Self Esteem

Norman L. Coad, D.Min

Positive self-esteem is the internalized understanding of one’s own self worth in the light of the truth of the Word of God.

Biblically Based Self Esteem

Positive self-esteem is the internalized understanding of one’s own self worth in the light of the truth of the Word of God. It is based on the creative work of God as revealed in the mind of God and His hands-on interactive relationship realized in physical reality from the moment of conception and our ongoing relationship to Him throughout life. Positive self-esteem is shown in our performance in life (but not based, nor dependent on, performance). It is not performance based love and acceptance. It is a state of being, but one of who God created us to be, with all our unique traits of character and abilities. This is a biblically based Christian understanding of self-esteem.


William James (1842-1910)—originated the term and the understanding of self-esteem.[1] Today, in psychology, the view that self-esteem as a collection of attitudes towards oneself remains current.[2]

James’ “me-self” comprises the material self, social self and spiritual self. The material self consists of representations of the body. The social self comprises all characteristics recognized by others. The spiritual self is how we present and evaluate ourselves.[3]

Behaviorism minimized self-esteem as an unreliable aspect of introspection (looking into one’s own mind, feelings and reactions and making observations and analyses of oneself).[4] Behaviorists saw human beings as animals subject to, and altered by, negative or positive reinforcements.[5]

The concept of core self evaluations was first developed by Judge, Locke and Durham in 1997. The core evaluations include one’s fundamental appraisal of oneself, with locus of control (a sense of control), neuroticism (the interactions of the nervous system on self) and self-efficacy (the ability to bring about positive and appropriate outcomes for oneself).[6] (The interpretations are the author’s.)

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), in his hierarchy of needs, reflected the idea that self-esteem was a basic need and motivation.[7] He described two types of self-esteem: respect from others in the form of recognition, success and admiration, and self-respect in the form of self-love, self-confidence, skill and aptitude.[8] Without fulfillment of self-esteem needs, we become driven and are unable to grow and realize self-actualization (being and living out who we actually are).[9]

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) taught that the origin of many personal problems was that people despise themselves and consider themselves worthless and incapable of being loved.[10] In order to enhance self-esteem we must give people positive regard unconditionally.[11]

In humanistic philosophy it is stated, “Every human being, without exception, for the mere fact of its self existence, is worthy of unconditional respect of everybody else; he deserves to esteem himself and to be esteemed.”[12]

Life experiences have great effect, positive and negative, on self-esteem.[13] Nurturing parents are critically important in nurturing self-esteem. Unconditional love from authoritative parents who are caring and supportive adults, who set clear standards for their children and allow them to voice their opinion in decision making, produce children who have high self-esteem and do well in school interactions.

Childhood experiences that are an aid in self-esteem building and nurturing include: being listened to, being spoken to respectfully, receiving appropriate attention, having accomplishments recognized and mistakes acknowledge with unconditional acceptance of the child.[14]

Life experiences that bring about or encourage low self-esteem include: being harshly criticized, being physically, sexually or emotionally abused (any type of abuse), being ignored, ridiculed, teased or being expected to be perfect all the time.

During school years, aids to high self-esteem include: academic achievement and positive social experiences. Comparing oneself to others can alter healthy self-esteem; negative self-evaluations are destructive to self-esteem. Successful, positive relationships and interactions increase self-esteem whereas rejection by peers and loneliness brings about self-doubts and low self-esteem.[15]

In later years, levels of mastery, low risk taking and better health, with adequate financing (author’s edit) are ways to predict higher self-esteem.

Shame, at whatever age, contributes to low self-esteem. It makes no difference if it is false-shame (undeserved, or not real) or real and true guilt and shame. If these are not resolved, redemptively, low self-esteem will result.

High Self-Esteem

The characteristics of high self-esteem in individuals include:

• They belief firmly in their values and principles and can defend them, or alter them, in the light of experience and insight.

• They are able to make decisions and act decisively, trusting their own judgment, without guilt or being overly concerned about others’ opinions.

• They do not expend excessive emotional energy worrying about the past or the future, but live in the present.

• They trust themselves to solve problems even in the face of apparent failures and difficulties.

• They consider that they are as good and competent and of equal value to others (not better than, not less than), while being fully aware of the differences of social standing, talents and financial standings.

• They understand that they themselves are precious, unique and worthy as are the people with which they interact.

• They resist domination, manipulation and control, they resist being defensive and are able to collaborate with others in appropriate and necessary ways.

• They are self-aware, and accept their internal feelings and drives both positive and negative, while revealing these to others in appropriate situations and healthy ways.

• They can enjoy a variety of activities.

