Developing a Healthy Self-Image
First, we need to be real. Many of us are afraid that if we are known as we really are, we won't be liked, so we pretend to be something we are not. People may like the mask or the false front or happy face we wear, but this will never make us feel loved because what they like is not the real us. We can only be loved to the degree that we allow ourselves to be known for who we are.
Second, to be real I need to be connected to my dark side which is the side of me that is hidden, often from my self as well as from others. It is that part of me that I am ashamed of or feel embarrassed or guilty about—often a major cause of why I don't like or reject myself.
The dark side may or may not be anything that I have done that is bad. It can be parts of me that were rejected when I was small, or it maybe where somebody has done something hurtful to me somewhere in my past. For instance, if somebody consistently put me down when I was a child and made fun of my ears or anything else—and I buried those hurtful feelings—I need to get in touch with that pain and express it to a loving friend or counselor to have that side of me accepted.
Or, if I was rejected or abused either physically, emotionally, or sexually in any way, that experience also needs to be brought into the light and the pain and anger resolved before I can fully love and accept myself. In fact, all painful memories and unresolved feelings of guilt, shame, anger, fear, hurt or grief need to be brought into the open and resolved so I can be freed from my past and forgive those who have hurt me. Unresolved, these supercharged, repressed negative emotions are barriers that stop me fully loving myself and others.
Love is a skill to be learned.
Third, we learn self-love. As the Bible teaches, we love God because he first loved us.3 While this can be very difficult and threatening to grasp, we love other people and ourselves in exactly the same way. That is, we need someone to first love us because love is a skill to be learned.
If I didn't feel loved or sufficiently loved as a child, it's not likely that I will feel loved as an adult. To overcome, I need somebody to love me first. As I get connected to my dark side and share all these wounded parts of me with at least one or two safe people, as they love and accept me as I am—warts and all, little by little I learn to love and accept myself. (Safe people are those who know me and still love me and will not reject, judge, or try to fix or change me when I share my real self with them.)
Fourth, it is imperative that I resolve any and all unresolved feelings of hatred (stored up anger) and all other repressed negative emotions. As the Bible says, "Get rid of your feelings of hatred and don't just pretend to be good."4 We don't get rid of these damaging emotions by repressing and denying them. They need to be brought out into the open and resolved in healthy ways. Repressed they are destructive to healthy living, healthy relationships, and to having a healthy self-concept.
Fifth, I need to live in harmony with healthy moral and ethical values based on God's standards, and maintain clearly defined boundaries—that is, ensure that I live by my values and don't allow boundary-busters to violate my personal boundaries. When I live this way, I feel good about myself. And when I don't, I don't feel good about myself!
Sixth, it is also imperative that I forgive all whom I feel have hurt or offended me. Failing to forgive keeps me bound to my past and trapped by my unresolved negative feelings.
Seventh, the ultimate in self-love and acceptance is to feel connected to God and know/experience his love and affirmation at the very core of my being. This begins by confessing our dark side and our sins to God, asking for his forgiveness and accepting his Son, Jesus Christ, into my heart and life as personal Lord and Savior. And then, as we take the above steps to improve our self-concept and reach out and love other people, more and more we experience God's love. As God's Word says, "If we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us."5
1. Matthew 22:39, (NIV).
2. Romans 12:3, (NIV).
3. 1. I John 4:19.
4. 1. Peter 2:1-2, (TLB).
5. I John 4:12.
5. All articles on the ACTS International website are by Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise noted.
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