Self-esteem, at least from a psychological standpoint, is one’s evaluation of their sense of worth. This evaluation of ourselves is predicated to a great degree by those things we believe about ourselves and are not immune from our emotions. People who experience emotional lows typically have a sense of low self-esteem. They seem to go hand in hand.
Low self-esteem can cause and/or contribute to clinical depression, aberrant behavior, and criminal acts. So it is an issue we should not take lightly, but the way it is treated differs depending upon one’s presuppositions regarding human nature.
Sigmund Freud is considered by many to be the father of modern psychoanalysis. He believed man’s psyche was made of three parts: the id, ego, and super-ego. The id functions on the “pleasure principle”, that is, it is impulsively driven to satisfy the person’s desires. The super-ego is the subconscious part of the psyche that has been inculcated with society’s moral standards of right and wrong. The ego is the conscious part of man’s psyche, the seat of man’s reason and will.
Freud taught that when the super-ego sought to inhibit the id in its pursuit of pleasure, psychological pressure was placed on the ego. If the individual’s ego had not developed sufficient coping mechanisms, this pressure on the ego would manifest in mental problems or a psychosis. Feeling bad about one’s self leads to poor decisions and behavior, which in turn results iin further psychosis, etcetera. It is a downward spiral.
This brand of psychoanalysis gave rise to the medical model. The various forms of psychosis were considered a disease. The sufferer was considered a patient needing medication and treatment to cure him. Since the patient’s psychosis sprang from an over socialized subconscious his problems were allogenic, caused by others. The patient is a victim of others expectations, a victim of his conscience.
Genesis means beginning. There are a lot of firsts in the first book of the Bible. It gives us the story of the first man and woman, the first sin, and of course the first murder. It also has the first counseling session. It is recorded in the fourth chapter of Genesis verses three through eight. Here’s a summary.
Cain and Abel bring offerings to God, but God accepts Abel’s and rejects Cain’s. This makes Cain angry. In verse seven is God’s counsel to Cain, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
We do not know exactly why Cain’s offering was unacceptable, but it is understood that he knew what he needed to do to correct his mistake when God told him, “If you do well.” We also know that by doing the right thing his attitude would change, “will not your countenance be lifted up?” He had a choice to make, either master his sin or let sin master him.
In his book Competent to Counsel, Dr. Jay E. Adams espouses the biblical model. He says “mental illness” is a misnomer. He goes on to point out that barring a physiological problem that affects the brain such as “brain damage, tumors, gene inheritance, glandular or chemical disorders,” mental illness is an invalid term.
This perspective leads to a completely different set of conclusions. A person’s behavior dictates his self-esteem. He is not a patient that needs medication or treatment, but a sinner who needs corrective counseling and forgiveness. His problems are autogenic, self inflicted, because he has violated his conscience and God’s expectation of doing what is right.
Consider Cain. He ignores the counsel of God. Instead of correcting his mistake and offering a proper sacrifice, he murders his brother in a jealous rage. When God confronts him about his behavior and pronounces judgment on it, Cain cries out, “My punishment is too great to bear (Genesis 4:13)!” Mental stress arises from one’s inability to cope with the consequences of his or her sinful actions. When we do right we feel good about ourselves. Repentance and forgiveness unlocks the door to an upward spiral.
Our self-esteem is dictated by our behavior. I am not aware of anyone who lives in accord with biblical truth that is seeing a psychiatrist. You can live at peace with both God and man. You can have a healthy self-esteem, if you do well.