My son, with humility have self-esteem; and give yourself the esteem you deserve. Who will acquit those who condemn themselves? Who will honor those who disgrace themselves? (Ecclesiasticus 10:28-29, NABRE)
My son, be modest in your self-esteem, and value yourself at your proper worth. Who can justify a man who runs himself down, or respect a man who despises himself? (ibid., Jerusalem Bible)
It is easy to despise myself. I became really good at it as a result of the long years of constantly being confronted by my inability to control or stop my addiction. This self-loathing was reinforced by the Christian tradition I was in for most of those years. In that tradition they profess that each and every man is utterly loathsome before God because of his sins, and he should see himself the same way. I was very good at this. I would also turn up my nose with the best of them when someone talked about self-esteem (“another name for sinful pride!”). Loving your neighbor as yourself implies loving yourself, but this was implication just never pursued by me and my coreligionists.
As a Catholic i have learned the folly of those notions, and I am thankful for this clarity of perspective. It has helped me in my recovery. But I must say that although I have read it before, the passage with which I open this post never caught my attention until i re-read it recently. As Ecclesiasticus shows, it is divine wisdom to love myself rightly! That does not mean being bloated with pride or being narcissistic. It means to hold myself in the same esteem that God holds me. And He loves me so much that He sent His Son to die for me. That’s a lot of love! Would I offer my own son to die for another man who had offended me? Wow. Yet that is how much God loves me. And it is a measure of the goodness that He created in me that He does love me so much.
It is self-defeating and a false humility to constantly run myself down in the presence of others, to deny that I have done well, or to pretend that I am worthless. As the writer of Ecclesiasticus says, if I condemn myself then it’s only reasonable to expect others to do the same. If I despise myself, who will show me respect?
As I said, having this honest perspective about myself is really helpful in my recovery. If I constantly run myself down I am more likely to believe that I deserve to be an addict. If I think that I deserve it then I am more likely to act like it. But to believe on the contrary that I am valuable and that I deserve better than the life of the addict just because God made me and loves me, I am more likely to act on this new belief. I am more likely to behave well when I realize and firmly believe the fact that God loves me and that I am lovable. I don’t “deserve” to be trapped in the cycle of addiction. On the contrary, God wants me to be free, and has called me to the freedom of His children. I am not a bad person no matter what I used to think about myself, and it is okay to say so. I have problems. I am not perfect! But that doesn’t make me bad or worthless.