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How You’re Ruining Your Self-Esteem and Don’t Even Know It

How You’re Ruining Your Self-Esteem and Don’t Even Know It

A large company once hired me to work with one of its executives. Starting some diagnostics to develop a path to help him perform better, I said, “So tell me about your strength areas and problem areas.”

He immediately corrected me. “It’s better to talk about strengths and growth opportunities,” he said. “The term ‘problems’ seems negative.”

I nodded. “Yes, the word ‘problem’ means something negative is happening. But what’s wrong with stating a negative reality?”

My client was and is a good person and a good leader. He has done well in his sector. But the culture of entitlement had infected him and shaped how he looked at himself.

I have never worked with a highly successful person who continued to resist reality. The mega-achievers always want to know what might be wrong about them and what might be right about them—and they don’t flinch.

Your self-image is important. How you experience yourself can make all the difference between success and failure. Your self-esteem can bring clarity. It can make you confident. It can also set you up terribly when you face challenges.

Is your self-image working for you and your goals and your life, or against you? Your “report card on yourself”—which is what self-image basically is—makes a huge difference.

Playing Word Games

The culture of entitlement tells us to avoid looking at anything negative about ourselves and look only at the positive, because a negative observation might deflate us and make us feel bad about ourselves. So we play word games:

An inability to follow through becomes “spontaneity.”
A tendency to blame others for one’s failures becomes “spinning a lot of plates.”
Inability to keep promises becomes “a lack of rigidity and black-and-white thinking.”

We do all of this semantic arm-twisting so that we won’t feel bad. While I am no proponent of people feeling bad, here’s the issue: If our self-image doesn’t allow us to mention problems, we have no possibility for improvement. Which means we are stuck with what we are. Since spontaneity, spinning plates and not being rigid are not problems to solve, we have nowhere to go.

Sober Judgment

The Bible has a healthier and more helpful view of self-image than the culture of entitlement provides. It’s pretty simple.

First, we are to have “sober judgment” about ourselves. That is, we are to be realistic and not just blow smoke to make ourselves feel good:

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3).

That means admitting it—and not being afraid to call it what it is—when you see negatives: “I am sometimes lazy.” “I am too hard on myself.” “I am afraid to let people down.” Now there is something to fix, heal and transform.

This doesn’t mean that everything negative my self-image says about me is true. Lots of people have suffered from harsh self-images that need to be corrected. Statements such as “I am unlovable” or “I am worthless” are not only untrue, but they are obstacles in your ability to grow, to be healthy and to become successful. Those are false negatives. But a true negative identifies a problem to address.

Second, you are to own what is positive about you. If God made a good trait in you, remember that He doesn’t make mistakes (Psalm 139:14). It is not pride or arrogance to be happy and praise God because He created good things in you. Feeling good about that helps you develop these strengths to their fullest and then use these positive aspects to make the world a better place.

The Double self-Image problem of entitlement

God designed your self-image to be your friend and ally, to help you make great choices, to find your passions and to succeed in all walks of life. It was also designed also to help you fail well.

You need to learn to fail in healthy and redemptive ways, because fail you will. People with a healthy and accurate self-image don’t have a big problem with failure. When they don’t get a promotion at work, or their spouse gets mad at them, or their kids don’t respect them, they know what to do. Here’s what failing well looks like:

Disappointment: That was a bummer; I’m sad about this.
Leaning on God: I need His help and wisdom in this.
Support: I think I need to call my friend about this.
Learning: What was my contribution to this problem? What do I need to change?
Adaptation: It’s time to swing the bat again and try things a different way.

Since failure, and even repeated failure, is simply a given in life, we go through these five steps over and over, and each next time we fail well and at a higher level.


Here are a few skills to help you develop the self-image that will take you through hard times into success and a healthy lifestyle:

1. Create a self-image table with four columns: True Positives, True Negatives, False Positives and False Negatives. List five aspects of how you see yourself in each column.

For example, in True Positives, you might list “Patient with others.” In True Negatives, “Get distracted when things get difficult.” In False Positives, “Think I am better than others sometimes.” And in False Negatives, “Think I am hopeless when I make a mistake.” Concentrate on maximizing what is true rather than what is false.

2. Meditate on Psalm 139 and Romans 3, two passages that define the range of self-image. Psalm 139 is about how wonderful a creation we are; Romans 3, about our tendency to go our own way and forget who God is. Ask God to help you see yourself as both, and to help you grasp that He loves and can handle both aspects of yourself.

Taken from The Entitlement Cure by Dr. John Townsend. Copyright © 2015 Dr. John Townsend. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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