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Why the World's Concept of Self-Esteem Is Different from the Confidence God Wants Us to Achieve

As a psychologist, I have had experience and training regarding the concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is commonly defined as having respect for one’s capacities and for oneself, including a feeling of confidence. Low self-esteem is a very common occurrence among individuals. How can we increase the amount of respect we have for ourselves?

Society spends billions and billions of dollars a year seeking a solution, usually in vain. Having been fortunate enough to receive my doctoral training at Brigham Young University, I was able to study the gospel of Jesus Christ in connection with my psychology curriculum. As I have read and studied the scriptures throughout the years, I have concluded that the concept of self-esteem the world uses is different than the type of self-concept God wants us to achieve.

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If you look up Self-Esteem in the Topical Guide to the scriptures, you will not find any scripture references. However, you will be referred to other topics as follows: “Man, a Spirit Child of Heavenly Father; Man, Potential to Become like Heavenly Father; Worth of Souls.” Man’s definition of self-esteem seems to be about having respect for our own selves and our own abilities. It has more to do with what we can do to better ourselves with our own efforts, without relying on others. Yet from a spiritual perspective, the concept of becoming greater or more confident is not about what we can do on our own but is about partnering with God and gaining strength through Him.

The scriptures record the following regarding such confidence:

"Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven" (D&C 121:45).

Note how the scripture indicates that confidence increases in the presence of God as one becomes more obedient and pure in heart. Being full of charity, faith, and virtue contribute to this process. Relying solely on our abilities and ideas tends to meet with frustration and failure. The lasting emotional security and self-confidence that God wants for us requires reliance upon Him and His commandments.

In the 1978 motion picture Superman, starring Christopher Reeve, Lois Lane is a reporter with the Daily Planet who is granted an exclusive interview with Superman. He meets her at her penthouse apartment in Metropolis, where she asks him a number of background questions. When the interview turns to the topic of Superman’s flying ability, he invites her to fly with him. She takes his hand, and they ascend into the night sky together.

At first she is scared, clinging to the Man of Steel tightly. However, as she starts to become more confident, she relaxes her grip. At one point they are flying side by side, arms outstretched, holding hands. Lois continues to loosen her grip and after a while is just barely touching Superman’s fingers with her own. As her confidence increases, she lets go of him entirely. The moment her fingers lose contact with his, she immediately falls. Screaming in terror, she plummets toward the earth. In dramatic fashion, Superman flies to her rescue, scoops her up in his arms, and saves her from certain death.

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The reality is this: Lois Lane cannot fly. She has no ability to do so. She does not have the same superhero pedigree as Superman. She is a regular mortal, and her best bet to fly would be to contact a good travel agent. However, when she partners with the superhero, she is able to temporarily partake of his powers. As long as she holds on to him, she can fly. As soon as she lets go, she returns to her own mortal abilities.

Our relationship with Heavenly Father has similarities to that of Lois and Superman’s. Imagine being able to join forces with a being more powerful than an infinite number of superheroes! When we are obedient to His commandments and partner with Him, we are able to do amazing things. We are able to reach beyond our natural capacities. When we “release our grasp” with God, we are left to our own devices. We often find life to be much more difficult as a result.

As such, the world’s concept of self-esteem cannot really exist in a gospel framework, because we were never intended to get through life relying simply on our own abilities. Rather, the concept of spiritual confidence is much better suited to the idea of how we can improve ourselves in this life. As we join hands with our Father in Heaven, we will begin to experience the joy and assurance He has always intended for us. He wants us to return confidently, having done our part while relying on the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Developing greater spiritual strength will help us better understand and endure the trials and difficulties we face in life.

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My God Hath Been My Support

Learn more about building self-esteem through a closer relationship with Heavenly Father in My God Hath Been My Support: Seven Keys to Understanding and Enduring Personal Trials, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.

In My God Hath Been My Support, author David T. Morgan looks to the words of Nephi's Psalm to offer an inspiring message of hope and a loving call to action. Featuring tools and ideas on how to overcome adversity, increase feelings of self-worth, and endure the ups and downs of mortality, this scripture-based roadmap to a more fulfilling life is a joyous invitation to learn from Nephi how to transform sorrow into joy.

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