We all have an identity. How God sees us, how others in society see us, and how we see ourselves. Throughout our lives, we experience many things that can have a lasting effect on how we see ourselves, and these can make their way into that mental file cabinet of the self. These beliefs about ourselves make up part of our “core beliefs.” Our core beliefs are what we really think deep down about God, other people, and ourselves. These beliefs have a direct connection to our behavior and the quality of our relationships.
Early childhood influences how we see ourselves.
These core beliefs are shaped early in childhood when we are still learning about the world around us and how we relate to that world. During these early years, we begin to form opinions about ourselves, and these opinions shape our self-image. As a young child, we look to our primary caregiver (usually our mother) to be close to us, keep us safe, and make sure our needs are met. If this does not happen, or if this is inconsistent, we develop what psychology calls an “insecure attachment style.”
Since we are not getting our physical or emotional needs met consistently from our primary caregiver, we feel that we must meet our own needs and that others are unreliable. We build walls around our hearts to keep others out. This makes intimacy and connection with others extremely difficult.
If we experience early childhood trauma (sexual abuse or early exposure to pornography, physical abuse, abandonment, divorce, death of a loved one, etc.) our hearts are further wounded, and this brokenness can cause additional faulty core beliefs about ourselves. Being bullied in school for looking different (too small, too heavy, physical deformities, poor, socially awkward, unpopular, etc.) can have a lasting effect on the way we perceive ourselves too.
Childhood experiences can cause sexual addiction.
This insecure attachment style, coupled with trauma or early exposure to pornography, can create sexual addiction. In sexual addiction, there is an attempt to self-medicate or cope, in an unhealthy way, with these negative feelings about ourselves. Once we become caught in the web of slavery to sexual sin, we become sexually broken and begin to believe that we are dirty, unlovable, unforgivable, and useless to God. This becomes our identity. We feel that we have messed up so many times before that God could not possibly do anything good with us and that his mercy has run out on us.
These are all lies from the enemy of our souls! The enemy whispers these lies into our ears in order to keep us from experiencing the deep love of God, which is the medicine for our souls and the source of our healing. God desires an intimate relationship with us, and we were made for this very purpose. We can fall into despair when we believe these lies from the enemy: that God no longer loves us and that we are hopeless.
Our self-image impacts our relationships.
Insecurity and a negative self-image are huge barriers to healthy intimacy. We have to feel safe in our relationships. When we feel safe, we open our hearts to the other person, and a real connection is made. We begin to share the gift of ourselves with the other and receive the gift of self from the other. This deep union is called intimacy and we were made for it: connection with God, others, and ourselves.
We will never fully open up to another person as long as we have fear. Insecurity is an unhealthy fear that we are simply not good enough. Pornography can be seriously harmful to our sense of security and self-esteem. It fills our minds with negative thoughts and ideas that we are not good enough, attractive enough, confident enough, etc., and this feeds our insecurity even more. Then, we isolate from real relationships, out of fear of rejection, and continue turning to pornography to meet our legitimate needs for intimacy in an illegitimate way.
When we believe all of these negative things about ourselves, we do not feel that we are adequate or worthy of love. We fear that if others knew us—who we really are on the inside—they would reject us. This fear of rejection is directly related to insecurity and can cripple our attempts to love and to be loved in return. These are the faulty core beliefs that hold us back in our relationships with God, other people, and having an authentic connection with ourselves.
God made us good; we have value.
We need to remember that God created us good. We were made in his image and likeness, and each one of us has this dignity. We are good, loveable, and useful to God. He has a plan for each one of us and we all fit somehow into this greater divine plan, though it may remain a mystery to us in this life. What we do matters to God and to the world around us. Even in our brokenness, God looks for opportunities to use us for the building up of his kingdom. He can take even our greatest mistakes and turn them into good for us and others if we allow him.
God has also given each one of us our own unique set of gifts, talents, and abilities. It is usually hard for those with a negative self-image and faulty core beliefs to see the good in themselves. We can become unbalanced and only see our shortcomings and weaknesses. This is why it is extremely helpful to do a self-inventory and to uncover all of these positive things hidden within us. We should take note of every spiritual gift, natural talent, and ability that we possess, as good gifts from God. We have value! Gradually, we can begin to reshape our core beliefs about ourselves.
Our identity is in Christ.
Most of all, the answer to all of this is to know our true identity as beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. As believers, we need to know who we are in Christ! To really know that we are beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father and that he sees us as his little children, can help shatter the chains of negative self-image that hold us back from true intimacy.
Everyone needs to know that they are loved by God with infinite love. Nothing we do can separate us from the love of God! Even when we make mistakes, he loves us still and desires our repentance and salvation. We need to have this confidence and trust in his goodness and mercy towards us. It is this knowledge of our identity in Christ (beloved sons and daughters of God) that will be the anchor that keeps us stable during the rough seas of rejection and failure.
Ultimately, it does not matter what other people think about us (or what we think they think about us). The only thing that really matters, is that the creator of the universe is crazy about us! To quote Brennan Manning, “I am now utterly convinced that on Judgment day the Lord Jesus will ask one question and only one question, ‘Did you believe that I loved you?’”
You Are Loved
The Catholic Answers booklet You Are Loved is a confessional aid for priests to offer those who struggle with pornography. You Are Loved offers inspiration and hope for the countless individuals struggling to break free of pornography.
Audience: Priests to offer penitents
Resource type: Confessional aid
Cost: Pricing varies