Negative self-image…it seems to be a plague upon man and woman, adult and child, and perhaps it hits most monstrously the teenager and younger woman. It punches at our self-esteem and attacks our fundamental self-worth. Why is self-image such a powerhouse of negativity in our lives?

It begins fundamentally with the world “self.” Note that self-image does not necessary imply a true image. What it means is that it is the way we see ourselves. And often, if we see ourselves incorrectly, it may also mean that we see others incorrectly as well. Because a good deal of negative self-image is spurred by comparison. But the negativity spurs from an even deeper place. The real problem is much further under the surface that most of us ever suppose.

I remember the day I changed my self-image, and it happened in a way that I would never have expected. And the change didn’t take place in my appearance. What I saw in the mirror didn’t change. Other people’s fundamental appearance or actions didn’t change. What changed was my sudden discovery of a truth—a fabulous and amazing truth.

I am not an object.

It seems to me that one of the primary issues with all of the problems that revolve around self-image, self-esteem, and even self-worth revolve around the false idea that we are an object. I’m talking about self-objectification. Now, let me explain.

If I see myself as an object of sex, then I’m going to weigh my self-image against what the world tells me the perfect object of sex looks like, or acts like. If I see my body as an object to be used in sex, then I’m going to hate it unless I can somehow transform it into what the perfect sex object looks like.

But what if I have the perfect Barbie or Ken body? Am I safe from objectification? No. Because I’m still functioning under a lie. I will treat others—who do not look like sex objects—with contempt. And, at some point, the lie will be revealed. I will eventually be rejected even though I look like a perfect sex object. What then happens to me? I may mentally create imperfections to be fixed? I may imagine I overweight when I’m not? I may become more overt in my actions to get attention. I may become subject to an eating disorder or depression.

When we derive our personal value based on the belief that we function only as an object, we will always undervalue ourselves. We will always see ourselves in comparison to other objects. We will develop the idea that our “use” is where our value comes from.

Let’s talk about other types of objectification.

What if I see myself as a sports object? My body is then an object to be used for sports. If I determine my value based on how well my body performs as a sports object, then anytime I fail to perform as well as I’d like, or anytime I perform worse than other object of sports, I will assume there is something wrong with me or that I’m not good enough. My self-image will plummet because it is based on my “use” as a sports object.

What if I see myself as a mom-object? Then, when I fail to do what other mom-objects do, I will find reason to devalue myself as a mother. Or, when my kids at last leave home I will become depressed because my function is no longer needed. Right?

What if I see myself as a business-person? My objectification is in regards to my “use” as an object of business. My talents in business define my value. If I fail in business, then I lose value.

What is an object?

An object is something that has no life. It does not have complex potential. It is developed to be of use to beings that have life and will power. An object serves a specific function. An object can be a goal, an ideal, a building, or a tool.

A person never will be, and never should be, an object. This is because people are not for the “use” of other people. People are not “tools” of other people. People are not “goals” of other people.

Using other people, or ourselves, is objectification. Making a person a goal is obsession—a form of objectification. Neither is healthy. Neither is right. All objectification of a person—with infinite capacities and potential—is wrong and will lead to actions that damage self and society.

Pornography is a form of objectification. Either we objectify someone else so that we can “use” them for our own pleasure. We turn them into objects. Or, we objectify ourselves trying to “use” others to create value in ourselves as a sex-object. We dress and act in ways so that people will see us as objects of sex to be “used” by them. All-in-all, no matter what the world says, a disgusting and incorrect thing to do.

Self-mutilation is a form of self-objectification. We turn our body into an object that we can damage in an attempt to make ourselves feel better, or to punish ourselves for being worthless, or to make a point to another person that we are willing to damage ourselves to get their attention. We are using our body as an object to make a point—the same object that is trying to keep us alive every moment of every day.

The ability to hurt ourselves comes when we turn ourselves into an object. Suicide may also result from the idea of self-objectification. The powerful sense of failure to “be” what people expect, or even what we expect, may find its root in self-objectification.

Objectification is not satisfying

In John 3:16 we learn that God (our Heavenly Father) sent the Savior, Jesus Christ—and Jesus was Himself willing to do it—to suffer and die and expiate and heal all sin and human infirmity. No object can be atoned for because it has no action. An object cannot sin. An object can not do good. Thus, the atonement of Jesus Christ was for you and I—children of God, humans with godly potential. We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). We were created “to act (or to use objects), not to be acted upon” (or to be used) (2 Nephi 2:14).

We were not created to “use” each other, though because of imperfection and sin we often try. And because of imperfection and sin we often let others use us. But, at some point we must come to understand that this “use” is ineffectual. When we allow others to use us it does not bring lasting peace or joy. And, when we use others, it does not bring us lasting peace, joy, or fulfillment.

