Everybody wants to be loved… to feel love… to experience love… to have true love. Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is (allegedly) all about? At a young age, we make up what true love looks like and how it should feel. Problem is, most of us don’t know how to be loving or even how to love ourselves. We often sabotage our relationships because it’s impossible to grow a garden of love from seeds of self-doubt.
Think of yourself as a tree. You have branches, leaves, and roots- deep roots consisting of your parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. The love your family of origin sowed into you as a child has very likely reaped either positive or negative fruit in your life. How you experienced love in your youth has probably shaped how love branches out from you towards others. How does your idea of love shape up to your reality of love? How does your ideal self compare to your reality of self? Are you a good steward of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being? That’s a good indication of the love you have for you. Let’s examine how love can shape one’s self-esteem…
THE ROOT OF LOVE
Our parents (or primary caregivers) are typically the first people who show us love. In a perfect world, they protect, provide, encourage, empower, care for us, and correct us when we’re wrong. Ideally, they show us how to love by modeling it before our eyes. They are loving, responsible, Godly, patient, and forgiving. They are the earthly representation of God’s love for all mankind. In a perfect world, they can do no wrong in our eyes. But this isn’t a perfect world and none of us has perfect parents. At some point, and much to our chagrin, we realize that our parents are just as human as everyone else. They make mistakes. They sin. They hurt- and sometimes hurt us.
The reality is that many of our parents couldn’t model healthy loving relationships for us because they had no healthy example of their own to follow. They may have suffered with their own issues of fear, insecurity, and self-doubt. As a result, some level of dysfunction may have traveled through our roots and caused damage to our self-esteem.
This damage often goes unnoticed until we branch out into relationships with others. A parent who says they love you but abuses you (physically, verbally, mentally, emotionally) or walks out on you can cause you to guard yourself from love. A parent who implies that you’re not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough or strong enough can produce feelings of inadequacy that may lead you to either withdraw socially, look for love in all the wrong places, or become an overcompensating perfectionist who is never satisfied. A parent who gives their child “the world” and always comes to their rescue may cause that child to grow up believing that others must bend over backwards in order to show them their love. In Salvation, Black People and Love, Bell Hooks puts it this way:
“More benignly striving to attain an idealized fantasy of mother love, some black mothers have actually hindered the self-development of their children by not teaching them how to be responsible for their lives.”
Suffice it to say, mothers (and fathers) of all races are guilty of this crime. Raising irresponsible kids is an act of ignorance and/or fear, not an act of love.
How did your family of origin contribute to your self-esteem? What seeds did they plant (in their presence as well as in their absence)? What did/do the actions of your parents, siblings, and grandparents teach you about self-love and how have those lessons manifested themselves in your friendships/relationships? How do your behaviors (good and bad) contribute to the self-esteem of your children? Hmmm…
THE FRUIT OF LOVE
When rooted in love, our self-esteem can flourish. Not only will we emit a healthy, realistic self-image, but we’ll also be able to exhibit healthy loving behaviors towards our spouse, children, relatives and friends. We can love without fear of rejection or abandonment. We’ll attract people who will honor and respect us. And we will develop a more intimate, fulfilling relationship with God and others as a result of our own self-awareness and self-confidence. This is the essence of good fruit.
On the contrary, the presence of dysfunctional relationships and/or the absence of loving role models can produce some rather toxic fruit. Have you seen any of these hanging from your tree…?
- Abandonment issues
- Addiction (sex, love, shopping, gambling, food, etc.)
- Compromising your beliefs for temporary satisfaction
- Defensively guarding your heart
- Dressing seductively
- Engaging in abusive behavior towards others
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of failure/success
- Fear of intimacy
- Fear of rejection
- Inability to express love/affection
- Lack of relational boundaries (passive/passive-aggressive/aggressive behavior)
- Lack of trust
- Need to appear “strong”
- Overprotective/Obsessive behavior
- Poor self-image
- Snapping at your spouse/children for no reason
- String of abusive relationships
- Thirsty hearts/Constantly seeking affirmation
Whew! What a list! That fruit doesn’t sound so appetizing, does it? Now, I’m not talking about the occasional bad fruit that sprouts up on our branches every now and then. I’m referring the chronic condition that plagues us with bouts of depression, stress, and anxiety. That’s the type of fruit we try to cover up with bigger leaves. It’s what we like to pretend doesn’t exist. It tells us we’re a bad person when we mess up, rather than a good person who just made a mistake. It keeps us living in fear and shame instead of God’s love and grace. But here’s the good news: whether your self-esteem has been damaged by a deep line of unhealthy roots or the foliage of your self-image has drooped in the despair of life’s storms, your confidence can be restored with a little TLC (tree loving care ;-))!
ELEMENTS FOR SELF-LOVE
1. Good Seeds– You were fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God. How fabulous is that???!!! Discover what the Bible says about your worth and meditate daily on God’s definition of true love. John 3:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 are great places to start! The Word of God is filled with good seeds that will produce healthy fruit.
2. Healthy Environment– Surround yourself with people who love you and encourage your growth. Seek wise, Godly counsel. Get professional help if necessary. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15). And beware of weeds- they’re deceptive. Daisies are colorful but they’re just pretty little weeds that’ll suck the life out of your lawn. Crabgrass may be richly green but it’ll keep your flower bed from reaching its full potential. Understand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Chances are, it just has prettier weeds. What weeds (people, places, things) do you need to remove from your life?
3. Deep Roots– Roots need an opportunity to run deep in order for your self-esteem to grow strong enough to withstand the storms of life. Moving from place to place (relationship to relationship, church to church, job to job, etc.) will only delay your progress. If you don’t deal with the root of your issues, you’ll keep having the same problems- just in different places, with different people. It may take a while for the seeds to take root, but don’t allow impatience to abort the process. The ability to be present with your emotions and acknowledge your feelings is the epitome of self-love.
4. Sonlight– Sunlight is essential to the growth of healthy leaves and blooms. What are you soaking up- healthy attention, or dysfunctional attention? Are you consistently soaking up the Son’s power (through prayer) or are your leaves dying from a lack of Light (living in darkness)? What are you giving your attention to… images of healthy self-love or images of degradation, disrespect, lovelessness, etc.? Anything that doesn’t line up with the Word of God will ultimately cause you to bear bad fruit. What type of fruit are you bearing?
5. Living Water– Quench your thirst for love on a daily basis. Look in the mirror every day and say, “I love you, ___________.” Listen to music that depicts the love of God (versus the world’s conditional, lust-filled counterfeit). Allow Jesus to fill the empty patches in your spirit. Allowing God to shower you with unconditional love will keep you from overdosing on someone else’s false promises of love and security. If your self-esteem is suffering severe drought, you must over-saturate your spirit with the things of God (Church, Bible Study, corporate prayer, personal prayer, etc.). Thirsty people seek affirmation from anyone/anything in order to satisfy their parched heart. This is detrimental to the cultivation of self-love. What are you thirsty for?
No matter how unhealthy your roots may be, it’s not too late to turn your weeping willow into a mighty oak tree! Know that you can develop a positive self-esteem if you commit to planting the right seeds, developing deep roots in a healthy environment, getting enough Sonlight, and allowing God to fill you with His Living Water. Let’s get back to Eden, people! 🙂
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)