Fractured self-esteem

I broke my collar-bone at the start of the month and can now do almost nothing for a few weeks. Where would this leave me if my [self] esteem were based upon my job or some other role. That is, esteem that I had given myself by myself. Is there a better way to value ourselves than by what we are able to achieve?

If you ask most people what gives them self-esteem, they would say things like a sense of achievement, completing a task or doing something well. These things do give you a warm feeling, to be sure, but what happens when the wheels come off and you can no longer do X or Y. I have treated professional athletes for depression because they can no longer win, and what about people with dementia who can offer seeming little to society? Am I worth more than my salary? Will people want to get rid of me when I can no longer add what they perceive to be value?

Part of the rub for me is that we have a small baby. I cannot currently lift him, bath him or change his nappies - and this all falls to my wife which makes me feel very guilty. The injury was also acquired whilst mountain biking, going over a jump I didn't need to have gone over. So now I feel foolish as well. I cannot work, cannot travel and this is being typed very slowly with one hand - and I feel useless. It is probably right that I feel these things, and in the future I think my fatherhood responsibilities will make me more cautious. However, if these things come on top of already fractured self esteem, I will be in a right state.

Core to most psychological models of self esteem is the idea of self-evaluation, in particular how you do in certain situations or cope with life's challenges. Even when it is seen as a longer-term personality trait, general success in life is always part of self-esteem, and general failure is always bad for it. However you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that what we define as success or failure can be vary varied between different people and different cultures. What makes you feel good may make me feel worthless. As a result, we can become victims of our inner dialogues that can enhance failure and minimise success with the greatest of ease as we justify our evaluation from the point of view of our current mood state.

It is very different to the evaluation of worth that is present in Christianity. Here, we are all seen as having inherent worth just because we have a pulse. We may all also be sinners, but the other side of that coin is that we are all worth saving and all save-able. When Jesus is commissioned by God at the start of His ministry and the Holy Spirit comes down to fill Him, God says, 'You are My Son, whom I love and with whom I am well pleased.' Jesus esteem comes from His Father and His God-given identity - not from himself for he had not yet done anything. Even at the end of his life, Jesus' ministry was by many standards a spectacular failure - aren't we lucky His esteem didn't come from that.

I may do well to feel a bit guilty, foolish and useless just now. But I always need to remember that I am loved, and have great esteem and worth in My Father's eyes.
Rob Waller, 17/09/2009