We talk about self-esteem as if we all know what it’s about. Generally, there is agreement that high self-esteem is feeling good about yourself, while low self-esteem can be described as not liking yourself very much. But why do we talk about it at all?

Because we intuitively know that it’s about more than feelings. It’s central to success — and even personal safety.

People with high self-esteem believe they have value. They are therefore less likely to put up with unsatisfying or abusive relationships or to invite victimization. They know they deserve better. Because they think of themselves as having something positive to contribute in relationships, they look for and find friends and lovers who are much the same.

They believe in their abilities, so they’re willing to risk taking on more challenging work and to assert novel ideas. More often than not, they are successful. And there’s nothing like success to give someone the motivation to reach for even higher goals — whether in school, at work or even in relationships.

People with low self-esteem, on the other hand, often become stuck. Because they don’t feel worthy of good relationships, success in their work, or luck in love, they often find themselves in unhappy, unrewarding and even dangerous situations.

Not expecting to be treated well, they accept bad, even abusive, treatment. Not expecting to be successful, they set themselves up for failure. Convinced that others won’t like them, they give up trying to make satisfying friendships. Their sense of self has been so worn down that they don’t feel deserving of better and can’t assert themselves effectively. As a result, they are susceptible to a wide range of mental and physical health problems that further contribute to their sense of being damaged human beings. Their depressed approach to life guarantees more of the same, maintaining a negative spiral of immobilization and defeat.

This is not to “blame the victim.” People with low self-esteem aren’t responsible for their depressed approach to life. There are good but sad reasons why they have lost the conviction that they have personal value or that they can contribute positively to any endeavor.

Unfortunately, predators know prey when they see it. People who feel good about themselves only when they can dominate and control others seek the insecure and scared — and do their utmost to keep them that way.

The good news is that self-esteem can be improved. If you are struggling with low self-esteem, you can pull away from the negativity and discouragement that have been pulling you down for so long. Here are three basic strategies as a place to start.

1. Do good to feel good. Positive self-esteem isn’t just an attitude. Genuine self-esteem requires us to do things to deserve those good feelings. It can be as simple as holding a door for someone, letting someone else have that parking space near the store or writing a note of appreciation. It can be as big as volunteering to fill some need in your community. Doing good makes us feel better. And feeling better makes it more likely that we have the energy to do good. It’s how an upward spiral begins.

2. Inject more positivity into your life. Barbara Fredrickson, one of the primary researchers in positive psychology, has found that positivity has a tipping point. When we increase our positive comments and actions so they outnumber the negative ones by a ratio of 3 to 1, we increase our positive feelings about ourselves and others. Consciously look for opportunities to compliment others, to say something helpful and positive, to find silver linings in the darker clouds of life. You’ll help drown out the negativity in the world and you’ll feel better and do better.

3. Practice being mindful. Mindfulness isn’t a new-age fad. It’s essential to genuine positive self-esteem. Being mindful means recognizing that negative thoughts don’t have to consume us. We can instead acknowledge them, then let them go. They are only thoughts. Meditation practices like mindfulness-based stress reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, or therelaxation response, developed by Herbert Benson, or the mindfulness meditation practices taught by Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh are all routes to the same goal. Being mindful helps us reverse negativity and develop the compassion for ourselves and others that helps us flourish.

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., is a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist. She is a feature writer and advice columnist for Psychcentral.com and contributes to the divorce page on huffingtonpost.com. Her latest book is “Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem: A Guide to Building Confidence and Connection One Step at a Time.”

The opinions expressed in blogs and reader comments are those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of SafeBee.com. While we have reviewed the content to ensure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, SafeBee is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information.