Where the phrase “Self-Esteem” Comes From
The words, “self-esteem” have followed me around like a dark cloud overhead ever since I was very young. Recently I have started on a journey to figure out what these words really mean, and where they actually come from. I wanted to know if self-esteem was actually a biblical concept. I think the answers will surprise you. Let’s get started with where the phrase came from.
The internet is such an amazing tool! Even though it makes the spread of evil and addiction more accessible than every before in history, it is also an amazing resource for the believer. I started this project by looking for “self” and “esteem” in the bible, and there wasn’t one verse that had both words in them. In fact, there are 6 verses that contain the word “esteem” and most of them have to do with esteeming others. Only one talks about obtaining esteem for yourself, in Proverbs 3:1-4 it says,
“My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; For length of days and long life and peace they will add to you. Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and esteem in the sight of God and man.”
The next verse that I want to bring up is one that most Christians will be familiar with, Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
After some research I learned that the term self-esteem comes from the world of human psychology, so I found one of the leading doctors in this area of study in order to find the most relevant definition. Let’s go ahead and look at how the phrase, “self-esteem” is defined by an expert on the concept, Dr. Nathaniel Branden. He states that,
“Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness. It is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension, it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices and decisions, and respond effectively to change. It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment – happiness – are right and natural for us.”[“What is self esteem” by Nathaniel Branden]
I’m not going to go into anything more that Branden talks about regarding what self-esteem is and isn’t. I am primarily focused on the term self-esteem at it’s most basic meaning. Let’s go down the list of the definition given by the doctor of self-esteem step by step.
Am I Competent, Or Is God?
1. “Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness.”
I don’t know about you, but I am certainly not competent to cope with the basic challenges of life on my own. When I have tried to do that on my own, I have always, always failed. And if you will go back to a few moments ago, you will remember that we quoted Proverbs 3:5 which says, “Trust in Lord with all your heart…” Whom does it say we should entrust our competence to? God. And then it takes it a step further, “…and lean NOT on your own understanding.” To me that is a direct hit. The target, point one of Dr. Branden’s definition, has been blown out of the water by the bible.
As far as my worthiness of being happy, I find no biblical argument arguing that in myself, I can find worthiness of happiness. I do know that in Proverbs 3:13 we see that, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.” But what kind of wisdom and understanding are we talking about? Specifically the wisdom and understanding that comes directly from God.
Can I Really Make Appropriate Choices On My Own?
2. “Self-esteem is confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think. By extension it is confidence in our ability to learn, make appropriate choices, and decisions…”
When I was younger this kind of argument might have sounded agreeable to me, but as a 30 year old woman, I have come to know myself a lot better. I have learned that my mind and its thoughts are fleshly, and on its own it would lead me into destructive sin and death, right where satan wants me. How did I figure this out? Actually, It says it right here in our main passage of scripture:
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct you paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones.” Proverbs 3:6-8
Where do we turn to for the ability to think clearly apart from our own evil eyes? To the Lord! He is the one that knows how to direct our paths. He is also the health for our flesh and the strength for our bones. He will strengthen us when we are weak and we have to deal with making appropriate decisions and choices. Are you getting excited about where this is going? I am!
Can I Deal Well With Change By Myself?
3. “Self esteem is confidence in our ability to respond effectively to change.”
Maybe you don’t deal with change well. We are in the same club! But life is full of change, and these changes can be challenging. One of the biggest falls in my life came after a difficult change. The reason I fell so hard was I tried to figure it out on my own! I was angry at God and I didn’t want His help. I didn’t ask Him what I should do. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Branden. I am not able to respond effectively to change on my own, no matter what he says. And guess what? God knew we all would be that way! That is why in Proverbs 3:20-26 it says,
“By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and clouds drop down the dew. My son, let them not depart from your eyes – Keep sound wisdom and discretion; so they will be life to your shoulder and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; Yes you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor trouble from the wicked when it comes; For the Lord will be your confidence. and will keep your foot from being caught.”
When you have God’s wisdom and discretion, nothing will be able to throw you off of God’s way for your life. I’m not saying that life will be easy, and I don’t believe that is what this verse is saying either. However, it is clear that if you follow God’s ways instead of your trusting in your own understanding, nothing can throw you off of God’s path, including all of the changes along the way. We see another example of God being the deciding factor of surviving major changes in our life in Luke 6:48, “He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.” But what happens if we do as Dr. Branden suggests and have confidence in our own ability to respond effectively to change? We see that in Luke 6:49, “But he who heard and did nothing (in response to the teachings of Jesus) is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” We see that independent of God, man cannot survive the changes and challenges of this life.
We’ll get into the 4th and most important part of self-esteem in part 2 of this series, but for now, let’s pray.
Our Prayer For Today
Dear Father in Heaven,
Thank you so much for Your word and Your truth. Help us to see the lies of this world for what they are, help us to understand Your purposes for our lives, and most importantly Your deep love for us. Help us to grow in You as we continue to discover the truth You have lovingly given us in Your word and help us to be wise to the schemes of the devil. Amen.