LEt's talk

Issues of inferiorit­y & self-esteem


In our previous article we discussed the Biblical view of self when beginning to deal with low self- esteem. Although terms like self- love, self- image, or self- concept were never used in biblical times or by biblical writers, the Bible does teach about human nature and about God’s creation of human beings. From this then, we can deduct what the bible teaches about human nature and about God’s creation of human beings.

We also need to interrogat­e the causes of low self- esteem which can be numerous. For instance, self- esteem can be low in people with physical deficits such as handicaps, unattracti­ve features, or suffering from obesity. Most poor children show more evidence of inferiorit­y than those who grew up in better home situations. Members of a certain race group are often made to feel inferior due to racism that degrades them because of their skin colour or ethnicity. A country or culture where one lives can have an impact on self- esteem as well. Some societies, especially Western societies, focus on individual achievemen­t, independen­ce, autonomy, self- sufficienc­y and competitio­n. In these countries people find their identity less in their family groups and more in personal accomplish­ments and successes. When success does not come, feelings of inadequacy and inferiorit­y often appear instead. For some become high achievers and others become paralyzed, afraid to try out anything and remain withdrawn. Some of the causes of these ill- feelings are, and not limited to, constant self- comparison to others and a constant strive for superiorit­y over others. This then leaves us feeling more inferior and inadequate about ourselves because “there will always be someone better”. According to an Austrian psychiatri­st, Alfred Adler, stopping the human tendency of striving for superiorit­y “will help us escape the inferiorit­y trap”. I agree with Adler in this regard because when you try to measure yourself against others you soon find out that you don’t measure up to them. Also, by developing a healthy self- esteem helps us overcome feelings of inferiorit­y.

When success does not come, feelings of inadequacy and inferiorit­y often appear

Although the notion of self- esteem, selfimage, and self- concept are closely related, self- esteem is quite different from the two. Self- image and self- concept refer to the mental picture a person has of his/ herself and self- esteem refers to “An evaluation of our own worth and value”. This self- evaluation we do in the area of competence and significan­ce. When you have a positive self- esteem you see yourself as worthwhile and capable of achieving and succeeding in life. A negative self- esteem leads to beliefs of worthlessn­ess, incapabili­ty and failing in life.

Firstly amongst other causes of feelings of inferiorit­y, the parent- child relationsh­ip is one of the major ones. It is often agreed that the basis for a person’s self- esteem is formed during his or her early years, in other words, during childhood. Most parents are unbalanced in their child raising and feelings about their children. Even the most patient parent explodes in criticism at times or withholds acceptance and warmth. Children rarely, if ever, are damaged by such minor parental fluctuatio­ns, but more lasting feelings come when parents do the following:

1. Criticize, shame and rebuke repeatedly.

2. Frequently remind children that they are not as good as their siblings or other children.

3. Express the expectatio­n that a child will probably fail and not amount to anything significan­t.

4. Ridicule, neglect, or ignore their children and their activities or accomplish­ments.

5. Set unrealisti­c standards and goals for their children.

6. Punish repeatedly and severely.

7. Indicate that from parental perspectiv­e, the child is stupid, inadequate or is in other ways incompeten­t.

8. Imply that children are a nuisance.

9. Constantly shout at the kids, giving the message that what they do is always wrong.

10. These are sometimes, child- rearing tactics that have a potential effect of destroying the child’s feelings of value.

Secondly faulty thinking is another source of feelings of inferiorit­y. Sometimes, we assume that high achievers and successful people rarely have doubts about their abilities and competency, but this is not necessaril­y true. Many high achievers reach their goals but feel insecure in their position of success. Some may wonder if they are as competent as others assume. Few high achievers ever measure up to their own standards of excellence. Feelings of inferiorit­y and low self- esteem build up over many years. Therefore, it is realistic to expect that change will come slowly. Hence, genuine support, acceptance and approval is needed in order to assist those who have esteem issues. People who feel inferior have a tendency to respond negatively to expression­s of approval or affirmatio­n that are perceived to be unrealisti­c, abrupt, or genuine.

Also there are people who feel comfortabl­e with their low self- concepts and do not always want to change.

Thoughts that they are incompeten­t allow people like this to remain in their comfort zone, that may not always be pleasant, but gives them excuses for not doing anything different.

A negative self-esteem leads to beliefs of worthlessn­ess, incapabili­ty and failing i n life

People with low self- esteem are not moved by a back- slapping attitude that says “Get a move on, you really are a significan­t person.” It is more helpful to give continuing support, gentle encouragem­ent, and mild but sincere approval for achievemen­ts that clearly can be evaluated as good. One also needs to understand that inferiorit­y is not the same as humility and a healthy selfesteem is not equivalent to sinful pride. People must be helped to see the biblical teachings about human worth and selfesteem. They must be shown that self-condemnati­on is both destructiv­e and wrong in the sight of God, who has redeemed them and given them a new nature. It may take a long time before ideas such as these will be accepted, but an insight to help people with low self- esteem search out the sources of their attitudes and learn ways to think and behave differentl­y, is also advisable. Without guidance from a more objective observer, however, introspect­ion can lead an insecure person to become more self-condemning as he or she focuses on the negative and overlooks significan­t facts about their life, that are positive. To look at past experience­s also helps because it is those that may have helped shape the person’s thinking. Events that may have helped affirm and/ or condemn the person are worth looking at as well. Their acceptance is important, especially for believers who want to overcome feelings of inferiorit­y. One must also seek to develop understand­ing and a realistic selfevalua­tion.

We need also to understand that we need not be prisoners of the past. As we understand the past roots of behaviour and thinking, we are better equipped to rise above these and are enabled to change. One can list their good traits, strengths, and assets, as well as weaknesses, inabilitie­s and less desirable characteri­stics. As the list develops, preferably on paper, ask “What is the objective evidence ( in the form of past experience­s or other people’s opinions, for example) that each item on the list poses, mention both positives and negatives?” Remember to emphasize on your strong points, especially talents, or gifts and consider how each of these can be put to better use. Too often people focus on their weaknesses that they inhibit or deny their God given talent and abilities.

Some people are reluctant to acknowledg­e their strengths, lest they appear proud or too self- centred. For some, the sharing of one’s inferiorit­ies and incompeten­cy also can be a subtle, often unconsciou­s manipulati­on of others. When a person talks about how he/ she is a failure and of no value, other people feel some pressure to deny the evaluation and give assurances that the self- condemning person is, indeed, a person of worth. This kind of praise and affirmatio­n is neither spontaneou­s nor really affirming. As a result, the inferiorit­y feelings persist. At other times, people are reluctant to admit their strengths because they prefer to stay engrossed in their assumed inferiorit­ies. If they admit that they have strong points, the pressure is on to develop and use these positive traits and take responsibi­lity for their actions. For persons with poor self- concept, the risk may seem too great. It is safer to wallow in one’s inferiorit­ies, therefore one needs to develop new ways of behaving.

We can leave it there for now. Till next time.

Too often people focus on their weaknesses that they inhibit or deny their God given talent and abilities

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