We are living in a society where there is a crisis of self-worth. People are starving for attention, we struggle to take compliments, and regardless of the 9 positive comments we received throughout the day, the only thing we will remember is the one negative one. Not only will we remember the negative comment, but we will define ourselves by it because that one comment just revealed how little we already feel about ourselves. Many people refuse to acknowledge their God-given gifts and what’s saddest of all is that many Christians will mistakenly call this humility. This isn’t humility, this is insecurity and if we think our Father in Heaven created us to walk through life constantly thinking about all the ways we don’t add up, we must not know His true desire for us. Humility will never ask us to exalt ourselves above another but it also won’t ask us to deny the truth about ourselves.
One of the most difficult things I have encountered in counseling my clients has been trying to help them work through their pervasive sense of worthlessness. It’s one thing to try and help someone work through their anxiety or help them overcome their depression; but it’s another to help them learn to love themselves. I see young girls sitting across from me everyday not having a clue how beautiful they are. And they are miserable because they’re searching for something that they already possess. I see the deep-seated feeling of worthlessness on their faces every time I ask them to describe some of their strengths to me. Some of them sit in silence, trying to think of something…anything. Yet, I know if I were to ask them about their flaws and shortcomings, the list would be inexhaustible.
I remember one session I asked one of my clients to describe to me some of the things she liked about herself. She sat there, head hung down, unable to look me in the eyes. She said nothing. I repeated the question. Tears slowly rolled down her cheeks; still we sat there in silence. My heart broke. I looked at her and I said, “Okay, I want you to do something. Close your eyes and I want to walk you through a scene (what we call guided imagery in counseling).” She closed her eyes and I took her to Calvary, where Jesus was hanging on the cross above her. With her eyes still closed and tears still falling, I said, “I want you to look at Jesus and I want you to ask Him if He sees anything good in you.” As Christians we continuously fail to ask Jesus what He sees in us and more than anything, we forget to listen to His voice coming from the cross, telling us how much we are worth to Him.
Somehow this doesn’t register for us as Christians. We look at the cross, we go to mass, we get on our knees and pray, but the second we look in a mirror, we begin picking apart the reflection staring back at us. We all struggle with this in one area or another. We listen to the lies and we have slowly believed them; refusing to fight back and instead just internalizing them as truth. It’s easy to understand why people of the world become consumed by these lies when they haven’t known the truth of Christ, but how do we, people of God, continue to look at the cross, continue to pray for an increase in love, but yet fail to show ourselves even the slightest bit of it? If we are to be people of faith then that means we have to live differently. And in order to live differently, we have to see differently. That means we need to change the ways in which we view ourselves. This is a call to start making a CHOICE, to look at ourselves through the lens of Christ, and not through our own deceptive eyes.
I’m not saying that because we have faith we should just instantly know and understand our self-worth. It’s a journey and if praying our insecurities away was all it took, most of us wouldn’t be struggling with this. But we cannot continue to go before Jesus and ask Him to show us our beauty and worth and then come home and go right back into the cycle of perpetuating the lies about ourselves-looking in mirrors and wishing away the parts of ourselves we refuse to accept. The challenge is for us as Christians to start showing ourselves more compassion. I had a conversation with my supervisor the other day and he said one of the golden rules of counseling that he tells his clients is that they owe themselves just as much, if not more, of the compassion, patience and love that they give to others. Such a simple rule, yet so difficult for many of us.
We judge ourselves by ridiculously unattainable standards and then when we fall short, as we will, the little self-worth we had slowly starts to dissipate because it wasn’t grounded on anything lasting; anything real and concrete. Somewhere between all the lies, hurt and pain, we’ve forgotten that our worth is inherent. It cannot be touched, changed or eradicated. It can be diminished in no way because it was given to us as a gift by our Father. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we are flawed. But that’s not the end of the story and we need to stop judging ourselves by one chapter of the book. The relationship we have with ourselves is one of the most important relationships we will have in this lifetime. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: what is holding me back from truly loving myself? If we’re honest with ourselves we will probably find that we are measuring ourselves by unrealistic and impossible standards; standards we learned from our childhood, or from society. But they aren’t God’s standards. This is important to understand because the standard in which we measure our self-worth will determine our capacity to love and accept ourselves. If our worth is dependent on our grades, then the second we get a bad one, our worth shatters. If it’s dependent on compliments from others, on being perfect, on having your parents’ approval, on being the holiest person at your Bible study, then how will you ever be free? God created us for freedom, not slavery, but if our worth is dependent on outside factors, we will never feel good enough and we will go our whole lives chasing an allusion of something we have to be just so that we can love ourselves at the end of the day. This is a vicious cycle; one we weren’t created to live in.
How do we break the cycle? Here’s some practical, BEHAVIORAL steps I’ve discussed with my clients:
- When someone gives you a compliment, smile and receive it. There’s something incredibly beautiful about a person who can receive a compliment without having to deny it.
- When you look in the mirror, say something nice to yourself. Make a list of things you appreciate about yourself. Write a letter to yourself or have someone you trust write a letter to you telling you of your beauty so that on the days you need reminding, you can read & re-read it to yourself, asking the Lord to help you believe it. (I have a note card that I taped to my mirror asking Jesus to continue to help me see my beauty through His eyes because I’m not always very nice to myself when I look through my own eyes).
- Look at where these lies began and start asking questions. We learn from our experiences that we aren’t good enough, skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, holy enough, etc. When did I first begin to think that beauty was defined by my weight? Think back on these experiences and ask God to heal these moments.
