Sunday, July 18, 2010


So here's the problem: I don't really like myself. At least I haven't for most of my life.

I've been working on it recently. It's really no way to live.

I think a big part of the problem was that I was raised with a very negative identity. I mean, I was loved and had my basic needs met and everything, but what I heard pretty much everywhere was everything I wasn't supposed to be and do.

"We don't talk that way." "Boys aren't supposed to be like that." "Christians shouldn't be acting that way."

Before long, I internalized that sort of negativity. What's worse, it became my idea of God's personality.

I went from being a bit of a social butterfly and one of the most outgoing kids in elementary school to being a reserved, angry, introspective adolescent, teenager, young adult. I was beaten down and defeated. It really wasn't pretty.

A negative identity breeds those things. Whatever I did, wherever I went, I couldn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I desperately wanted approval of family and peers. I became wrapped up within myself in a messy inward crisis.

My big sister called it one day when I was a kid. She told me, "Jonathan, you're so bitter." Of course, at the time, I was bitter toward her for saying it, but remembering this actually may have later helped me come to terms with it. I could remember and place that moment in the trajectory of my childhood that began with not ever feeling good enough, smart enough, well-behaved enough, and ended with a slide into deep depression, anxiety and introspection.

Introspection. Sounds pretty safe, reflective, like something one does with a cold one, a cigar, maybe some cool jazz or Pink Floyd or something. Not so.

A speaker from English L'Abri that I admire a lot calls introspection, "mental masturbation," which I think is really helpful. The mind gets all wrapped up in itself and its anxieties, becomes completely withdrawn, and the person finally comes to the place where they live inside themselves, never entering the world around them. The focus isn't where it needs to be. This creates tons of problems for us.

It's not supposed to be this way. Our existence is supposed to be positive, freeing, liberating, not uncomfortable and repressed.

And what's more, I have everything it takes. I'm not a misfit or shortchanged or anything. I was created with everything I need for the life I'm meant to live.

And that is live-giving for someone who doesn't like himself.


Dan Martin said...

Hey Jonathan,

Don't forget the impact of a good Calvinist, fundamentalist upbringing. When you're taught, in Jonathan Edwards' words, that

"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours." (Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, 1741... full text here)

This sort of stuff does not exactly produce a glowing self-image ;{)

A. Amos Love said...

Hmmm? I don't really like myself...

Had to battle that one myself.
Thought God would change me so I would like me.

Maybe this site will help some.

Try reading this...

Love is Rising
Tending the Garden of Love
The Garden of God


E. A. Harvey said...

I had a horrible self image as a child and was incredibly anxious. My Mom taped Psalm 139 and Philippians 4 all over my room. Neil Anderson's writings on "Who I am in Christ" were very helpful to me (although, as Dan points out, other Christian writers were busy telling me how scuzzy I was). There seems to be a balance between accepting our depravity and also our infinite worth as humans created in God's image. He obviously thought (and thinks) we are worthwhile.

You know, it's a funny thing, but the best thing for my "self-image" or confidence or what have you was when I started putting my music up on YouTube. You get enough "you suck" and other negative comments from anonymous people amongst generally positive comments, and you begin to get a thick skin and a good radar to gauge opinions that matter from opinions that don't. But ultimately, God's opinion is the only one that holds weight.

As far as introspection, I suppose too much becomes a type of negative narcissism. You become too preoccupied with self but in a critical way. On the other hand, one needs to have enough introspection to be self-aware and able to identify faults, weaknesses, sin, etc. Too little introspection, and we can become prideful. Too much, and we can become overly dramatic. :-)