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Many people go through life expecting the worst. Alfred Alder, the 19th century Austrian psychotherapist, stated: “Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.”

But we can change our perception of ourselves and the world and, as a result, work toward positive and high self-esteem.

When people have deep spiritual, physical, and emotional wounds, they can carry these burdens with them through life. In so doing, they cloud their perception of their own value or importance. And our perception of ourselves is what dictates our self-esteem.

In carrying the burdens of low self-esteem, people often substitute these feelings with dependency self-gratification methods, such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. In some ways, these people want control of changing their low self-image, and for too many the answer is to indulge or self-medicate. Dependencies allow them to deal with the status quo and numb away the negative feelings.

Self-esteem refers to the overall opinion we have of ourselves and the value we place on ourselves as people. Low self-esteem means that the tone of this opinion is negative: for example, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m useless.”

Of course most people have mixed opinions of themselves, but if the overall opinion is that you are an inadequate or inferior person, or if you feel that you have no true worth and are not entitled to the good things in life, this is low self-esteem. And low self-esteem can have a painful and damaging effect on one’s life.

We are what we think. What people take in influences their perceptions of themselves, and the filters they use to gather information about themselves is key in how they feel. The problem with changing anything in life is that people fight it — No matter how bad they feel, humans are creatures of habit.

The following is a list of potential ways of increasing self-esteem:

  • Use positive self-talk: Tell yourself you can handle it and support yourself in going after your goals.
  • Engage in regular physical activity: Regular exercise fends off depression, low energy, and disease, while increasing stress management abilities and enhancing your mood.
  • Take care of your needs: Be good to yourself by getting adequate sleep, taking care of your personal hygiene, creating time to be alone, saying no when you need to, eating in nutritious ways, stimulating your mind, and connecting with others.
  • Let the little things go: It is damaging to your health to beat yourself up over every little thing.
  • Own who you are: Give yourself permission to like what you like and not like what you don’t like.
  • Practice self-acceptance: Get to know yourself. Let go of any need to be perfect.
  • Be creative: Creativity helps you achieve a greater sense of well-being and gain better control of your thoughts. Step out of the box.
  • Have a grateful and optimistic attitude about life: Practice daily gratitude.
  • Have personal integrity and live by your values: Listen to your inner voice.
  • Participate in meaningful activities: Follow your passions.

The bottom line when it comes to self-esteem, we play the most important role.

One’s personal happiness can greatly increase by taking positive action in changing one’s attitude. Take time to meditate and take stock in how we are processing the world around us. Setting healthy boundaries with ourselves and others, and not be afraid of asking a trusted love one to give a valid and honest assessment of how we are doing. Lastly, take the brake off, and allow yourself the freedom to enjoy the ride of your lives.

Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He specializes in helping families dealing with complex family situations, addictions, and transitions. Find out more at www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com

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