Just as I am
"It all sounds pretty pathetic, doesn't it?" My client smiled weakly after recounting events in her life and her choices in response. "I guess that means I have low self-esteem."
Psychologists define self-esteem as our sense of personal value or self-worth. Considered a personality trait, it's usually stable and lasting, unless we intentionally work to change it. Self-esteem involves beliefs regarding our appearance, opinions, emotions, and behaviours. It's a human need, critical to survival and healthy, normal development that originates from within us, based on our beliefs and consciousness within the context of our thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Low self-esteem is characterized by a lack of confidence, negative thinking, and difficulty making decisions and communicating our needs. When our sense of self-worth is low we may experience the anxiety and self-critical thinking that leads to more negative thinking, fewer satisfying relationships, and reluctance to try new things or pursue goals. We miss out on life because of a deep conviction that we don't deserve the best life has to offer.
My client was experiencing all of this. After uncovering potential reasons for her self-negativity, therapy shifted to focus on her positive qualities, a list she found difficult to compose. She managed a few suggestions when I asked what her closest friends would say about her. "They'd say I'm a good listener, compassionate, talented. But the truth is that I'm not any of those things. If people really knew me, they wouldn't like me."
When we believe we're unlovable, it's also hard to believe that God loves us. My client was sure that God loved her only "because God has to love all His creation." She was equally certain that God would love her more if she were to become a better person, more deserving of divine love.
What a contradiction, we realized, between low self-esteem, that fear that we are unworthy, and God's assurances in the Scriptures that we are loved deeply, worth giving his life for. "I know in my head that God loves me enough to die for me," my client sighed, "I just can't feel it in my heart."
How could I help her believe this in her heart? My own self-esteem issues and insecurities about my competency threatened, until I remembered God could use me just as I was.
This came from a previous session when my client confided that she couldn't sing her favourite hymn, "Just As I Am," without tears and a deep longing for those words to be true. And so, counting on God to magnify my efforts, I assigned her homework to practice daily until our next session. "Memorize that hymn and pray it 10 times a day until our next meeting."
A month later she returned, grinning broadly. "You knew what would happen if I did that homework!" she accused.
"I'd say the Holy Spirit knew."
"God loves me," she asserted, "just as I am… and that changes everything."
God uses me just as I am, I thought, and that does change everything.
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