Self-esteem is an important component of happiness but, like a garden, it needs to be cultivated.

Positive self-esteem is central to good mental health and physical health. When we don’t like ourselves, we get stuck in a trap of self-sacrifice and feeling not entitled to have our own needs met.

We might even be overly submissive if our self-esteem is low. Low self-esteem or high self-dislike contribute to many negative behaviors.

Some of these behaviors are depression, anxiety, psychosomatic illness such as headaches or GI issues, spouse and child abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders, promiscuity, entering into abusive and unhappy relationships, and inadequate communication styles (aggressive, nonassertive, defensive, critical).

The formation of positive self-esteem begins at a very young age.

For example: Were your parents happy to have you? Were you the gender they wanted? Did someone attend to you when you cried? These very early experiences contribute to how we view ourselves.

Positive self-esteem has a lot to do with how hard we work and how successful we are.

Positive self-esteem even affects how well we think of ourselves and accept ourselves.

A person with good self-esteem is able to like himself without comparing himself to another, is aware of his strengths and weaknesses, feels secure and can also laugh at himself.

Positive self-esteem also affects how we cope with a crisis.

Some of the ways to improve self-esteem involve changing your thinking while other ways include building some skills.

Here are some ideas to think about:

  • Don’t let negative traits or mistakes define you.
  • Don’t let criticism, past failures or traumas, lack of money or status define you.
  • Do create the habit of self-acceptance.
  • Be mindful of self-affirming thoughts and catch yourself-when your thinking becomes self-loathing.
  • Learn how to recognize and understand your self-defeating behaviors.
  • Replace self-defeating and negative thoughts with positive self-talk.
  • Learn about and identify your own thinking distortions which can include assuming, all or nothing thinking, over generalizing, labeling, dwelling on the negative, catastrophizing, rejecting the positive, blaming, personalizing, and making feelings facts.
  • Learn more direct communication skills. Try an online assertiveness class.
  • Participate in activities that make you feel capable, useful, worthy, strong and adequate.
  • Feel good about your strengths, and don’t dwell on your weaknesses and shortcomings.

Many books, DVDs and workbooks exist for self-help. Many libraries and bookstores have a self-help section.

Janet Meyer, MSW, LISW-CP is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.