"It might surprise you to know that a healthy self-esteem benefits you in all aspects of your life—physical health, relationships, and satisfaction with life."
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Episode 167 -- November 18, 2021Nine Benefits of Healthy Self-Esteem
Most of us felt low when we started our recovery journey. We might have been at rock bottom or close to it—but we were not in a good place, wherever we were. When we were in the throes of our addiction, did we have much reason to have high self-esteem? What role did our self-esteem play in our substance use, and what role does it play in our recovery? As we rebuild our lives, we can also build a new sense of self and self-esteem. It is a relief to know that our self-esteem can improve as we change—that's an exciting prospect for our new lives in recovery.
In their book What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Michael Wetter and Eileen Bailey offer practical techniques and principles to help us recognize and intervene on self-defeating thoughts. We learn ways to change our thinking and become a happier version of ourselves.
This excerpt is more than a simple explanation of self-esteem. It describes nine ways that a healthy self-esteem can benefit our lifestyle and relationships. We also explore how learning to accept ourselves and letting go of our negative self-image can improve every part of our lives.
This excerpt has been edited for brevity.
The Benefits of a Healthy Self-Esteem
You are probably aware of the benefits of eating a healthy diet and exercising each day. You might go to the doctor once a year for your annual physical to make sure you're healthy. You have been taught all your life how to take care of your physical health. But what about your emotional health? We don't have annual checkups to make sure we are handling stress or feeling good about ourselves. It might surprise you to know that a healthy self-esteem benefits you in all aspects of your life—physical health, relationships, and satisfaction with life. There are many reasons to pay attention to your self-esteem the same way you do to your physical health.
- Comfortable with yourself. You don't feel the need to adapt your behavior, views, or values to fit those of the people around you.
- Healthier. Low self-esteem increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
- Better able to handle stress and challenges. When you have a high self-esteem, you believe in your ability to overcome adversity. It isn't that bad things don't happen in your life—the stronger your self-esteem, the better your ability to cope when things do go wrong. You tend to see challenges and problems as opportunities and are more likely to be solution oriented than problem oriented.
- More satisfied, happy, and fulfilled in life. A healthy self-esteem means you believe you're deserving and worthy of love and happiness, and therefore seek it out. You are more content with your life. You probably have an optimistic outlook on life and have less fear of uncertainty in new situations.
- More willing to articulate needs and wants. When you believe you deserve happiness, you're more willing to ask for and seek out what you want, whether it's a better job, a compatible spouse, or close friendships.
- Able to accept yourself. You accept that you're going to make mistakes and that you aren't perfect. You don't need other people's approval and understand that you can't please everyone. This doesn't take away from the feeling that you're competent, capable, and worthy of love.
- Accepting of others, even when they disagree with you. Because you have confidence in your own abilities and are willing to accept imperfection in yourself, you're willing to accept it in others, without judgment.
- More satisfied with relationships. When you think about yourself positively, you feel better not only with yourself but with the people around you. As your self-esteem increases, so does your satisfaction with your relationships with significant others, family, and friends. People with strong self-esteem are less likely to stay in unhealthy relationships.
- Maintaining a focus and balanced perspective on what went right. Rather than dwelling on your past problems and mistakes and letting them define you, you're able to give higher priority to the positive things that happened, including the guidance, care, and support from significant people in your life and your past successes and accomplishments. You learn from what went wrong but don't ignore what went right.
Instead of differentiating your physical health from your emotional health, it's more helpful and worthwhile to automatically incorporate both your physical and emotional health in your view of yourself—to consider the "whole you" as important and worthy of care. Caring for your emotional health affects your physical health, and caring for your physical health improves your emotional well-being. Improving your self-esteem enhances the whole you.
How Does Self-Image Affect Your Life Now?
The short answer is that how you feel about yourself affects every part of your life: relationships, social situations, work, and health. It can even affect your ability to relax and enjoy yourself, doing simple things like watching a movie or sporting event, going on a picnic, or engaging in hobbies. When you have low self-esteem resulting from an unhealthy self-image, you tend to focus on what you perceive as your shortcomings. You might make self-destructive choices (staying in relationships that are unhealthy or abusive) or engage in self-harm behaviors (eating disorders, substance abuse) or demean others in an effort to make yourself feel better. According to Dr. Kevin Solomons, author of Born to Be Worthless: The Hidden Power of Low Self-Esteem, when you have a negative view of yourself, many of your decisions and behaviors are an attempt to get someone to love you or to numb your pain from feeling worthless.
Low self-image can also cause health problems. You might be at a higher risk for developing depression and anxiety disorders. You might have stomach problems, headaches, or fatigue because of stress and worry. When you have low self-esteem, it often turns into a vicious cycle. You react in certain ways because of your negative self-image, which drives people away from you. This reinforces your belief that you are worthless, and your self-esteem plummets.
Here's a hypothetical situation to demonstrate this vicious cycle: A friend invites you to a dinner party, and you are afraid to go because you're sure no one will want to talk to you. When you arrive, your insecurity causes you to avoid making eye contact and stay mostly in the background during conversations, or mumble something when asked a direct question. Because of your behavior, the other people at the party see you as distant, aloof, or unfriendly. You leave the dinner with your belief that no one likes you reinforced.
Self-image, although ingrained since early childhood, can change. You can learn to focus on your positive attributes. You can learn to appreciate your good qualities. You can make friends, have a healthy relationship, and, most important, you can learn to love yourself. Now that you understand more about how self-image develops and how it shows up in your life, you can take steps to improve your view of yourself.
About the Author:
Dr. Michael G. Wetter is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in adolescent and adult populations. He has served on the faculty and staff of several leading national medical organizations including Kaiser Permanente, is on staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and is a subject matter expert for the California State Licensing Board of Psychology. Dr. Wetter is a nationally recognized expert in the field of psychology and is a guest lecturer, training other psychologists and mental health professionals. Dr. Wetter has served as an expert consultant on numerous television programs, as well as to newspapers such as the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution and to magazines like Men's Health, Forbes, Prevention, and Redbook.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance writer specializing in mental and emotional health issues. She writes for numerous health and wellness websites and is lead writer for both ADHD and anxiety on HealthCentral.com as well as a contributing writer for ADDitude magazine online (www.additudemag.com). She is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guides: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, The Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and The Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome.
© 2016 by Michael G. Wetter and Eileen Bailey.
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