- Health, Wellness & Sports
- Equality Directory
How others treat us is greatly influenced by the way we see ourselves.
We all know people who genuinely like themselves and feel content with their lives. Because they see the positive in themselves, they are able to understand and appreciate the good in others. They treat people with a sense of respect, a skill they know well because this is how they treat themselves.
When our feelings about ourselves are positive, we show others that we like and value ourselves, which tends to make others in turn treat us well.
But when we have negative feelings about ourselves, so that we are too critical, complaining and pessimistic, others tend to take this attitude toward us as well. How we treat ourselves helps determine how others will treat us.
The thoughts that we have about ourselves, or how we define ourselves, contribute to our self-image. The feelings we have about these thoughts, whether these feelings are good or bad, are the building blocks of our self-esteem. Our self-image, and gradually our self-esteem, can be molded by our parents, family, friends, physical and intellectual abilities, education, jobs, and more.
Just as we have definitions for most things in the world, we also have definitions of ourselves. We come to define ourselves the way others define us.
Thus, if others treat us with love and kindness, as if we are special and unique people, then we will eventually define ourselves in this way as well. On the other hand, if other people treat us as if we are a bother to have around and not worth much, then we will also come to see ourselves in this way.
Some people confuse healthy positive self-esteem with audacity or arrogance, a false sense of superiority over other people.
True self-esteem, however, means that we do not have to assert ourselves at the expense of other people. Indeed, it is those with negative self-esteem who must resort to the tactic of exaggerating their own worth, usually by putting other people down. Those with positive self-esteem can acknowledge their own worth and also validate the positive qualities of others.
We all tend to respond to triggers in ways that lower or raise our self-esteem. Identifying the experiences that influence our self-esteem can take some work and a genuine commitment to improving the quality of our lives.
For example, if negative thoughts occur when you spend time alone, you may be dealing with abandonment issues. If negativity is triggered when you are criticized, you may have issues surrounding rejection. If you have negative thoughts in the presence of a person who tends to dominate and control, the theme may have to do with authority, judgment and evaluation.
When we come to understand these underlying themes, we can start to view them objectively and get closure on them so that they no longer have the power to influence our self-esteem.
Appreciate your own individuality, your own combination of strengths and weakness that make you a special person. Without a strong sense of who you are, it is easy to become vulnerable to others who treat you in a negative way.
Engaging in an exercise program is a good way not only of taking care of your body, but also in making you and others aware that you value yourself. It is important to groom yourself well and to wear clothing that brings out your best qualities.
Feeling good about yourself, presenting yourself to the world in a positive way, and getting positive feedback from other people are essential components of developing positive self esteem.
Improving one’s self esteem involves engaging in productive and enhancing relationships with others. There comes a time to examine our destructive relationships. This may be difficult since we are drawn toward relationships that reinforce our old ways of seeing ourselves. Try to understand how destructive relationships in your life reinforce old negative self-esteem patterns, and try to change the tone of the relationship so that positive self-esteem can be expressed by both parties. If that is not possible, it may be time to end a destructive relationship and move on to more productive friendships.
A mature adult life requires integrity. While others may assist you here and there, ultimately you are responsible for meeting your own needs. Acquiring positive self-esteem is essential to this task. The mature adult relies on his or her own resources to find ways of meeting such basic needs.
J.M. Evosevich, Ph.D., LMFT, CADC (MFC33118) is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Palm Springs. He works with individuals and couples to assist them in dealing with the stress that life brings to have happier, healthier relationships. If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, call 760.778.4929 or email to email@example.com