The Origins of the Self-Esteem Movement

The Self-Esteem Movement

I was born right in the middle of the self-esteem movement—right there on the cusp of Generation X and the millennial movement. So I was born right into this moment where, in elementary and high school classrooms, we were hearing this mantra over and over: You can be anybody you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. Reach for the stars. There’s no limit for you to be who you want to be.

But that idea didn’t come from nowhere. There’s nothing new under the sun. That goes back all the way to the garden. It’s as old as Adam and Eve when they asked, Did God really say that is who I really am? Is that who God really is?

You’re In Charge

So we see this movement dating back hundreds of years—even starting back in the 1600s—with The Age of Reason followed by the age of the Enlightenment.

Enough about Me

Jen Oshman

This book calls women to look away from new self-improvement strategies in order to find the abundant life and joy God offers them in Jesus.

There were thinkers and modernist philosophers—writers like Emerson and philosophers like Karl Marx and scientists like Charles Darwin—saying, There is no God. In fact, you are God. You decide what is true, you decide what is real, you make your own reality.

People threw off the shackles of the church and the state and they began to look inward. They began to look to themselves for what is true and what is real. Drawing from this power and self-reliance—even a self-deification—they would go as far as to say that deity lies within yourself.

This is not a new idea or way of thinking. We’ve been thinking this way since the time of creation.

The feminist movement in the mid-1900s and then the self-esteem movement that I was born into didn’t come from nowhere. This is not a new idea or way of thinking. We’ve been thinking this way since the time of creation.

But the erroneous idea is that we are who we want to be, we are self-made, we make ourselves, we don’t have a creator, we don’t have a maker, we are whoever we want to be. The reach-for the-stars, go-get-em, you-go-girl kind of philosophy that I grew up in can be encouraging and energizing for a time, but we actually aren’t created that way.

We’re actually finite. We actually get tired and run out of steam. We don’t have the power that we tell ourselves that we have. At the end of the day, it becomes an exhausting worldview—a worldview that actually ends up enslaving us to ourselves rather than freeing us. We think it will bring freedom, but it really brings captivity.

Jen Oshman is the author of Enough about Me: Finding Lasting Joy in the Age of Self.

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