Crocker and Park (2004) caution that pursuing self-esteem has a cost. The pursuit of self-esteem usually only has a short-lived emotional benefit. But, when the person fails, the cost is big (Crocker & Park, 2004). Crocker and Knight (2005) further explain that high self-esteem is not the answer, either. They suggest the “importance of self-esteem lies less in whether it is high or low, and more in what people believe they need to be or do to have value and worth as a person— what we call contingencies of self-worth” (Crocker & Knight, 2005, p. 200).
Causes of Low Self-esteem
Although research has looked at social economic status, race, gender, and ethnicity as causes of low self-esteem, the most important influence is how you were raised by your parents (Emler, 2001). Emler (2001) admits social economic status, race, gender, and ethnicity play a part, but it is a modest one. Parenting style is key. Abuse, whether it be physical or sexual, is the worst thing parents can do to harm positive self-esteem (Emler, 2001). Quarreling families are another source. Genetics also play are part in self-esteem. Caring and loving relationships as an adult can affect self-esteem, but Emler (2001) explains forming successful relationships like these are more likely when a person already has higher self-esteem.
Biblical View of Self-esteem
Self-esteem in Christian circles is a controversial subject. Opponents of self-esteem teaching state, scripture is twisted and distorted to support a biblical view of self-esteem (i.e. Adams, 1986). On the other side are proponents who say, “God wants us to have good self-esteem so we can do his work” (Schuller, 1982). These are two sides of the conundrum. The problem with the first debate is it doesn’t consider that a person who has been abused (which is one of the possible causes of low self-esteem) has a distorted view of him or herself. On the other hand, the latter view doesn’t recognize that God usually uses the weak to show His glory (2 Corinthians 12:10 and 1 Corinthians 1:27). Here are examples of weak people God used in the Bible, Gideon, Peter, David, and Abraham. So, what is a more balanced perspective? We do have value; we are called his children. 1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (NIV)! Ask any loving parent if his or her children are of value and I would predict a hardy, “Yes!” Jesus also told us in Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (NIV). Our worth, therefore, is accepting our dependence on God. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).
Adams, J. (1986). The biblical view of self-esteem, self-love, self-image. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.
Crocker, J. & Knight, K. M. (2005). Contingencies of self-worth. Current directions in psychological science, 14(4), 200-203.
Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological bulletin, 130(3), 392-414.
Emler, N. (2001, November). The costs and causes of low self-esteem. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Retrieved June 27, 2010 from http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/n71.pdf
Schuller, R. H. (1984). Self-esteem: The new reformation. Waco, TX: World Books.