Positive Identity and Our Behavior
There is an old proverb, found in the Bible which says that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. In other
words, what we believe about who we are becomes who we are. Positive self-esteem will flow out of a
positive belief about our truest identity.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of the way most of us think. We have an internalized rule which
says that our identity is determined by our behavior. We tend to give power to this rule and it reinforces
whatever the behavior is, no matter if it is desirable or not.
For instance, a junior high boy has a great aptitude for math and computer science. He excels in these
areas and becomes known for this aptitude. Those around him, especially those who do not have the same
aptitude, label this boy a “nerd”. Unfortunately, the identity of a “nerd” extends far beyond abilities in math
and computers and carries a negative connotation. Once the boy accepts this label which is borne out of his
behavior, he may limit himself in the areas of fashion, sports and social skills based on his belief that, because
he exhibits a certain aptitude or behavior, that is who he is.
An opposite illustration is the film “Runaway Bride”. The main character, played by Julia Roberts has had a
history of deciding not to go through with a planned marriage. There are many reasons for her decision but,
regardless of the reasons, she is labeled the ‘runaway bride’ and, even when she doesn’t want to, feels compelled to live up to her label,
even though it is not her true identity.
The age old advice to ‘believe in yourself’ actually mirrors the truth of the biblical proverb about identity. It is important for us to believe that we are more than our behavior. It is important for us to believe that no single behavior defines us. The “loser” is not someone who always loses in sports or at business. The “loser” is someone who believes that these failures define him. The “winner” is not someone who never loses a game or a business deal or a friendship. It is someone who believes that, in spite of any loss or set-back, they are really a winner.
Our belief about our origin actually affects our belief about our identity. If we are led to believe that we were a “mistake”, an “unplanned pregnancy” or that our parents really didn’t want children, it is harder for us to develop a positive identity. Children who are cherished and treasured by their parents and who know that they are an important part of the family unit will be better equipped to overcome the power of some negative behaviors and still maintain a positive identity and good self-esteem.
The same thing applies to our belief about our ultimate origin. If we believe that we are the result of a long series of evolutionary eras that all happened by chance, we begin to believe that we must establish some meaningful identity around what we are able to accomplish or achieve with this random life we have been given. On the other hand, if we choose to believe, by faith, that we were created by a loving God who cares about us, has a purpose for us and knows us personally, we are better equipped to overcome the power of some of our negative behaviors a maintain a positive identity and good self-esteem.
If you struggle with low self-esteem, my advice is two-fold:
1) Refuse to limit your identity to your behavior. Believe that you are so much more than what you can or cannot do.
2) Choose to explore the possibility that you are the product of a loving creative act rather than a random evolutionary process.
Remember, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he!