Heads, Tails, and Self-Esteem

I frequently encounter counselees who, after telling me their story, will sum up their problems by saying, “I have trouble loving myself,” or “I know that my problem is low self-esteem,” or “I just don’t feel good about myself,” or some variation of those statements. Then they look at me expectantly, waiting for me to pick up that ball and run with it.

As biblical counselors, we understand that the self-esteem movement has many holes in it from a biblical point of view. This blog is not intended as a critique of that movement; many others before me have done that job very well and I have benefited from their writing.  Instead, I am going to describe one illustration I use with counselees to help them understand a biblical view of themselves.

I don’t use this illustration until I have thoroughly listened to their story and have built involvement over the course of several sessions. At the appropriate time, I pull out an old George Washington quarter with his head on one side and an eagle on the other. I hold up the quarter between my thumb and forefinger and show my counselee Washington saying, “This side is ‘heads.’ It represents an attitude like, ‘I am hot stuff. I am good at this, and have it together.’”

Then I flip to the other side of the coin and say, “This side is ‘tails.’ It represents the self-view of, ‘nobody loves me, I’m a failure, and I’m not really good at anything.’”

And then I ask the question, “What do you think I call this coin?  What could we name it?”  After giving time for a few guesses, I tell them I call this coin the “All About Me Coin.”  We then think through how both sides of the coin represent very self-preoccupied people. Both sides are consumed with “me.”  This is obvious when we discuss the “heads” side of the coin, but not so evident when we think about the “tails” side.  I then explain that a person who is always thinking about himself is quite selfish; this is true not only of those who think highly of themselves but also of those who think poorly of themselves. This creates a great starting point for further discussion of what the Bible says about how you should view yourself.

To help the counselee establish a biblical view self, read verses that tell us that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), that we are marred by sin (Ro 3:10-12), and Christ freely gives us His righteousness (Phil 3:9). Therefore, I don’t praise myself (Pr 27:2), and I can evaluate myself soberly (Ro 12:3), resting in His unfailing love.

We conclude by focusing on the greatest commandment, to love God (Mt 22:37-39) and the second, to love others.  If my counselee will focus on loving God and loving others, her own self-evaluation will become an infrequent passing thought and not an enslaving preoccupation.

Susan BlakeSusan Blake
Susan Blake has been married to Joe since 1981. They are the parents of five children and have three grandchildren. Susan is a certified biblical counselor with the ACBC and she counsels in various ministries at Faith Church.