“You’re not good enough.”
“Why can’t you do better?”
“You never do it right.”
These are some of the things I have said to myself over the years. Half the time, I don’t even notice I’m doing it!
Even though I had a wonderful upbringing (not perfect, but whose is?) and was affirmed and loved as a child, my perfectionist personality and high-achiever mentality made me prone to be overly critical of myself.
Accepting Jesus as my Lord and Saviour led me to find forgiveness and freedom from condemnation, which brought to attention my negative self-talk. As I grew in my relationship with God, I became confident that these are not His thoughts or words to me.
Here are five things that have helped me overcome the habit of beating myself up:
1. Embrace your humanity
When I first came to Jesus, I was on cloud nine—overjoyed at being freely forgiven. But over time, I found myself trying to be “perfect” in my own strength. Whenever I felt sad or depressed, I would tell myself off for not having the garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3). If I felt too tired to pray before bedtime, I would tell myself I had no discipline.
This left me frustrated and upset. I was beating myself up for having very normal human experiences.
We need to remember our humanity. In Psalm 103:14, David writes: “For He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” David understands that God considers and embraces our humanity.
Jesus Himself gave up His glory in heaven to dwell among us, as a man. In doing this, He experienced all that we do. He got tired, annoyed, hungry, and even depressed. Jesus also showed us that it is unrealistic to live on a ‘spiritual high’ or have the ‘mountain top experience’ all the time; even He did not have that.
Instead of beating yourself up, take a breath and remember that God understands, and He embraces our humanness. Remember that we are not trying to perfect our faith in our own strength instead of in the Spirit, which was how we started out (Galatians 3:3).
When we can remember that, then we can learn to . . .
2. Distinguish between guilt and conviction
You may be asking “But what about when we sin or do something wrong? Aren’t we meant to feel bad or upset by this?”
There is a difference between “I am so stupid” and “I did a stupid thing.” Guilt is a general feeling of “badness”, whereas conviction is a very clear and direct illumination by the Holy Spirit of a specific wrongdoing or sin.
In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, Paul wrote that he was happy that the Corinthians were grieving over their sin because it was a “godly grief” that led to repentance. He then describes the opposite kind of grief that produces death, which is “worldly grief”.
If I am upset over something I have done, and it produces confusion, fear, disbelief and worry, then it isn’t a godly conviction, but a “worldly” guilt.
For example, I used to feel so guilty every day at how much I would ‘tell off’ or get grumpy at my class. I could not pinpoint a specific incident I felt bad about, just a general feeling of being wrong. Instead of seeking God’s grace, I would keep telling myself off for how ‘bad’ I was. This negativity did not produce any change at all.
If, however, my wrongdoing produces a sadness or brokenness that leads to Jesus’s forgiveness and a readiness to turn away and make different choices, I am experiencing a godly conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit.
In contrast to the above example, the Holy Spirit never makes me “feel bad”. I know it is conviction when I feel a pang of grief over how I spoke or treated a specific student during the day. The clarity and urge I get to put things right is encouraging. I would be able to go to that student, apologise, and have a conversation towards restoration.
Experiencing the difference between guilt and conviction has helped me know which grief and sadness is healthy and which isn’t. This gives me clarity and authority to silence the condemning voice of the enemy instead of giving in to it.
3. Let your mess lead you to the cross
The Bible says that God’s kindness leads to repentance, and gracious words bring healing (Romans 2:4; Proverbs 16:24). In contrast, the enemy is the Father of Lies (John 8:44).
We have a real enemy who wants us to constantly feel bad so that instead of running to God with our mess, we hide. In fact, this was Adam and Eve’s first response to their disobedience in the Garden (Genesis 3:10), and we’ve been doing the same thing ever since!
But Jesus came to bridge the gap so that we can have full access to the Father. He knew we could not fix ourselves, so He made a way.
A lovely pastor encouraged me to let my “not good enough” lead me to Jesus, not away from Him. My weakness is an opportunity for God to be my strength (2 Corinthians 12:9).
These days, I come to God in all states of messiness—angry, tired, upset, excited, distracted, or confused—I bring all that to Him and simply, “This is me today. I am not good enough, but You are and that is why I need You.”
God is seeking those who worship Him in “truth” (John 4:24). No pretence, just as you are.
4. Learn to adopt true humility
Sometimes we feel that we are being humble when we have done a good job of telling ourselves off, apologising repeatedly, and acknowledging what rotten sinners are. We think that as long as we feel bad, we are repentant and “holy”.
This couldn’t be further from the truth about humility, which is agreeing with God in what He says about us!
To overcome the vicious cycle of punishing myself, I went back to the Bible to find scriptures that tell me who I am in Christ (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 5:17) and repeated these to myself.
At first, I struggled to truly believe I was chosen, a child of God, a saint, and more than a conqueror. But the more I did it, I found the other voices of false humility became quiet.
My prayer life also changed, from a constant stream of apologies to God to a simple confession and accepting His forgiveness, and then moving on. After reading more of what the Bible says about faith, I was aware I had a choice. I could keep bringing the same mistakes before God, ridden with guilt, or I could take Him at His Word in faith.
These days, my prayers are simple: “Thank you for your forgiveness”, and “Thank you I am washed clean by your blood.”
It is amazing what happens. I find in this place of honesty, Jesus meets me. I feel His Holy Spirit ministering to my heart, my emotions, and my spirit, and before long I am communing and worshipping Him with ease.
5. Be your own best friend – speak kindly to yourself
Often, we tell others about God’s forgiveness and kindness, but we don’t live in it ourselves. We are quick to say “it’s okay” to others, but it takes longer to forgive ourselves.
Whenever I start thinking negatively about myself, I ask myself, “Would I say this to a friend?”
Whenever we feel like beating ourselves up, we can counter this by learning to be our own best friend—to speak words of encouragement and speak kindly. This is how God speaks to us also. (Isaiah 41:9-10, John 14:27).
A friend once challenged me to write down 10 things I liked about myself and 10 things I was good at. At first, I struggled to think of even two for each, and began to criticise myself for not being able to write the list. I then asked her what she saw and later went to God in prayer to help me finish the list.
Today, I can say with confidence that I am an amazing teacher, stunningly beautiful, friendly and welcoming, a good writer, and a caring friend.
God does not want us to live in guilt but in freedom (Galatians 5:1). Anything that stops us from freely running to our heavenly Father is not from Him. He wants us to come to Him boldly and unashamed to receive His love and mercy whenever we need it.