Building healthy self-esteem is essential for better mental health and coping with life's problems – such as a global pandemic.

Maybe you were brought up to believe that you should put others first; you should meets their needs and do what they want in order to be liked and accepted, or that you must do to others as you would have them to do to you.

Perhaps you, like many of us, were led to believe that how you treat other people is how they will treat you. The truth is people will treat you how you treat yourself. If you treat yourself as if you're insignificant, so will they.

If you have low self-esteem it is likely that you will have disparaging thoughts about yourself. These thoughts are the direct cause of you feeling not good enough or unworthy, and the way you feel about yourself becomes the way you treat yourself.

Maybe you'll deny your own needs and opinions in favour of someone else's or go out of your way to please others when you don't really want to, simply to be liked and accepted. 

By engaging in these types of behaviours you are allowing people to treat you badly. You are effectively telling them that your thoughts, feelings and needs are not important. And, when they then treat you as if you're unimportant it reinforces your negative beliefs about yourself. You may even resent them for appearing ungrateful for the sacrifices you have made for them.

When you feel negative about yourself you project this feeling outwards into your world and are more likely to suffer anxiety and depression. When you feel good about yourself you're view of the world is more positive. The fact is that good things and bad things happen in life, and when you feel better about yourself the bad things may not feel so bad.

I tell my clients that building self-esteem is a bit like yoga. If someone wants to become more flexible I'd encourage them to learn yoga postures and practise them daily; they will naturally become more flexible. It is similar with self-esteem. When you learn and practise positive behaviours your self-esteem will naturally improve.

Assertive behaviours include thinking that you are as deserving as anyone else; that you are of equal value to others; that your opinions, feelings and needs are as valid as anyone else's. With this line of thinking, feelings of self-esteem will naturally follow; you will treat yourself accordingly; others will mirror this treatment of you and this will reinforce your new line of thinking.

People with healthier self-esteem feel less vulnerable and more capable of dealing with life's difficulties.

Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.