One of the snares of turning ourselves into an object of desire is that it creates, rather than solves, our negative self-image. It creates misery instead of self-worth. Even if for a while we consider ourselves as having succeeded as looking or acting like an object of desire, at some point it leads to pride and contempt for others to whom we compare ourselves.

One of the snares of pornography is that it becomes addictive because it is not ultimately satisfying. It creates, instead, an immediate hideous self-loathing and misery that is never outweighed by the fleeting sexual pleasure. People return to it again and again—eventually seeking new and more exciting objects of pleasure—because the other objects became too familiar and boring. The addiction begins with the justification of objectifying others for self-pleasure. However, most people do not realize that this is what they are doing. Some do, and do it anyway.

The same snares can be found in any objectification—as a mother, sports-figure, etc. At some point all objectification leads to pride and conceit or self-loathing, hatred, and despair. Thus, part of the cure for any of these personal struggles lies in reversing this tendency to objectify.

My story

I have always been a healthy person. I grew up learning many talents. I could sing, play sports well, and move about as well as anyone could. But as I got into my early teen years—the years when most of us really begin to take notice of our self-image—I began to notice that I was much taller than other girls. Not only was I taller, I was just a bigger person. I was not overweight, but I felt overweight simply because I was bigger. I was taller than all the boys—that didn’t help. So, I began to objectify myself as an object of desire.

If I wasn’t desirable to boys then it was because there was a fundamental flaw in me. I wasn’t functioning well as an object. I compared myself to all the girls who did seem to be “functioning” well as objects of desire. And, I always fell short.

Now, I did not realize that what I was doing back then was self-objectification. I went to church. I had an amazing family. I had been taught since I took breath in this world that I was a child of God. But, I didn’t know how to reconcile that with my inability to “function” as I thought I should. I wasn’t of “use.”

Now, if you’d asked me, “Do you want to be ‘used’ by others?” I would have answered emphatically, “No!” But that’s because I didn’t understand what I was doing. And, I didn’t understand until I was in my early 30s.

I remember the day so clearly. I was at the gym, walking on the treadmill, horrifically comparing myself as an object to all the other objects in the room (because that was how I saw them…though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing). And, as always, my body—as an object—fell short in comparison to others bodies—as objects.

Then, so tired an exhausted of feeling negative about myself…since I recently gone through a divorce. I got fed up! I was just too tired to do this anymore. It was then that I looked around the room and saw everything differently. What I saw were people. They were all people, with bodies like mine. Bodies that did amazing things. Bodies that were healthy and strong and powerful. Bodies that could walk and move and run and lift weights. Bodies that could serve and bless. Bodies that were moms and dads and friends and sisters. Bodies that held the minds of people with infinite potential.

Then, it hit me, “Bam!” I am not an object. You are not an object. No human being is an object. We are children of God with talents, wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and a capacity that makes inanimate, lifeless objects worthless. People are of infinite worth. We are not, nor ever will be, objects.

The flipside

So, how do we stop objectifying ourselves and others? How do we find our self-worth, our true self-image, and increase our self-esteem? How do we strengthen our capacity to stop comparing ourselves? How do we begin the process of overcoming some addictions?

Pick up any object in your house—any object. Now, ask yourself, “What do I use this for?” Do this with as many objects as you can see. It is critical to learn to see the difference between an object and yourself—between an object and another person.

Notice especially that you are the operator of every object you pick up. Not only are you not an object, you are one of the only beings in all of existence that can make use of and operate, even create, every object within your sight. Objects are inanimate. They can’t operate one another. You are alone in your ability to see an object, recognize its function, and make use of it to do good in your own life and in the world.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, or when you see other people in the world, you must see them as children of God (Romans 8:16-17), with the potential—if they seek it—to become very much like Him! You, and any person in the world, have the capacity to shape lives, change lives, and to change the world. No object can do that. An object in the use of a person can. You are that person. You are not the object.

Your value is not in how others can make use of you. Your value is not in how you can make use of yourself. Your value is not in how you can make use of others. Your value lies in your potential to use real objects (not people) to create a life of happiness and peace.

Another critical aspect of learning to value yourself and recognize your potential is to realize the power that is in your body—in you. Study about what your brain does every second of every day. Read about how you develop cognitively, how you are capable of learning and growing and being creative unlike any other being. Read about what your physical body does every second of every day. It’s miraculous! Learn to see the wonder in the power your body has to keep you alive and to do amazing things. Bask in the power a human being has to change. We don’t respond merely to instinct. We can choose how to respond, or how to bridle, instinct. It’s amazing! Your body is you. And you are a being of power.

