She walked past me, and I caught sight of the stump of her right arm and the deep pock marks on her face.
This was not the first time I had seen her. She worked at my doctor’s office and had conducted a few billing transactions for me. She had always been friendly and cordial.
But this time when I saw her, something was different. I felt two words press down into my soul like boot marks on muddy soil: Self-rejection. Anger. Although I knew very little about this woman, I suddenly knew so much about her. I felt the pressure again on my spirit. Those words again: Self-rejection. Anger.
Are you serious, God? Do you want me to say something to her? Although I felt compassion for her, I most certainly did not want to say anything to her. I most certainly did not want to ask her if those words meant anything to her. I most certainly did not want to get involved and embarrass her by bringing up a painful past where perhaps those words had begun to define who she was.
How I started not liking myself
If her story was anything like mine, I could trace my own dislike of myself back to when I was a child. I had developed an anxiety very early on about my worth in relationship to others. The feelings had developed because we lived in a house that was a never-done work-in-process with particle board floors, door-less cupboards, and knob-less doors.
These feelings of inadequacy intensified when I went to school in shabby hand-me-downs and developed much later than my peers. I was scorned for being skinny, unfashionable, and poor. And without even knowing it, I began to feel less than other people. I masked this pain with a brave front, but all the while I had a negative tape playing in my head.
I felt angry at myself for not measuring up. I felt angry at God for making a “mistake.” I felt angry at the cruelty of my friends. I didn’t know that the relationship I had with myself was one of the most important — the one that would impact how I felt about God and others. I didn’t know that self-rejection would separate me from my peers even more than I already felt separated.
When this scorn for myself got to a level where constantly beating myself up was a normal part of each day, I had to find an out to overcome the negative voices. My method for relieving myself of my pain and feeling good about myself was looking to others to fill what I felt was empty in myself. I vowed to not upset or confront those around me so that I could avoid rejection. I became a perfectionist to perform enough so that I could be useful and acceptable to convince myself and others of my worth.
I married young and used my husband’s attention and love to try to feel good about myself. Even as a married woman, I became flirtatious with the men around me to attempt to further convince myself that I was beautiful and smart. I became a workaholic to try to out-perform others and be the best so that, again, I could quiet the voice inside myself that said I was not worthy.
What is self-rejection and self-hatred?
According to a 1990 radio message by Charles Stanley, self-rejection is generated from “chronic feelings of unworthiness.” People who have problems with self-rejection are “willing to base their self-worth on the opinions of others rather than on [their] relationship to God.” Causes for self-rejection can include “an early-in-life deformity, deep emotional hurt from childhood, death of a parent, abandonment, divorce, abuse, guilt from past mistakes, and criticism from others.”
I didn’t know for the longest time what a healthy self-image even looked like and through some study I discovered that God really wants me to be confident in the person He has made me to be. When I turn against myself, I am essentially turning against God and telling him that what he created is defective.
In addition, self-rejection is a strategy Satan uses to get us out of relationship with God and relationship with others. It is based on lies from the master of lies himself. When I look back at pictures of myself and see a beautiful, brown-haired girl, I feel so absolutely sad because the way I saw myself — and still see myself at times — was and is so very distorted.
Because of the lies I began speaking over myself (mainly those I assumed were true or believed from the words of a small handful of people), I stopped seeing myself the way God saw me and instead embraced a version of myself that simply wasn’t true.
What I have learned in my journey to a healthy self-worth is that a confident person does not base his or her self-worth on the opinions of others. A confident person gets his approval from God. As Joyce Meyer says in Approval Addiction:
We can enter the rest of God concerning what people think of us and whether they approve of us. We can become so secure in Christ that as long as we know our heart is right, we know whatever people think of us is between them and God and is not our concern.”
Meyer gives the example of Paul as one confident in his position in Christ. She notes that in 1 Cor. 4 we see a situation in which Paul is being judged regarding his faithfulness. Paul responds to the criticism by saying that he is concerned with God’s judgment rather than man’s, emphasizing, “I do not even put myself on trial and judge myself” (I Cor. 4:3).
What is encouraging to me (and what Meyer stresses) is that Paul had people questioning him and yet he chose not to let their accusations define him. Although he was concerned about his reputation among men, his primary concern was a clear conscience before God.
I don’t know about you but I struggle with that kind of confidence.
Where does my self-worth and sense of acceptance come from?
What Paul knew about having a healthy identity and what I am learning is that I can be confident because of Him who lives in me and what He has done for me. I can choose to accept and love myself as a child of God because He has claimed me and cancelled my failings. I am acceptable because of what Christ has done in me and not because of what I have done for myself.
It takes the pressure off when I acknowledge this because I don’t have to worry about gaining the approval of others. I won’t please everyone around me all of the time. I simply have to follow Him where He leads and depend on Him in my moments of insecurity when I am afraid I won’t get it right.
When I hear a negative thought creep in such as “There is something wrong with you” or “No one likes you” — I can immediately reject it as a thought from Satan. God convicts me of wrong actions that need to be addressed, but his conviction never comes to destroy me but always to restore me.
As Stanley notes in his radio address, turning away from self-rejection involves identifying the feelings of rejection, rejecting the feelings of rejection and affirming that you are “unconditionally loved, completely forgiven, totally accepted and complete in Christ.”
To get to that place of acceptance of myself, I have had to forgive myself for not being perfect; forgive my parents for not parenting me perfectly; forgive my tormentors for making fun of me; and forgive God for giving me parts of my story that I thought were imperfect.
Self-Acceptance: How can I like myself?
The woman at the doctor’s office. I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know her story. But in some ways I did. I didn’t have to know every in and in out of her past to see the scars left behind. I felt it so strongly again when I was sitting in the room waiting for the doctor — to tell her my own tale of overcoming my own self-rejection and forgiving those who had hurt me.
As if to confirm my assignment, I caught sight of the woman on my way out of the office. She was hurrying along, papers clipped under her disfigured arm. Coward that I am, I did not stop her then. I needed time to examine this, think.
I made my next appointment and left. It was not until a week later that I called the office and with a shaky voice told her on the phone that I felt that God had something for me to tell her.
She didn’t say much in response but thanked me for my call. I hope that my words to her will begin a process in her that He began in me some time ago — of learning to accept His love and His version of me.
And I hope my words will inspire a work in you if self-rejection or self-hatred is a struggle, knowing that there is a God who loves you and wants to restore you to Himself.
Getting there means believing what He says about you and resisting messages from Satan or peers that would tell you otherwise — and taking yourself off trial.
Related Bible Verses:
1 Corinthians 4:3: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be servant of Christ.”
Charles Stanley, a pastor and author, suffered rejection as a child and has written extensively about the the damaging effects of rejection and self-rejection. Click here for his devotional on self-rejection featured on Crosswalk online magazine or here for notes from his radio message.
Have you experienced rejection and as a result find yourself trying to perform to avoid rejection from those around you? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself or saying no because you fear others’ reactions? Joyce Meyer talks about how to not let the desire for others’ approval dominate your life in Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone.
Photo Credit: Celeste Lindell, Flickr