By: Tyler Lehmann
Would you like to feel better about yourself? Join the club. Americans are obsessed with self-esteem. And we leave no stone unturned in our quest to find it.
Some of us look to physical appearance. Others count on their accomplishments or intelligence. Even boyfriends and girlfriends can be paths to self-esteem.
These sources all have one thing in common: they depend on other people. But evaluating our worth based on what others think of us comes at a price, and there’s research to prove it.
After surveying more than 600 college freshmen, psychologist Jennifer Crocker found that basing self-esteem on external sources is associated with increased stress, anger, academic problems and relationship conflicts. Crocker’s study is published the Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 58, No. 3.
“Contingencies of self-worth that are external . . . are much more vulnerable to threat on a day-to-day basis, and constantly require earning the approval of yet another person, winning yet another award, or outdoing yet another competitor,” Crocker said.
To avoid getting caught in this cycle, we need to teach ourselves that impressing others—whether through our appearance, intelligence or accomplishments—will never truly fulfill us. Crocker concludes that the more we worry about our self-esteem, the worse we actually feel about ourselves.
“We really think that if people could adopt goals not focused on their own self-esteem but on something larger than their self . . . then they would be less susceptible [to the negative effects of pursuing self-esteem],” she says. “It’s about having a goal that is bigger than the self.”
Crocker’s study is secular, but as Christians, we know what that goal is for us. True self-esteem doesn’t come from glorifying ourselves, but from glorifying God.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”—Psalm 139:14
In this Psalm, David recognizes that his value comes from God, from being “fearfully and wonderfully made.” True self-esteem like this can’t be found in admiration from others. That’s because all that is admirable in us, we’ve received from God.
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”—Romans 7:19, 24-25
Biblical self-esteem isn’t about feeling good about yourself all the time. Instead, it means knowing the creator of the universe desires you and has a purpose for your life.
And I’d take that over empty praise any day.