19 Practices to Kill Self-Esteem and Grow Humility

Self-esteem is dangerous for the soul. It promises self-improvement by self-delusion. I recently heard a comedian hilariously describe a weight-loss camp where she practiced a delusional self-esteem mantra, “I’m perfect as I am.” It was like magic: if I think I’m perfect, I’ll become perfect. She laughed at the absurdity of it with an edge of pain; a nice mantra couldn’t cure her insecurities. But what can?

We need a voice from outside our century to sober us up. Jeremy Taylor was a respected 17th century English scholar. He sees through the hazy delusion of self-esteem. The secret to healing our insecurities is not prodding our hurting selves with positive thinking and empty wish-dreams. It’s thinking about our selves less, or what the Bible calls humility. This gift from God  grows when we’re honest about our short comings, because we locate our worth in God’s love for us. In his work, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, Taylor offers 19 practices to exercise humility and kill self-obsession. You can read them in full here. Let me summarize:

1. Do not think highly of yourself because of a talent or ability. Remember they’re gifts from God.

2. True humility isn’t feeling sorry for yourself, it’s believing you’re an unworthy recipient of God’s love and grace.

3. Don’t take personal offense at teasing. You’re unworthy, so you ought to laugh and agree.

4. Cultivate a love to do good in private. Don’t fear being undervalued; you’re unworthy.

5. Do not be ashamed of your poverty, poor looks, or lowly status of any kind. These gifts remind you of your unworthiness.

6. Do not provoke the praise or compliments of others.

7. Turn all praise of yourself into praise for God.

8. Do not cultivate talents and virtue for compliments; cultivate them to serve.

9. Do not take pride in compliments, but rejoice in the God who gave the gift.

10. Do not fish for compliments with false humility. You’ll end up swallowing the hook.

11. When you’re slighted or undervalued do not harbor anger or seek out flatterers to sooth you.

12. Do not daydream about imagined wealth or fame. These are the devil’s whispers.

13. Actively praise others. Take joy in it.

14. Be happy when others exceed you. Rejoice when they’re accepted, though you’re rejected.

15. Do not compare unless you intend to lower your self-approbation.

15b. Forgive the weaknesses of others, knowing you too are weak.

16. Do not excuse your mistakes. Learn to bear criticism, which motivates more virtue than praise.

17. Thank God for your weaknesses, as they they burst your swelling pride.

18. Do not expose other’s weaknesses.

19. Submit yourself to God’s will, whatever it be; humble trust quenches fearful self-obsession.

Ask God to give you the grace to grow in humility. He’s a good father who provides. Chose a few of these and try to begin exercising that humility with a family member or coworker.

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