Powerful! How Our Identity Reference Shapes Our Self-esteem


It is sometimes subtle and other times obvious how the way we perceive our own worth often shape our lives.

The tendency for self-comparison comes into full force as early as childhood. It was at this phase we gradually began to lose our peace, to struggle and to fight to protect our sense of worth.

The bully in a show of physical or verbal strength picks on the less assertive one in order to build his sense of superiority.

As we grow, identity gradually evolves into who has what, who wears the finest clothes, has the cutest boyfriend or girlfriend, has the finest cars or who is living the life even when it comes at the expense of the things that matter.

From here we develop our centres, our references in defining or validating who we are. Just what they are can be critical to our ultimate peace.

The question – is your identity based on enduring or trifling references?

Examples of faulty references include:

1. Money

Even though we know a man’s life should not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses but money can powerfully shape our identity. Regardless of whether it hurts our character, people can steal, hurt their friends or lose their families as long as they can get more of it.

Some people are so poor, all they have is money. Whether in choosing a career, a spouse or friends, money is the final arbiter. They consult their greed instead of their purpose or design.

2. Position

Why is it that people cling to power long after they have lost their credibility? Why is politics a dirty game, if not that people suddenly develop a sense of identity based on their office? Why is it that people now prefer titles to their names?

Whether in religion, politics or business, that faulty sense of entitlement that develops with a title or position just doesn’t cut it. Who are you when you are not a Pastor, Manager, CEO or president?

Always separate  who you are from your position. Like Rick Warren said,

“We are human beings not human doings.”

3. Relationships

As good as relationships should be in influencing our identity, the fine line of balance is often not established. We often can be caught up in defining ourselves by our friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives, even kids.

This is such that their absence or disapproval leaves a void that cannot be filled, a sense of emptiness that we are unable to shake off.

Some people are even waiting for marriage before they really start living. Statements such as, “when i marry, i will……” validates this.

Some just cannot tolerate solitude. They are always in a relationship. They love just to be in love. They are always in search of that special one, relishing the thrill and the pain. Their lives are characterized by abusive and codependent relationships.

Outside of a relationship, they don’t know who they are or what they are worth. They often are not able to do anything ambitious until they have a partner to validate them.

Their partner’s approval or lack of it is the ultimate determinant of action.

4. Looks

I’m a strong advocate of looking good but we often can’t recognize when we are tempted to be vain. Some people are so ugly that the summation of their existence is their looks.

My concern here though sensitive goes to the women. All the hot bikini body pictures, selfies and butt naked music videos are unabashed expression of vanity. It only validate a misogynist mindset that a woman is just a body, no brain, no personality.

When our bodies becomes a centerpiece, it means we need more than who we are to get other people’s attention.

The diva is no longer contented with her talent, she must now shock us with nude music videos. Her strategy works because based on our faulty societal values, we hardly look away.

Even the guys, bodybuilding can be a great sense of vanity when it is not health or fitness driven. Six packs only packs the vain girls.

Earn a good woman’s admiration by who you are, the quality of your mind and not what you have or rippling muscles.

5. Achievement

Some people are driven and it’s admirable but by what? Mere ambition, a sense of purpose or a sense of contribution?

We have a faulty reference when our pursuit of ambition tramples on the right, peace and security of others. Achievement that comes at the expense of other people shows a faulty sense of identity.

If you have to show other people up so that you can look better, you need a mental check.

Sincerely, ambition is admirable as long as it is driven by the need to give validation for others to shine because we have shown our light. By expressing our highest possibilities, we can give others the permission to do the same.

Sincerely, in this regard, I’m striving to avoid temptation. I recognize I don’t need the kind of achievement that is always seeking to prove a point to others.

How does a positive sense of identity look like?

A positive sense of identity is first derived from an intrinsic sense of worth as a child of God. You are valuable to God and loved. You don’t need to impress Him because he loves you just the way you are. Even your weaknesses are an opportunity for his grace to find expression.

This is the most secure identity reference – your relationship with God.

In addition, I believe we can achieve a balanced self-esteem when it is resting on our character. This is the obvious check for that false sense of superiority called pride.

We all know character development is a process and we never arrive. When your self-worth is based on your character, humility (superior self-esteem) is not far from you.

I also believe that competence is critical to self-esteem. You will never really like yourself until you know you are truly great at something. Mediocrity is never a companion to healthy self-esteem.

A Counsel from Lecrae
I never forget the lyrics of one of my favourite rappers, Lecrae in the song, Identity. He wrote:

“I’m not the clothes I wear. I’m not the shoes I buy. I’m not the house I live in. I’m not the car I drive. I’m not the job I work. You can’t define my worth. We are nothing on God’s green earth. My identity is found in Christ.”

That seal it for me.

Let’s have a conversation
In what ways have you allowed what society told you was important to shape your self-esteem. Is your identity based on trifling or enduring references? Starting today, will you be courageous to live your truth even if it alienates you from others?

Please leave your comments below and share.


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