Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Managing low self-esteem & pride

Many people who suffer with depression can be plagued by feelings of low self worth either as a consequence of being ill or actually leading to depression. This is particularly problematic for the Catholic, especially when a whole lot of guilt adds to the mix.

A common thought of the depressed Catholic is “I should not feel like this if I had more faith.” Or “I am such a loser – what kind of a mother, father, teacher, person am I to be so lethargic, anxious, down, depressed?”

If you ask me, I’ve come to realise that depression can be tied up with a lot of hidden pride. This might sound controversial but I am speaking here essentially about my own experiences. Disclaimer: I am not saying that all depressive illness is caused by pride as we know there are real genetic, hereditary, circumstantial, biological and chemical factors.

However, that said. We know that all Catholics are called to humility. We are even to view ourselves as the least, worst of all. The Litany of Humility is a great tool. The book “Humility of Heart” by Fr Cajetan Mary da Bergamo is excellent also.

The Saints, all without exception saw themselves as the greatest sinners and thus remained or became humble.

This can be problematic for the depressed Catholic trying to become a Saint. They already feel bad about themselves and then to regard themselves as the worst sinner can be too overwhelming and even make their illness worse.

I would advise a Catholic suffering from depression to avoid the dark night of the soul type of spiritual reading and read something like John Vanier’s gentle “ Understanding Depression. “
Spiritual advisors should encourage the sufferer in a simple, gentle examination of conscience, advise confession and then recommend they rest & trust in the Lord’s great mercy. Scruples may be common at this time and it is important that the sufferer is consoled and assured they are not offending God by being ill. Their thoughts of despair are not a consequence of sin, lack of faith or sin against the Holy Spirit, but rather a consequence of overwrought nerves and an overwhelmed mind.

This can bring spiritual comfort and enable the self-esteem/worth of the sufferer to remain intact. We all need to esteem ourselves in the same way that God loves us with an infinite love.
How then does pride enter into this? We may have thought ourselves “good” Catholics and got the shock of our lives when we who were stalwarts of the faith succumbed to this depressive illness. “Who me Lord? Are you kidding?”

Then our pride kicks in and instead of humbling ourselves and accepting what is after all a loving cross given to us, we rail about and make it worse.

It is right that we should seek treatment for depression as with any other illness and avail ourselves of medical and psychological help.

Essentially, though if we realise we are not “rubbish” but loved by God; we are not yet saints and should humble ourselves gently – without beating ourselves up, we may assist our recovery and returned equilibrium.

“The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds.” – Ecclesiasticus 35:21

( Maybe self-acceptance is better than the term self-esteem - thanks to Sean Saunders for the clarification.)

Litany of Humility

Our Lord asks us in Matthew’s gospel to learn from Him “for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29), as he is described in the first line of this prayer below. We ask in this litany, composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry de Val (1865-1930), the Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, that God fill our hearts and souls with genuine humility, an essential virtue for holiness. After all, as we read in the letter of St. James “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each line)
That others may be esteemed more than I ,
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.

I might rework this post and change self-esteem for self-worth: since I came across this:

"Self-esteem, the offspring of pride, is more malicious than the mother herself". St. Padre Pio


  1. I can't tell you how much I needed to read this today! THANK YOU!

  2. This is an interesting post and I only came across it now. I can see how "self-esteem" is a dangerous concept that can mean many things and I fully understand why some of those would be unhealthy. However, I do think that there is a kind of debilitating self-hatred that is not at all healthy, or humble, and that the opposite of this is "self-esteem". Self-esteem is simply reaching the ground-floor, having solid ground under your feet....it's not putting yourself above other people. I remember in my teens being convinced that I was innately stupid, uninteresting and so ugly that I revolted people. I was convinced that making any kind of an effort was a waste of time, since I would fail at everything I tried anyway. This is not a Christian humility, as you can tell by its fruits, which are anger, despair, wrath, sloth and, paradoxically, pride (a negative kind of pride; "I won't even bother, why should I let everyone laugh at me?). Above all, its debilitating-- it impedes your ability to do anything. So I think a healthy self-esteem is not the idea that you are wonderful or that the world centres around you, it's realizing that God made you and loves you and that God gave you talents and gifts, just like He gave everyone else. Thanks for the post.


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