Teaching the Way of Love (TWL) is a program for Catholic parents that encourages and empowers them to embrace their role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the areas of moral and personal development.

Self-Worth vs Self-Esteem

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. The same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.
~1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 11

Young adults seem to question everything in life because they are in pursuit of the truth. Specifically, they are seeking answers to these two questions; who am I and why am I here.
Before the teen years, adolescents spend minimal time contemplating the reason for their existence. But, as soon as they begin to transform into adults, they become introspective and begin asking deeper questions about their purpose in the world.

When youth start searching for answers to these big questions, parents are called to guide them towards the truth about themselves. In the past, parents would identify their child’s unique talents and gifts through observation. Just by watching their child in action, parents would learn where the child’s natural abilities lie. At the same time, parents would see where their child struggled. Pinpointing both the strengths and weaknesses helped parents direct their child towards opportunities that would fortify the gifts and improve the weaknesses. And, determining the balance between what one did well and what one didn’t do so well gave the youth a clearer answer to life’s big questions.

In recent years, a new spin on a child’s abilities has found its way into our culture. This new theory states that all youth are equally talented and gifted. Therefore, all youth are capable of doing anything that they attempt. Following this philosophy, abilities come from a personal desire (I can do whatever I want to do) and not an inherent gift (a talent that comes from God). Parents are no longer expected to observe their child and provide an honest assessment of talents. Rather, parents are obliged to provide their child with every possible opportunity to excel. They are expected to make their youth feel successful and good no matter the quality or caliber of the outcome because the failure to do so would result in a loss of value.

These are two very different approaches with two very different outcomes. The first approach is based on an authentic concept of one’s value that is called self-worth. Self-worth is a
fair measurement of one’s uniqueness that comes from God. It is the truthful response to the question, “who am I created to be in God’s image” because it affirms that worth and dignity are inherent and unchanging. The second approach is based on self-esteem which is an emotional response to one’s talents and abilities that can change. A person who believes in self-esteem will find that worthiness is attained through success and lost through failure. In this way, self-esteem is dependent on external pressures and therefore misses the mark on truthfully answering the question, “who am I created to be in God’s image.”

Self- worth is a measure of one’s worth that comes from the inside of your child. It is the belief that she matters simply because she is a child of God. Thus, it is unconditional. Self- esteem, in contrast, is a measure of worth that comes from the outside of your child. It is based on one’s ability to perform in ways that are valued by others. In this way, self-esteem is conditional; it is a moving target.

Self-worth is the firm foundation for all emerging adults because it is the one that comes from God. The Bible tells us in the book of Jeremiah that God knew us before he formed us in the womb. It also tells us in 1 Corinthians that no one person has been given all of the gifts. This distribution of gifts is part of God’s plan. Each person is meant to be part of a loving community where all persons serve each other. This service can only happen when people have unique talents that they are willing to share with one another.

Self-worth is meant to be a constant reminder of one’s connection to God and His divine plan of service to others. It is the lived reality that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us.” (1 John 4:16-17) Self-worth makes it possible for youth to accurately assess their strengths and weaknesses and confidently use these unique talents in service of others. It, unlike self-esteem, is lasting and stable. It is the solid footing upon which an emerging adult can understand who she is and why she is here.


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