Have you ever thought of yourself as ugly? Or have you felt that no one loves you? Maybe that you’re stupid or that you don’t matter? I have, and not just once, but many times.
Though I don’t know exactly when or how this all began, I can remember being picked on in elementary school for being the shortest kid in the class. I can recall the absolute embarrassment I felt when I auditioned for cheerleading in middle school and knocked my large, round glasses right off my face in front of everyone. My high school years brought their own unique opportunities for self-loathing, everywhere from being ignored by boys to failing a test I had studied hard for. These experiences, along with countless others, could have and should have been taken in with a better attitude. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control, and that’s okay. Instead, they became tools for my bully to use against me; he told me these things were evidence that I was unpopular, dumb, and worthless.
I am not my bully
I have come to know that my struggle is not just against those words but also against the voice behind them: a sinister bully who, bent on wrecking my confidence, fills me with self-hatred to an almost frightening level.
Until very recently, I believed that the voice telling me all of these bad things about myself was me. Believing that I was my own worst enemy was a very difficult thing to swallow—I would feel bad because I believed I was stupid, ugly, weak, and then to know that I was the one saying it made me feel ten times worse. I could never say those mean things to one of my friends or loved ones! So how was it that I was capable of putting myself down so harshly?
Because it wasn’t entirely me.
God tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We also know that he is “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and therefore able to reach us in an unseen way, projecting negative thoughts and emotions in order to push us further away from God.
I have a part in these negative thoughts, but if I stop enabling them, Satan has less of an opportunity to project them to me.
These tests of confidence are a battle. But fortunately for me, I am not alone: I have an amazing God on my side! He gives me plenty of encouragement, strength and confidence when I don’t have any on my own. And through His words of truth and love I can learn to see myself the way He sees me: as a person He created to have an eternal relationship with Him; as beloved by Him. After all, Jesus tells me to love others as I love myself (Mark 12:31). Loving myself with God’s perfect love is important so I can love and serve others in a balanced way.
The first step to overcoming low self-confidence is to realize that sometimes my thoughts are simply untrue. God can help me know what is true and what is false when I seek and pray for His discernment. When I am able to see that the lies are coming from a clearly separate enemy rather than my own self, I can begin to really fight against it with God’s help.
Satan’s lies vs. God’s truth
For instance, the Bible describes Satan’s character in John 8:44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Thus, my enemy is a liar, but God is full of truth. I need God’s words for comfort because He knows my true self!
When I’m struggling with negative thoughts about myself, I ask the question: What is the truth? Use the Scriptures and God’s wisdom to uncover the lies and refute them.
Here are some of the lies I find being hurled at me on a daily basis and the truth that God gives instead.
Lie: “You are weak, both physically and mentally. You’re not strong enough for people to respect you.”
Truth: God tells me: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Lie: “You are not pretty enough to be liked. You are undeserving of love.”
Truth: “[God] formed my inward parts; [He] covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise [Him], for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are [His] works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).
Lie: “The decisions you make now will determine your future happiness, and you’ve already messed up. You should be ashamed that you are so directionless.”
Truth: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:32-34).
Satan wants me to believe what he says about me so that I won’t believe God’s truth when I hear it. But with practice, daily prayer and study, I can see that God tells me what is true. He is my strength. He formed me to be his beautiful daughter before I was even born. He gives me a path to walk that leads to safety and happiness. I can delight in his words knowing that He meant them for me!
Self-compassion, not pride
I am not seeking to become proud or boastful. “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12, New International Version). God certainly doesn’t want me to love myself over Him, but hating myself can also be wrong. He created me in His own image (Genesis 1:27), so by the act of hating myself, I am hating God’s creation. Yes, I should hate sin and repent when I do sin, but God is merciful and forgives me and wants me to move on. I can practice humility by relying on God for everything, while at the same time knowing that I am a wonderful creation called to be in His family.
With self-hate on one end and pride and ego on the other end of this spectrum, where can I rest? A good target is self-compassion.
Compassion is synonymous with concern, care, warmth, tenderness, kindness and love. God defines the true meaning of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Am I treating myself this loving way, or am I believing those words from my bully that makes me act unkindly toward myself?
When I practice self-compassion, I turn that godly love toward myself. I see my sins and repent and I see the mistakes of others and forgive them. I respect others, love them, recognize what makes me different from those around me, and I accept those differences fully rather than become embarrassed by them.
Learning to have compassion and love towards myself has not been easy. Some days are easier than others. But placing my confidence and strength in God and His love has made me properly armed to withstand the attacks.
Things have overall become better. My mental and emotional outlook has improved. I’m confident that others who follow these principles to apply the word of truth and practice self-compassion will receive the spiritual and emotional support they need.