eventually, you’ll have to choose to quit beating yourself up and learn to talk back to your voice of self-condemnation.  What I’m saying is: Forget the devil, forget other people, and revel in the truth of God first.  Only God is able to tell you who you really are.

I know so far this sounds like abstract doctrine, but here’s something you can do everyday.  Psalm 42:5 tells us we need to preach to ourselves the truth of who we are.  The famous preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said,

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit living inside you, you are your own ordained preacher.

This isn’t easy and it’s a struggle I go through too, but ultimately we can’t keep burying ourselves under the weight of false arbitrary goal-lines.  God has made you exactly you and no one else, and it’s our choice to trust Him with who He has made us.

You make that choice each day, even if you don’t feel it, to say the truth to yourself: I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.  And really: you are much more beautiful than you could ever really comprehend.  We hardly see ourselves in our moments of passion and growth and excitement, but if you could: you’d surprise yourself.  God loves this part of you, and He loves the other parts too.

For the second person: There is a point when certain consequences in our lives are irreversible.  There’s a life that you wanted and then a life that you now have to deal with.  It sounds like some of these things are your fault and some of it is outside your control.  I’m really sorry for both.  But none of this is an excuse to wallow in self-pity nor to punish yourself.  No matter how bad it gets, you’re still capable of living a joyous life because your joy is not based on what has happened to you.

We all know people who reacted to their own troubles by making more trouble.  They screwed up, but instead of learning from it or getting wiser, they apparently got worse.  While I understand this reaction (because I’ve done it too), we don’t have to choose that story for ourselves.  It’s a choice, you know.  You can make the best of what there is in the middle of your consequences.  You can still have a completely fulfilled life even as things are not ideal around you.  Just because life falls apart doesn’t mean you have to.  Things might not be the same as before, but things never stay the same anyway.  Fortunately, God does, and He is just as pleased with you yesterday as today as He will be on your deathbed.

It sounds like pretty pep talk, but I can personally tell you from my own testimony that it’ll be okay.  I’m striving for the better story.  I’m part of a small community where I’m constantly reminded of how I’ve failed before: but that’s okay too.  I love them anyway, and my hope is not in what they think about me or even in what I think about me.  It rests in Him — and it’s only then I can be comfortable with myself around others.

Love you dear friends.  I’ll be praying.  Let’s pray for each other.

— J.S.

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