Q&A: More Comment Than Question on Self-Worth-Part 2

In Part One of this segment, I discussed the “Looking Glass Self,” which explains our self-image in terms of the “reflections” we see in the “mirrors” around us—parents and sibs to begin with and others as we grow up and become adults. So how do we heal our sense of self when it’s damaged and negative? We need to stop looking in the mirrors around us and look to the only perfect, unblemished mirrors in the universe—our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As we come to know them, they can reveal to us who we really are. The reflections that some from God and Christ are based on our worth and our worthiness.

Worth is a given, declared scripturally and in prophetic pronouncement. It is an eternal truth that we are the spiritual offspring of a Divine Father and that each of us is one of His precious and much-loved sons or daughters, with equal potential and ability to become just as our Father is. Further, the doctrine of the Atonement serves to define us as inherently valuable. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord our Redeemer suffered death in the flesh…that all men might repent and come unto him” (D&C 18:10-11). We have been told that Christ would have suffered and died for each of us individually, even if any one of us had, alone, been hanging in the balance. To consider ourselves of little or no worth, then, goes beyond just being inaccurate, it actually constitutes a rejection of doctrinal truth. Some individuals become so locked in a negative view of themselves that it’s as if they almost feel that they have found some way to put themselves beyond the love of God and Jesus Christ, an interesting permutation of pride. Accepting our own inherent worth and potential is a decision, an act of faith in the revealed truth of the Restored Gospel.

Worthiness is also a choice, or a combination of the choices we make on a daily basis. Understanding our intrinsic, inherent worth is not enough on it’s own, because how we feel about ourselves is not distinct from what we do. Or, as I often told my children when they were growing up, “Pretty is as pretty does.” Prophets have often reminded us that it is not possible to do wrong and feel right. So, if we truly want to heal our wounded souls, we must obey the commandments of God. The grace of Christ is so extensive, and so generous, that even if we “come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), our diligent efforts to please God are sufficient for us to be found worthy as we progress. Faith and works are both necessary to truly heal us from serious injury to our sense of self: faith that we are divine in our origin and potential and works consisting of our committed effort to show God that we care what He thinks of us. Again, the promise: “…my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27)

I worked once with a young married woman who had gone into a deep post-partum depression when her first child was born. She came from a painful and abusive background and had been convinced at an early age that she wasn’t worth much as a human being. We worked on eliminating those old—and flawed—“reflections” and on keeping her focus on what God and Christ knew her to be. She was doing great when one week she came to her counseling session feeling seriously depressed again. She said she had been feeling so much better until a few days ago it had occurred to her that maybe her abusive father had been right, she was worthless, and maybe believing that Heavenly Father and Christ saw her differently was the delusion. She said she wanted to believe that she was a worthwhile person but how could she be sure? My answer was simple and in the form of two questions. First, how does your life—including your relationship with your husband and your child—go when you are feeling worthwhile and have positive feelings of self-worth? Her answer: everything is better. Second, how does your life go when you feel worthless and have a negative view of yourself? Her answer: everything is worse. So, I pointed out, even if it is delusional thinking to believe that you are a good and worthwhile person, it works better. Why do anything else?

That may seem a bit flippant, but it’s not meant to be. Think about it. Why not do what works best?

We can choose to define ourselves through our relationship to God, not through our relationship with others. By going directly to God for our feelings of worth, we can heal past injuries and become less vulnerable to negativity from others. Of course, it won’t eliminate all the unpleasantness of having others attack us, but the injuries will not be  deep or devastating as we draw upon God for our sense of worth and well-being.

Again, in order to feel acceptable, we must be making sincere efforts to be obedient. Although God loves us even when we are sinful, He cannot accept us in our sins. But if we are earnestly seeking to live the gospel with consistency, God can fill us with the assurance that we are successfully moving in His direction.

Again, “…If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

(NOTE: While the above principles really do work, let me clarify that any brief treatment of such a serious subject will undoubtedly seem rather simplistic. In many cases, it can be very helpful to access professional counseling resources to help with the healing process.)

  1. Pops says:

    Today I watched an excellent presentation from a 2005 BYU Education Week by James D. MacArthur. He talked about how each of us needs correct self esteem in two categories: the “be” category and the “do” category, and how we can build up our children and others in both categories. If you’re a parent with a struggling child, I highly recommend it. (It’s on http://www.byu.tv, under the “Conferences and Addresses” tab.)

    “Correct” self esteem in the “be” category (he calls it the “be box”) must, by definition, be positive. Extremely positive. So spread the good news to everyone you meet – they’re all awesome, miraculous beings. (That goes for whoever is reading this, too.)

    Lately, I’ve been on a crusade against the “maybe believing in Christ and God is delusional” line of thought. Testimony consists of more than revelation. When you obey a principle and it produces good results, you know it’s a true principle. Is that not a testimony? Spiritual confirmation is great, but you can also rely on the experience of doing the right things and seeing it bear positive fruit in your life.

    So, I don’t think your answer was flippant, but maybe I wish you had pointed out that when something works better, that is a testimony that it is better.

  2. Lili says:

    I completely agree about the “fruits and roots” approach. I think it is a tremendous litmus test of truth. In other words, if something bears good fruit, than the roots are good.

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