You have power

As you learn to not objectify yourself and others, you will begin to notice, very clearly, when others try to objectify you. Do not allow them to do it. If you see others objectifying themselves, help them to see that they are not objects. Help them to see their value and potential.

As you begin to see yourself as what you are, a powerful being, you will find empowerment to define yourself by that potential and power. You will wake up anxious to use your power to make a difference in the world and to help others. You will wake up happy to make use of real objects in their correct functions and in ways that bring true happiness and peace to yourself and others. You will be less tempted to compare yourself or to value yourself, or others, by how they function as an object. You will be better at seeing similarities, that they are very like you—subject to their own genetics and life circumstances, and simply doing the best they can with what they have to be happy in their lives.

The only satisfaction, peace, and joy that can be found is in learning to see ourselves and others as we really are—human beings, children of God, with the capacity to act, with the power to make our lives what we wish (without objectifying others), and learning to use real objects in ways that bring peace and joy to the world. Now go and find that satisfaction and peace—you can have both of those things precisely because you are not an object. You have power that no object ever will.

BT

I’ll never forget, during one early morning seminary class, several years back now, when a student shocked me with a very inspired interpretation of a verse of scripture.

Often, as a teacher, you try to anticipate comments. It’s necessary in order to be prepared to answer questions, or to help students seek their own answers. Often, you feel in your preparation you’ve discovered all the most important doctrines, the most important things for your students to know, and grasp. You’ve dug up all the necessary “in the moment” information, and then you turn it over to the Lord.

But then, you have those days that no matter your preparation, no matter your own aha’s while getting ready, God has something better in store…and your students teach you. Those were always my favorite days—when my students came up with profound truths that made my mouth drop open and which set me pondering. And this is one I have never forgotten.

The scripture was Doctrine & Covenants 93:33-34. It reads:

For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.

I asked my students, during this particular lesson, to read certain sections of scripture and pull out truths (i.e. doctrines). These two verses were simply in a large block of verses assigned and I hadn’t even focused on them by themselves. Then, one of my students got up when it was his turn to share some “truths” and he said something to the effect of:

What I learned from these verses is that suicide won’t make people happier. Suicide disconnects people from their physical body. And, if a fullness of joy only comes from them being together, or eventually reunited, then maybe if people knew that, they wouldn’t be tempted to commit suicide.

I remember sitting there (because I always sat down when I had my kids stand up and share) stunned. Such a doctrine had never before occurred to me. And certainly reading those verses had never led me to contemplate the intricate doctrines attached to suicide.

In Doctrine and Covenants 138 we find a vision by Joseph F. Smith regarding what happens to people after they die. While studying verses about Christ’s atonement and what He did in the three days His body was in the tomb, Joseph F. Smith received this incredible witness of the spirit world. In verse 11-17 Joseph F. Smith recounts:

As I pondered over these things…the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company… I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided that they might receive a fulness of joy.

Then, in verse 50, we read:

For the dead had looked upon the long absence of the spirits from their bodies as bondage.

Contemplating suicide

Now, if we are to be frank, there are a lot of reasons people contemplate suicide. I myself, during the chaos and struggle leading up to my divorce (9+ years ago now) seriously considered the idea of it. I considered it from a very lucid state of mind, though I was most certainly compromised emotionally and in consequence physically from the stress and lack of sleep and the struggle to maintain my life at the time. I remember perusing all the medications in my house and seeing if any of them could be overdosed on. I did with an acute sense of how ridiculous it was, but I did it anyway.

But, in reality, I knew why I was doing it. And, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe that happiness was out there in the future somewhere. I figured it probably was, though I couldn’t comprehend it at the time. I contemplated suicide because I wanted to get my ex-spouse’s attention. I wanted to find a way to quickly bypass all the pain that was there, at present, and that subconsciously I knew was coming. I wanted to progress through this trial faster. I wanted to shock my ex-spouse into some kind of state where he was willing to see how much I (and our marriage) should mean to him. I wanted to skip past all the unknown drama and hurt, because there seemed to be no end to the pain (both emotional and psychological).

I had never known such numbness, such emptiness, such neglect, nor such personal stagnation. My life was in a horrific limbo. I couldn’t do anything until I knew I had given everything to save the marriage and I couldn’t move forward until the other party “threw in the towel.” And, suicide, in the back of my mind, seemed like a possible way to take control—to force something to happen, because it seemed like nothing was. I was trying so hard to save the marriage and yet it was getting better and it some ways it wasn’t getting worse…it was just stagnating in the slowest possible way.

