Self-esteem is vitally important to your mental health. When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel appropriately secure, worthwhile and able to manage difficult situations.
Healthy self-esteem allows you to be:
• Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions without being aggressive.
• Confident in your ability to make decisions while knowing that sometimes there might be a better answer.
• Able to form secure and honest relationships, and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones.
• Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others.
• More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks.
Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:
• Your thoughts and perceptions.
• How people react to you.
• Experiences at home, school, work and in the community.
• Illness, disability or injury.
• Age and genetics.
• Role and status in society.
• Media messages.
There are a lot of factors beyond our control, but even if we grow up in a troubled environment, we can overcome the adversities and still have a healthy self-esteem. Past experiences and relationships don’t have to define us, but they can influence the way we see ourselves and our abilities. No matter what our past was, we can be physically, socially and professionally viable. Your thoughts have the biggest impact on your self-esteem, and these thoughts are within your control. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can develop a more balanced, accurate view of yourself by working to change those negative thoughts.
You might also be wondering, “Can I have too much self-esteem?” or “Is self-esteem the same as being conceited or arrogant?” When self-esteem is healthy and grounded, it’s hard to have too much of it. Boasting or feeling superior to others or asserting dominance over others is not a sign of too much self-esteem. It’s more likely to point to emotional problems that result in feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. When you have healthy self-esteem, it translates to a balanced, accurate view of yourself and your abilities in each situation. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your own limitations.
Self-esteem affects every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn’t about blowing your own horn. It’s about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all.
Dr. Julie Wood is the Medical Director for Optum Idaho, a health care company who manages the outpatient benefits for the Idaho Behavioral Health Plan for Idaho Medicaid members and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. She is a board certified general adult psychiatrist with eight years post graduate clinical and administrative experience in community, managed care and residential level of care experience.