By Haley Kennedy, Recovery Coach – 6.4.2021 –
Self-esteem is having “respect for and confidence in one’s own worth or abilities,” and is formed throughout one’s life experiences. These can include childhood experiences, personal successes or failures, and how they have been treated by family, friends, peers, coaches, teachers and anyone else close to them. Someone who has developed high self-esteem might hold themselves in high value and often come off selfish, entitled and tend to ignore how their behavior impacts others. While people with low self-esteem often feel inferior or unworthy and can be harsh on themselves.
Experiences that contribute to healthy self-esteem include being respectfully spoken and listened to, having your achievements recognized and mistakes not only acknowledged but accepted.
Experiences that can lead to low self-esteem include any form of abuse, feeling ignored, being ridiculed or teased, harsh criticism, and being expected to avoid failure or be ‘perfect.’
Substance use robs people of their self-esteem. When a person is using, it’s extremely difficult to feel good about themselves. In fact, some people were led to using substances as a result of poor self-esteem. The substances are a crutch used initially to mask insecurities, feel more confident, or help them completely ignore their self-esteem, although these feelings are short-lived. That temporary and false sense of confidence fades away as their substance use progresses, they see the disease of addiction wreak havoc in their lives, and their self-esteem plummets.
Low self-esteem in recovery affects the ability to find inner happiness, and without it, the temptation to return to substances can resurface.
Rebuilding your self-esteem is a process of finding balance between over-confidence and worthlessness = humility. [Humility is simply having a realistic sense of oneself, without false pride, arrogance, or importantly, low self-esteem.]
Whether you’re contemplating doing something about your substance use disorder, or you’re already on the road to recovery, these ideas can help restore your self-esteem, improve your well-being and enhance your outlook on life.
When you stop using, your mind gets clearer, and you’ll be able to get in touch with who you really are; you might realize you’re a totally different person now. [Spoiler alert: you’re not perfect because no one is!] You can look inward to learn about yourself, discover what brings you joy, and dedicate your time to doing more of those activities. This can be especially exciting and freeing as you start to shape your persona and paint the blank canvas.
Forgive Yourself for Your Past
Dwelling on mistakes and the past is unhealthy. Being in recovery means that you acknowledge your past and have moved on. Let go of punishing yourself and commit to doing things differently in the future. “Never let past wrongs define your present.” The new you is someone that deserves to be happy. Pursue what makes you happy, whether it’s new friends, new activities or hobbies, a new career or even a new place to live.
Take Care of Yourself
Physical and mental health are tied closely together; it’s important to eat healthy and to engage in physical activities. Exercise is a great way to occupy your time, clear your mind, and help heal your body. But be sure to balance this with rest and rejuvenation.
Research has shown that people experiencing low self-esteem have difficulty accepting compliments from others. Why? Well, often because they doubt the sincerity of the compliment, which leads to feelings of embarrassment over the thought that they are being patronized. Those with low self-esteem often miss opportunities to build their self-esteem simply by acknowledging the kind words of others.
The next time someone gives you a compliment try to resist the urge to dismiss it, assume they are being sincere, say thank you and enjoy it.
Do Something Kind Every Day
“Treat others how you want to be treated” right? One way to increase the appreciation that others express toward you, is to do kind things for them. It doesn’t need to be some grand gesture; something as simple as holding a door open for someone, giving someone directions if they look lost, or paying for the coffee in the drive-thru behind you, can elicit a genuine “thank you.” Even if the other person does not express their gratitude, you can bask in the good feeling of having helped another person.
Start Making Changes
Self-determination can improve self-esteem and is also an important part of recovery from substance use disorder. In order to achieve your recovery goals, you need to feel that you have the skills, motivation, and ability to succeed. Remember — Change takes time. Taking self-determined steps in the right direction—no matter how ‘small’—play a huge role in boosting self-esteem. If a major change is too overwhelming, break it down into smaller acts, and choose to do one a day or one a week, whichever you’re able to follow through on. Every achievement awards you the opportunity to inwardly celebrate your success.
Healthy self-esteem promotes optimism which makes life feel easier to manage, allows people to feel worthy and deserving of a happy enjoyable life, and reduces the desire to escape reality, making substances less attractive, and relapse less likely. Re-building your self-esteem is not only an important step in the recovery process, but it will have a profound impact on your life.
“Once you start believing in yourself, anything is possible. Once you start believing in yourself, your dreams take shape. The more you believe, the more you achieve.” — Martina Navratilova