- Know that negative thoughts will occur, but we have the power to control which ones we entertain. If a thought pops into your head that you feel fat, you can speak truth to that lie or you can choose to go and stand in the mirror and stare at your stomach or thighs or excessively weigh yourself only to continue feeding the lie. (We can’t just try to think our way into loving ourselves…we have to make concrete, behavioral changes along with it).
- Look for evidence to refute the lie. Where is the evidence that I’m not loved? Where is the evidence that I’m not beautiful? I tell my girls, if I am the jury and they are the prosecution then they need to convince me why that lie is truth. If they can’t find enough concrete, objective evidence, then they need to change the way they’re thinking. Often times we use what we call in counseling “emotional reasoning” which essentially is our tendency to think something is true because it feels like truth. E.g., “I don’t feel beautiful so I must not be.” We know as Christian’s truth is not predicated on feelings. God gave us REASON to guide our emotions but we often fail to use it in relating to ourselves. We need to start thinking about how irrational some of these views we believe about ourselves are.
- Be patient with yourself. St Francis De Sales says, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.” If you’ve gone the majority of your life believing certain lies about yourself then you can’t expect instantaneous change in how you look or feel about yourself. A lot of my clients will get discouraged and they’ll come back the next week saying they tried to speak truth to themselves but they didn’t feel anything different. Like most things we want instant gratification. We learned to think a certain way about ourselves and we have to RE-LEARN how to think differently in order to feel differently. This takes time. The important thing to remember is patience and perseverance. We need to be consistent in how we treat, view and talk about ourselves.
- Choose wisely the words you use to describe others and yourself. Language has a huge impact on the way we feel. If I were to have a day where I’m feeling insecure and I tell myself, “You’re so pathetic for struggling with this,” the chances of feeling even worse about myself just increased exponentially. If I’m feeling insecure that day and I decide to think, “You know what, I’m not feeling very good about myself today but it’s okay,” then I just allowed myself PERMISSION to acknowledge how I’m feeling WITHOUT labeling myself because of it & I can guarantee that I won’t feel as bad about myself as I would have in the first option. Also, stay away from continual self-deprecating humor. This is breeding grounds for perpetuating negative views of yourself, “joking” or not.
- Get outside of yourself. If you’re struggling to feel good about yourself that day, then go help someone else feel good about themselves. Go give them a compliment. Go help someone else realize their beauty. LOVE THEM. Often times this is what helps us recognize our true beauty because true beauty is found in virtue. St. Augustine once said, “Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.”
- Pray your butt off. Satan wants us to feel defeated. He wants us to struggle to love ourselves so that we can go turn to the world in pursuit of filling the void within us. But he doesn’t get the last word when we turn to Jesus. If we think the battle to love ourselves is going to be fought standing up, we’re mistaken. This battle will be won only on our knees. It’s time to start fighting back with truth and prayer, calling upon our Blessed Mother & the Communion of Saints to help us. I tell my girls, even if you work on challenging the lies and at the end of the day you don’t “feel” like you believe the truth, at least you have the peace of knowing you fought and you didn’t just roll over as easy prey for the enemy.
- Lastly, ask God to help you recognize the way in which your wounds serve as the receptor sites for His grace. When I was in counseling and really struggling to see any sense of worth in myself I would spend hours weeping in front of the Blessed Sacrament asking God why it was so difficult for me to love myself. I would ask Him to hurry everything up a bit so I could start feeling a little better about myself. I remember vividly how He spoke to my heart in that moment saying, “The days when you don’t feel beautiful are my gift to you because then you come to me and ask me to show you your beauty.” It was true. If I felt good about myself every day, then I wouldn’t need to go to my Father and ask Him, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” And if I didn’t have to ask Him that repeatedly then I would have robbed Him of the chance to speak that truth to my heart. The answer is always “YES”, but we have to go to Him and ask the question. Jesus can convince us of our beauty better than we could ever convince ourselves. Let Him convince you.
For most Christians I think the one relationship we neglect the most is the relationship with ourselves. We’re going to go out and feed the homeless but we will not feed ourselves with truth, compassion or love. We will take the shirt off our back for someone else, but we will not clothe ourselves with the dignity we possess as children of God. My fear for many of us is that we will stand before God one day and tell Him of all the ways we loved others and He will say to us, “Yes, you loved your brother well, but why did you never take time to love yourself? Why did you call yourself such hurtful names? Why couldn’t you graciously accept the compliment I asked one of my children to give you? Why did you reject the truths about yourself that I died for you to know?” It’s time for us as Christians to start treating ourselves differently. St. Francis De Sales said, “You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, to work by working; in just the same way, you learn to love by loving.” It’s time we start trying to be kind to ourselves, extending the same charity we show to our brothers and sisters to ourselves. This life isn’t about us or even how we feel about ourselves, but we need to begin to try and learn how to love ourselves because the same spirit of God that dwells in every human we encounter dwells within our own hearts. If we remember one thing as we continue this battle of trying to love ourselves let it be this: Jesus within us deserves to be loved.
Let’s continue to ask God to reveal to us our worth but more than anything, let’s start living like we have some 🙂
My name is Drewe Weymouth and I’m a pastoral counseling student. I believe the most fundamental attribute of the Pastoral Counselor is the foundation of faith in which they rest upon. Whether it is the language they use, the specific therapeutic techniques they implement or the psychoeducation they provide to their clients, Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church must remain at the heart and center of everything a Pastoral Counselor says and does.