• They are sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, respect generally accepted social values and they do not claim any right or special privilege or desire to prosper at others’ expense. This is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Insecure Self-Esteem

Insecure People—people with defensive high self-esteem are fragile and vulnerable to criticism. They may internalize subconscious self-doubts and insecurity, causing negative reaction to any criticism. They have a need for constant positive feedback from others in order to maintain a fragile positive self-worth. These may also be boastful, arrogant and act superior to others and at times express aggressive hostile feelings, tearing others down in order to build themselves up.[16]

The Characteristics of Low Self-Esteem are:

• Heavy self criticism and dissatisfaction.

• Hypersensitivity to criticism with resentments against critics and feelings of being attacked.

• They exhibit chronic indecision and exaggerated fear of mistakes.

• They have excessive will to please and are unwilling to displease others.

• They practice perfectionism which often leads to frustration when not achieved.

• They show neurotic guilt, dwelling or exaggerating the magnitude of past mistakes.

• They can express a floating hostility and general defensiveness and irritability without any apparent cause.

• They live out of pessimism and a general negative outlook.

• They have a general negative outlook without making differences between person, person-in-situation and situations.

• They see temporary setbacks as permanently intolerable conditions.
NOTE: The above characteristics are based on wiki/self-esteem.

Biblically Based Self-Esteem

The following is based on chapter six, “A Biblical Basis of Healthy Self-Esteem” and chapter seven “Self-Esteem Therapy,” of The Divided Soul.[17] The characteristics of biblically based self-esteem are:

• Positive self-esteem is the internalized understanding of one’s own self worth in the light of the truth of the Word of God.

• Positive self-esteem is based on the creative work of God as revealed in the mind of God and His hands-on interactive relationship when He created us in our mother’s womb. He desires an ongoing relationship to Him throughout life.

• Positive self-esteem is shown in one’s performance in life, but not based nor dependent on performance. It is not performance based love and acceptance.

• Positive self-esteem is a state of being based on the fact that God created us to be, with all our unique traits of character and abilities.

We are who the Word of God says we are, not what the accuser speaks, not what our negative, diminishing thoughts accuse us of being. We are not what our behaviors seem to indicate we are. The Word of God, which can never be broken and endures for both time and eternity, tells us who we are. There is no one who is an exception to the absolute truth. Psalm 139:13-18 and Ecclesiastes 5:14 make this plain to us. The setting of Psalm 139 is that David, the King, in conversation with God. (David lived during the bronze age, about 3,000 years ago.) God spoke revealing our value and identity.

In paraphrase, David states, “You, God, created me. You knit me together within my mother’s womb with Your own hands. Therefore, just as Adam and Eve were created by God’s own hands, so was David, so are we.” In the nontechnical age of the time, David chooses to express the creative process of human gestation as being like a knitting. Francis Crick discovered DNA in the mid 1950s. DNA is a long three strand of yarn like threads with interconnecting hairs. It is over twenty feet long and rolls on and off a bobbin. This is very much like yarn. Cell division and multiplication is similar to knitting.

David states, “I praise You God for me! I am fearfully, awesome and wonderfully, uniquely made.” The two most important commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.

David then says to God, “Your works are wonderful (speaking of himself), I know that full well.” At this I took exception. I knew David’s life story. He had shed much blood. He had a violent, rageful temper. He also had too many women in his life. With Bathsheba, Uriah the Hittite’s wife, he broke most of the Ten Commandments: You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet, all this while causing the death of an innocent child and cursing his family. His performance was despicable and it bothered me. However, as I read more, God called him “David, my beloved” and said, “He is a man after my own heart.” I could not resolve David’s behaviors with the Scriptures. Later on, while reading Ecclesiastes 3:14 the Holy Spirit resolved the issue for me.

The Scripture says, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.” God made David. It is true our spirit and soul last forever. So David is eternal.

You cannot add anything to it and nothing can be taken from it. So when David said that he himself was wonderful and he knew it full well he was talking about God’s unchangeable work of which he was a part. I judged him on the basis of his performance (which was terrible). What does God say about performance? About everyone’s performance?

• We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. (Isaiah 53:6)

• There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God, all have turned away. They have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12) Therefore, our value is not, cannot be, based on our performance, but on God’s creative work which cannot be altered or changed in any way. Then that means that whatever has been done to us cannot devalue us. No matter what we do, or how low we descend. Our value remains the same. If no one ever validates who we are, or affirms us in any way, we are precious even so. As God’s creation, created in Christ Jesus, our value is fixed. It never changes, it does not go up, nor does it go down. This is true both for time and eternity. Trying to perform to have self worth or high self-esteem is a fruitless effort. Performance based love and acceptance is like walking on a treadmill. One uses up a lot of energy but goes nowhere. As a state of being, we are wonderful, awesome, unique, beloved of God, precious, chosen of God, created by God, a man or woman after God’s own heart. See figure.








3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
10. Op sit
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. N.L. Coad. The Divided Soul Coadword Books, Burleson, TX. 2016, p 61-75.

Next Article: Therapy for Self Esteem

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