I Don't Believe in Self-Esteem

Break free from the obsession about our worth

I’m kind of a strange psychologist because I don’t believe in “self-esteem.” Someone with a high self-esteem isn’t necessarily a happy, well-adjusted person. And low self-esteem isn’t a problem to be solved but is a symptom of a deeper, more significant issue.

The problem of self-worth isn’t truly a psychological one; it represents a spiritual symptom. Believing that we generate our own worth is a shaky proposition. Feelings about your value can be as fickle as how your favorite jeans happen to be fitting or whether some guy thinks you're worth dating. You become more or less valuable because you got a raise or your husband left you. When my self-worth is rooted in how I feel about myself, I can be prideful one day and despondent the next.

The problem of self-esteem began when we decided that what we think of ourselves is more reliable and valid than what God has said about us. This can go both ways: sometimes we inflate our worth, and at other times we dismiss our worth. Both conclusions are dangerous. Arrogance can be just as destructive as self-hatred!

Instead of helping someone with their “self-esteem,” I’d rather focus on helping them develop a healthy “self-concept.” You may think I’m splitting hairs with these terms, but there is a key difference. Self-esteem represents how I value myself; self-concept refers to how I see myself.

The healthiest self-concept is represented by seeing yourself based on what is actually true. The problem with many well-meaning counselors and motivational speakers is that they try to make you feel better by saying things that are not necessarily true. You are not in control of your life. You probably can’t be a millionaire and achieve all your dreams. You are not always beautiful and easy to love. There are times when you are not a good wife, mother, or friend. In order to live life based on truth, we need to be willing to embrace the good news as well as the bad.

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Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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