Do you turn beet red when you’re embarrassed? I am so much better now, but for most of my life everyone knew how uncomfortable I was by the color of my face. My most mortifying moment came in a junior high school assembly. The auditorium was packed and I was sitting near the back. The faculty was recognizing students for their achievements and called the name of a boy seated behind me to come receive an award. When he leaned forward to stand, the button on his coat grabbed a chunk of my hair, securing him to my head. I worked feverishly to liberate him, but meanwhile his absence from the stage was causing the entire assembly to turn around in search of him. My face was on fire! I finally ripped my hair free and he proceeded down the aisle with a big hairball firmly attached to his jacket.
I don’t think I was particularly shy as a child, but I had my share of insecurities. I was preoccupied with how I was perceived by others and strived to fit in; I desired the acceptance and approval of others. I don’t think I’ll ever completely outgrow dips in self-confidence, but I’ve learned the secret to managing and overcoming them:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 NKJV)
The other end of the insecurity spectrum is an overabundance of self-confidence leading to pride. Daniel 3:4-6 provides an example in the king’s 90 foot tribute to himself: “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
In her Bible Study Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy, Beth Moore made two points that really struck me:
- “Self-loathing is just another form of self-absorption”
- “Constantly thinking little of ourselves is still thinking constantly of ourselves”
I wouldn’t exactly call it self-loathing, but I have definitely experienced sleepless nights over something stupid I said or did! The experts suggest that self-loathing isn’t something we’re born with, rather something we develop. While some people form a destructive view of themselves due to their appearance or perceived flaw, others experience the horror of abuse, or an extremely critical upbringing, or the ridicule of others. Regardless of the reason for our feelings, failing to embrace the truth that Christ created us for His purposes leaves us stuck. Beth puts it this way: like King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, “we can build a poor self-image with our preoccupation until it becomes 90 feet tall.”
Shy, insecure, or self-loathing individuals are limited. They are so preoccupied with self that God’s purposes for them are neglected. When we believe the message of a damaged self-image, we neglect the work God has planned for us and miss the blessing of stepping out obediently in faith. Risking self to follow God’s leading comes with blessing. I recently was asked to do a brief presentation in front of a fairly large audience. I could have said no, I’ll be too uncomfortable, I’m not prepared, someone else would do a better job, etc. But how would that help me grow? But as my cue approached I found myself getting nervous and preoccupied with my self. How could I convey what God had put on my heart if I was internalizing the moment, making it all about me? As I approached the stage I began pleading with God to be with me, to remove my self-focus and turn my attention to Him. I prayed He would use me to accomplish his purpose as I yielded to His peace. He faithfully responded!
A number of websites offer signs of self-loathing:
- Being too easily ashamed, second guessing ourselves and others
- Being frequently envious of others, feeling like you don’t measure up, that others are “better” than you
- Diverting every emotion involving others through emotions involving me
- Trying to motivate yourself with negative thoughts (“You’re too slow to win that race”, “You’ll never study enough to pass that test”, “You’ll never be as spiritual as those women”)
- Almost fighting any loving words, debating them, unable to disconnect them from the inner critic (just say thank you when you receive a compliment!)
- Apologizing for every little thing, over and over, no matter how minor – even apologizing for someone else’s issue or things you have no control over
- Setting goals low because you’re not good enough to reach higher ones
- Remembering the times you were wrong much easier than the times you were right, expecting to be wrong and overlooking the times you succeed
If you can identify with some of these traits, your ability to accomplish all God has in store for is being limited by them. Quit comparing yourself with others and start comparing yourself with who you were as you progress. Seek the strength to conquer insequrities through his word, beginning with what Jesus described as the greatest commandment:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
We must get our eyes off ourselves and onto Jesus. There’s a need within us that only God can fill. We’ll only know true, lasting joy when we truly know God.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Psalm 42:1)
Only Jesus can help us realize who He created us to be before we surrendered in defeat to imaginary or real obstacles that He has already overcome and has the power to remove.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
A 2010 article in Psychology Today presents a world view of the root of the self-hatred problem: “The circumstances that initially lead people to dislike themselves do so by triggering a thought process of self-loathing that continues long after the circumstances that set it in motion have resolved, a thought process that continues to gain momentum the longer it remains unchallenged, much like a boulder picks up speed rolling down a mountain as long as nothing gets in its way. For example, your parents may have failed to praise you or support your accomplishments in school when you were young—perhaps even largely ignored you—which led you to conclude they didn’t care about you, which then led you to conclude you’re not worth caring about. It’s this last idea, not the memory of your parents ignoring you that gathers the power within your life to make you loathe yourself if not checked by adult reasoning early on. Once a narrative of worthlessness embeds itself in one’s mind, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to disbelieve it, especially when one can find evidence that it represents a true account.
So regardless of the source of our preoccupation with self, it is time to just stop. Refuse to let the memory have power over our lives. And though you may notice me lean slightly forward when I sense someone seated behind me is preparing to stand, in the event my hair become entangled in a button I pledge to maintain my composure (and color… and hair) while accompanying the poor soul to the stage for a good laugh!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith… (Hebrews 2:1-2)
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28