is the latest buzz word to be tossed around by therapists, educators and the self-help
industry, but the value of a positive self image has been recognized for decades.
Self-esteem is what we used to call self-respect, self-confidence or self-worth. It is,
simply, feeling good about yourself.
Not so simple is what positive self-esteem does for us. Studies
show that a positive sense of self affects not only our physical and emotional health, but
also how we interact with others and cope with situations, good and bad. Self-esteem
enhances creativity. It makes us feel secure, loved and accepted. A positive sense of self
can even be reflected in healthy skin.
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? So how do you
get it if you don't have it?
That's not simple either, writes Dr. William
B. Swann Jr. in an article in "Healthline." He dismisses quick-fixes, like
endlessly reciting "I'm lovable and capable," as simplistic and naive.
Cultivating self-esteem begins with changing
the way you think about yourself. Here are some tips for how to cultivate your
Swann suggests focusing on your positive physical, mental and emotional qualities.
What do you like about yourself? What are you good at? Instead of dwelling on the bump on
your nose, recognize your fine sense of humor, your lovely complexion, the good
relationship you have with your spouse. Focus on your accomplishments. Congratulate
yourself on the things you've done -- and do -- well. Replace self-criticism with
encouragement, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Counseling
Center (UIUC). If you're always finding fault with the way you look or feel, try instead
to compliment yourself and visualize what you want to achieve. Refrain from
evaluating yourself when you are tired, under stress, anxious or angry, say Edward J.
O'Keefe and Donna S. Berger, authors of "Self-management for College Students: The
ABC Approach." When we are feeling down, it is not easy to think positively
about anything, including ourselves," the authors say. "(We are) more vulnerable
to distorted thoughts and dysfunctional beliefs. Positive feelings have the opposite
effect. Thoughts such as 'I'm pretty good at this!' are much easier to come by when we are
happy and feeling good." Don't fall victim to the beauty cult. A Wellesley
College study, "Raising Competent Girls," found adolescent white girls were both
obsessed and dissatisfied with their looks, a no-win combination that lowered their
self-esteem. By contrast, African-American girls, whose notions of beauty are less
influenced by the white-dominated media, placed less importance on attractiveness and were
happier about themselves than girls of any other ethnic group. Don't aim for
perfection in everything you do. It's an impossible goal. Do your best, counselors
suggest, and then accept it.
Take risks, but approach new experiences as opportunities to learn, rather than occasions
to win or lose, according to the UIUC Counseling Center. And be willing to laugh at and
learn from disappointments.