Overcoming Dangerous Emotions: Self-Degradation
Though healthy self-examination is expected for Christians, continual self-degradation and self-hatred is not. Part 4 of the “Overcoming Dangerous Emotions” series.
Analyzing our weaknesses and then making strides to work on them is encouraged over and over again in the Scriptures. We know that we are to change and become more and more like Christ and God in holy, righteous character.
As Paul wrote, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Desiring change for the better is a good thing. But what happens when during our quest for perfection we are constantly putting ourselves down and criticizing every little thing in our lives?
How often have we wished that we could grow spiritually and get through a day without calling ourselves names or perhaps even feeling worthless?
Why is self-degradation spiritually dangerous?
While pride in oneself, another dangerous emotion that will be covered in this series, is not good, the opposite extreme is also dangerous. It is true that we are made of the dust, but when God calls us to become part of His family, we are definitely not worthless.
The biggest spiritual danger in self-degrading thoughts and feelings is that we will start to believe things such as, “God’s Holy Spirit can’t help someone like me.” This is a vicious lie Satan perpetuates to keep people from moving on from their mistakes and ultimately changing their lives. God’s Holy Spirit is transformative and powerful; therefore, if we continue to think we are failures and worthless after receiving God’s Holy Spirit, what are we saying about God’s Holy Spirit?
Christ made the point in Matthew 5:22 that anyone who insults a brother or is angry with a brother without cause is in grave spiritual danger. He warned against even calling someone a “fool.”
So what makes us think that we are allowed to consistently, day in and day out, call ourselves fools and have the same hatred Christ was talking about here? When we make mistakes, we have to repent, set in motion a plan to change the wrong thoughts, words or deeds and then move on. If we don’t move on from mistakes, we will have a very difficult time exhibiting the fruit of joy in our lives. It’s time to change our thinking.
Identify the cause of the thinking
As with all the dangerous emotions, it is good to keep track of our thoughts and the things that lead to them. We can start by realistically answering questions that will probe why we are so down on ourselves:
- Why do I feel like I am so much worse than other people?
- What happens to me during the day that makes me feel incompetent and worthless?
- Is it something that happens at home/work/school/church/social occasions?
We don’t need to feel shame in asking for help for something that is overwhelming or that we see we have a weakness in. But the majority of the time, self-degradation does not come from valid weakness in an area; it comes from perceived and irrational thoughts of incompetence.
Now let’s look at the thoughts and see how they compare to reality.
Analyze and compare the thinking to reality
When examining our attitudes, we have to remember to be as honest with ourselves as possible. After we think negatively about ourselves, some find it helpful to write down the exact thoughts. For example: “I can’t do anything right!” “She’s so much better at this than I am.” “I’m terrible at this.” “I’m such a loser.” “I’m a freak; nobody else has this problem.” “He is obviously the better choice.”
When we wipe away the “woe is me” justifications, we see that such thoughts are completely inwardly focused, constantly comparing ourselves to other people instead of Jesus Christ (something the Bible strictly warns against), and filled with false witness against ourselves.
- Is it fair/rational to think that just because someone has perhaps more skill in a certain area, that it also means we have absolutely no skill in that area?
- Is it fair/rational to think that we are the only ones fighting (and sometimes failing) in certain areas in our lives? As Peter wrote, “Resist him [the devil], steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:9).
- Is it fair/rational to think—after being given God’s Holy Spirit, knowledge of His plan of salvation for all humanity, and an invitation to play a part in that plan—that we are of no worth?
Replace the irrational with rational
Satan’s thinking is irrational and completely focused on this present world. We have to change our thinking to be always looking forward with a rational eye on God’s coming Kingdom.
When such thoughts come into our heads, we can fight them off with what we know to be true:
- I am a child of God, very precious in His sight.
- I may have some difficulties, but I’m working on them and I am developing righteous character.
- My body is the temple of God, and I will not insult it anymore.
Remembering God’s truths can help make Satan’s whispers stop and God’s still, small voice prevail.
What if I’ve already lost control?
Pray immediately to the God of all comfort asking for relief from Satan’s lies. Confide in a trustworthy friend or counselor for his or her perspective. We can also write down various gifts God has given to us and how we can use those to help other people. It’s time to get our shield of faith up and line it up with all the great things God has in store for us: the coming Kingdom of God, eternal life as a child of God, etc.
Now ask, “Do I control my thoughts, or do they control me?” Remember, a mind growing ever closer to God does not insult itself. The fight will be a long one, but it’s one we can win with God’s help!