By A. Lee
It’s a terrifying thing to realize you’re not who you wish you were. So scary, in fact, that many of us don’t ever verbalize it. “I don’t like myself, I don’t like who I am,” is a scary thing to put words to.
We feel it long before we vocalize it. The self-loathing that so many of us experience often lives in places that we hide from ourselves and others.
Perhaps you have had moments of coming apart at the seams, moments of private breakdown, days that you feel you hate yourself and your life so much you don’t want to get out of bed.
You’ve had moments of private, intense guilt about ways you have failed to do what you know you ought to have done, or over people you have wronged.
Perhaps you’ve been overwhelmed by shame over things that have been done to you at the hand of others that aren’t your fault at all.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul penned song lyrics that almost perfectly sum up the fear and paralysis self-loathing can create, “What if everyone saw? What if everyone knew? Would they like what they saw, or would they hate it, too?”
We often feel that we are unlovable because of things that are inherently a part of us. We believe that if anyone saw us for who we truly were, there is no way we would be loved. “You are not loved or lovable,” is a track that plays on repeat in our minds.
If you’re like me, you often find ways to escape, ignore or temporarily silence this voice by burying it someplace deep, refusing to acknowledge it. And then sometimes, the dam breaks in a flood of self-hatred that we can’t ignore any longer.
Where’s the help to deal with these feelings? How do I love myself? What is the cure for my self-loathing?
The wounds I’ve survived at the hands of others aren’t my fault, but they are real. And the choices I’ve made, the ways I’ve hurt others--they’re real, too.
It’s so hard to permanently silence the voice that says, “You’re not lovable,” because deep down, I feel like that voice is at least a little bit right.
That’s why mantras like, “Love yourself for exactly who you are,” or, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to change,” have always seemed overly simplistic and unhelpful to me.
I still know that I keep bursting out in fits of rage toward the people I love. I know that I hurt people with my words on purpose. I know that I feel genuinely vengeful toward people who disagree with me. I know I actively choose to be selfish.
Being told that there’s nothing wrong with me is a stale, unsatisfying comfort.
So, to be told that I should love myself because I don’t need to feel guilty about anything I’ve done doesn’t ring true. To comfort myself by saying, “I’m a good person deep down,” ignores my own experience of myself.
In order for love of self to be enduring, I don’t need to be convinced that I’m lovable because there’s nothing wrong with me. Instead, I need to know that there is something deeply wrong with me, and that I am loved in the midst of it.
And it needs to be a real and steady love.
Experience has taught us that the love of others can fail us, plunging us into even deeper self-loathing. It’s not enough to be loved partially or for a time--I need to be loved completely, and forever.
I have found there is only one who is that reliable, who knows me that well and can love me perfectly like that. And that is the One who created me. His love can actually be felt and be very real.
Here is what God says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”1
God who created us and knows everything about us, also loves us most sincerely and unconditionally.
David, who wrote the Psalms says, “O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me.”2
To fully accept yourself, to be rid of shame, to feel legitimate self-respect requires more than a new view of yourself. It requires a new self.
A relationship with God, experiencing his love, brings us into a new self. We begin to see life from his perspective, guided by his truth, and it is freeing. It is the most important relationship a person can have.
To illustrate his unconditional love, Jesus told this story.
“A man had two sons. The younger son [in great disrespect] told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.
“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”3
Jesus told this story to show that as God, he welcomes anyone who will come to him. As we struggle with attempts at self-improvement, he offers a different approach.
Jesus often said, “Come to me.” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and...you will find rest for your souls.”4
Jesus knows how we yearn sometimes for a different “us.” He can change our perspective from the inside out, allowing us to see life from his vantage point, which brings us freedom. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”5
It’s not based on our being a good person or deserving a relationship with God. He loves and accepts us as we are, in spite of our faults, in spite of our sin. Yet sin isn’t taken lightly.
When people sin against us or we sin against them, pain is inflicted. Wrong actions such as abuse, hate-filled words, violence, greed, selfishness, abandonment cause emotional and psychological pain for the person wronged.
All of these also affect the heart of God. It is an affront to his holiness, his love for all people.
Jesus stepped in as our Savior. He paid for our sin, for us. Jesus took our sins on himself and paid for sins, dying a torturous death, his body nailed to a cross. He then physically rose from the dead three days later, as he said he would. He now offers us complete forgiveness and an eternal relationship with him.
In a stunning reversal of what we might expect, it is not that we remain faithful to God, but once we begin a relationship with God, he remains faithful to us. Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”6
He leads us out of self hate and low self-esteem by showing us a different path.
Instead of telling me to forget my real faults, he makes me look at them through his eyes. He invites me to understand their impact on others. On the surface, it sounds like this would move me into deeper self-loathing. Yet it doesn’t.
I can only hope to love myself in the safety of the love of one who sees all my ugliness and loves me anyway. Jesus gives me that safety.
But also, he wants my life to be better. If you don’t care about someone, you don’t care to help them stop making choices that are destroying them. But Jesus, like the best friend we can imagine, will not let me stay the way I am. At various moments, he gently asks me to acknowledge my wrongs and then he leads me in a better way.
I find freedom in his love. The battle with low self-esteem has faded. Its hold is broken.
Jesus, who sees us and knows us completely fully accepts us in spite of our faults. His secure love restores our self-respect, our sense of valued identity. Only God, who is perfect, can love us this perfectly.
Would you like a relationship with God? Would you like to be guided by him, know his unconditional love and begin to see your life correctly from the perspective of the One who created you? In short, do you want God in your life? If so, the following explains how.
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Endnotes: (1) Jeremiah 31:3 (2) Psalms 139:1-4 (3) Luke 15:12-24 (4) Matthew 11:28,29 (5) John 8:32 (6) John 6:37