That contemplation of suicide only lasted one evening. I have the blessing and curse of being incredibly self-aware and nearly incapable of going against my own testimony, my own logic, and reason. Rebellion against common sense and practicality is nearly impossible for me. Thus, so also was suicide.

However, other people contemplate it for reasons that may include: escape, fear, depression, revenge, control, psychological collapse, or despair. Other reasons tend to be more fanatic and are rare and I’m not sure such fanatic and eccentric reasons for taking one’s own life are related to this article at all.

superhero

Bodies are a spiritual catalyst and a spiritual amplifier

However, no matter why a person may contemplate suicide, it’s important to understand that no matter how difficult life “in their body” is, that abandoning that body doesn’t necessary mean happiness. Bodies (whether mortal or immortal) are powerful. They are a power (i.e. glory, Abraham 3:26) that our spirit gains by simply coming to this life. To cast them off, no matter how much pain or suffering we may be experiencing, is to cast off the most powerful tool we have to access happiness.

The scriptures teach us that eternal happiness is achieved first and foremost by having our body and spirit together, or reunited (if we have died). A physical body (whether mortal or immortal) is a godly power. It’s something God had that we didn’t, and it is one of the primary reasons we chose to come into this mortal world.

A body grants us the power to create life, manipulate matter, and do all sorts of amazing things by the sheer act of our spiritual/mental will. In a body (D&C 138:33-35) we can gain access to ordinances and covenants that allow us to take advantage of God’s grace and by so doing seek godliness—to be like God. We can’t do that without a body!

Without a body…none of these critical, eternal things are possible unless done vicariously by proxy individuals who have bodies. And God has made it clear that this is not the best way, though it is available (Alma 34:32-36) because our bodies amplify who we are and are a catalyst to godly development. Simply separating our body from our spirit won’t make us into something we aren’t already, fundamentally. We are who we become while we are in our bodies. Our bodies have an amplifying effect upon our spirits (2010, Bednar, David. A, Things as They Really Are). Our bodies also have the power to help us change, and improve, our fundamental spiritual nature. If our spiritual nature needs improvement and refinement, a mortal body can help us accomplish that faster than eons of existence as a mere spirit.

A lot of people who don’t understand the purpose of life foolishly assume that religion is about simply being a good person. It is not. God’s plan of salvation and the fullness of His truth is about becoming like Him. We can’t do that by casting off our body simply to escape pain or trouble, to abandon fears, to avoid dealing with the very real physical struggles of depression and other psychological, to enact revenge, to seek control, or to escape despair. Our body is the very godly tool that allows us, through perseverance, to transcend pain and trouble, to overcome fears, to conquer depression and other psychological struggles, to gain peace and conquer forgiveness, and to find joy.

To cast off our body purposefully is to give up the power to gain happiness and joy. It does not create the power to gain happiness and joy.

Death comes to all

Death is a very real thing. It comes to each of us in God’s own will and time. It is the doorway to other pieces of God’s plan for us prior to our eventual resurrection. But, even to God death (separation of the body and spirit) is temporary. Through the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ we will get our bodies back, perfected and immortal. His body is eternally connected with His spirit and so will ours be. Our body, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is His to take, not ours to cast off.

Martyrdom and Sacrifice

There is only one person, in all of God’s plan, who got to choose (by God’s divine decree) when to offer up His physical body and cast it away and when to take it up again and reunite it with His spirit, and that was Christ (John 10:17-18). And, He did so in a supreme act of self-sacrifice and by a vicarious ordinance to save us both physically and spiritually for eternity. He didn’t do it to escape anything. Rather, He wished that He might not have to do so (Matthew 26:39).

Throughout scripture we see that God commands people to kill in rare instances, to be the hand of justice. We also see God commanding His prophets, apostles, and people to die for His truths rather than to compromise. We also see many people giving their lives to save others. Such instances, it would seem, are the only godly ways to walk purposefully into death. And God is the judge and grants the authority to do so.

Conclusion

What’s God’s feeling about suicide? Even as mortals we understand that suicide is not a solution, ultimately. It’s not something we should choose, and even non-religious people recommend against it. But how God treats it for those that commit suicide? That’s not for us to worry about. It’s in God’s hands.

But, if you are contemplating suicide, or if you know someone who is, please share with them God’s love for them. Remind them how precious and powerful their body is. And that just as their body allows them to experience so much pain and sorrow, it is also the catalyst and godly tool which can allow them to seek ultimately joy and happiness, both in this life, and in the life to come. Remind them that their soul (spirit + body) is, by the grace of God, the tool He has given them which gives them the power to find, create, and seek happiness and joy. Love them. Encourage them to hang on. Encourage them to seek help. To find answers. To take ownership of their ability (that body) to change their lives!

BT