7 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Recovery
There’s no denying that active addiction can cause serious blows to your self-esteem and the way you view yourself. However, building self-esteem is incredibly important when it comes to fostering a long-lasting, healthy recovery from addiction.
Read on to discover the connection between addiction and low self-esteem, and why building self-esteem in recovery is so important. Then, dive into our top 7 ways of building self-esteem in recovery.
Self-esteem is affected by trauma and addiction
It’s not uncommon for those in recovery from addiction to struggle with low self-esteem.
Trauma, in its various forms, is a factor that contributes to the development of addiction for many people. In fact, addiction in itself is a traumatic experience.
The thing is, trauma has the power to deeply affect self-esteem and self-worth.
When it comes to the trauma of addiction, feelings of shame and guilt can become your baseline.
In active addiction, you constantly feel like you're being judged by others. This could be from strangers or the people that are closest to you.
You're not proud of the things that you do to get drugs.
You're not proud of your use.
Oftentimes you are numbed out and completely disconnected to not only the world around you, but to yourself.
The all-encompassing nature of addiction can tarnish your spirit while you are using.
It strips you of your joy, your passion, your purpose, and everything that makes you who you are.
Because of this, you lose connection with yourself. Building self-esteem can feel like such a far reach when you’re in this place.
It is incredibly difficult to feel confident, secure, and have a high sense of self-worth when you feel like you don't even know who you are.
In addition to this, trauma can have a profound impact on what you believe about yourself.
Low self-esteem is tied into limiting beliefs
Low self-esteem is directly tied to limiting beliefs that you have formed about yourself.
A limiting belief is something you believe about yourself that is holding you back from living a full, joyous, meaningful life.
Our limiting beliefs are formed by messages we received growing up, experiences we have as we get older, and traumas that impact us.
An example of a limiting belief is believing that you're not worthy of having good things.
If you did things in active addiction that you're not proud of, or even before that, you may feel that you aren't deserving of having good things in your life. However, this is simply not true. Regardless of what you have done or what you've been through, you deserve to live a full and meaningful life. This is true even if your limiting beliefs are telling you otherwise.
Limiting beliefs often stem from childhood
A limiting belief could have been formed at any point in your life. However, many of our limiting beliefs are rooted in our childhood.
For instance, let's say that when you were a child, your parents always made you feel bad about yourself. This could have inadvertently prompted you to form a belief about yourself that you are not good enough. Believing that you are not good enough contributed to you having low self-esteem for as long as you can remember.
As you can see, we can always tie back our low self-esteem to what we think about ourselves. What we think about ourselves can always be tied back to a limiting belief that we formed at some point during our lives.
The great thing about limiting beliefs is that they are not rooted in ultimate fact. We always have the power to change them. In recovery, you have the ability to leave your old self and limiting beliefs behind. You have the opportunity to embrace new supportive, empowering, beliefs instead.
How low self-esteem can contribute to an addiction to begin with
Although struggling with addiction can result in having poor self-esteem, the reverse is also true. Research shows that having low self-esteem has been linked to engaging in substance use.
For some, having low self-esteem and low self-worth can create a domino effect. This can take someone to a place mentally and emotionally that is unbearable to be in. As a result, people may seek out substances with a desire to feel something or to feel better. Additionally, they may also want to escape what they're currently feeling.
For others, using substances such as alcohol may make them feel more confident in themselves, even if it's temporary. Before they know it, what started off as harmless drinking to loosen the nerves and feel more comfortable has spiralled out of control.
This is important to know because if low self-esteem was an issue before addiction began, it’s something that will need to be worked through consciously in recovery.
The importance of building self-esteem in recovery
Having low self-esteem can spill over into all areas of your life. However, it can have an especially powerful impact on your recovery process.
During recovery, you'll come to find that how you feel about yourself is deeply connected to your addiction. Recovery is all about discovering who you are, on a soul level.
When we don't feel good about ourselves, we hold ourselves back in many different ways.
Low self-esteem can hold you back from pursuing your desires.
It can contribute to social anxiety, and prevent you from meeting people who can offer you guidance and support.
Research shows that when we have healthy self-esteem, we’re less likely to experience anxiety.
And although experiencing difficult emotions is part of the human experience, research also shows that people with higher self-esteem are able to face difficulties such as rejection much more easily. Those with higher self-esteem are also able to bounce back quickly thereafter.
Recovery is not a linear process and is filled with many ups, downs, and bumps in the road. The healing process is painful as you face difficult memories, thoughts, and emotions head-on. Having healthy self-esteem can give you the solid foundation you need to keep going.
In recovery, valuing yourself helps you make the conscious efforts necessary for real, deep healing.
Learning to accept, and eventually love yourself, is vital to well-being and lasting growth.
7 ways of building self-esteem in recovery
Below are 7 ways you can practise building self-esteem in recovery:
We harbour feelings of low self-esteem when we beat ourselves up for things we've done in the past. As previously mentioned, many people in recovery struggle with feelings of guilt and shame. An important step towards building self-esteem is to forgive yourself for things you did while struggling with addiction, or even before that.
According to research, people who practise forgiveness towards themselves experience less anxiety and depression overall. As you learn how to forgive yourself for the things you’ve done in the past, you will feel infinitely more free in your present and more secure about your future.
2. Realistic affirmations
Reciting affirmations daily are a great way to reprogram your subconscious mind as well as rewire the neural pathways in your brain. A mistake that many people make when trying to use affirmations is reciting something that feels incredibly far from their truth. Ironically, doing this can have an adverse effect and cause you to feel even worse about yourself.
For example, if you struggle with how you look, it may feel like a lie for you to say to yourself every day, “I am beautiful.” The important part of affirmations is to embody the feeling of what you are saying, and if what you are saying feels so far away that you can't imagine it, it can feel like a hollow affirmation. Instead, in this case, you can say something like, “I am willing to work on accepting myself, I am willing to be nicer to myself,” I like my __________ (fill in the blank about something you already like about yourself). This is just one example, but it can be used to change the way you approach affirmations. Instead of reciting hollow words, you can verbalise phrases that feel true and attainable for you. This is a powerful way of building self-esteem.
3. Doing something for someone else
Research has shown that helping others can also help increase self-esteem. Helping others can take you out of everything that's going on in your own world and allow you to focus on someone else. Helping others can come in all different forms, whether you perform a large gesture or a small act of kindness.
- surprise someone you care about with their favourite coffee drink
- make a meal for your partner if they typically always make meals for you
- help out a neighbor if you see them struggling with their groceries
- help a stranger in public who needs a hand
Additionally, you can attend support groups and help people who are in recovery from their own addictions. You can volunteer your time to organisations you care about, and give to others in this way as well. Giving back and helping others doesn't always have to be monetary, and doesn't even have to take up a lot of time.
4. Cutting the negative self-talk
Negative self-talk is something that happens all the time when you have low self-esteem. In fact, when you struggle with low self-esteem, negative self-talk is essentially the baseline of your internal narrative. Engaging in negative self-talk, being mean to yourself, and beating yourself up, will only contribute to low self-esteem. Because of this, it is so important to cut the negative self-talk. Now, this is certainly easier said than done. But no matter how much you struggle with low self-esteem, you have the ability to change your thought processes and the way you talk to yourself.
The first step towards cutting the negative self-talk is to simply become aware of it. Become aware of when you are being mean to yourself or beating yourself up, and don't judge yourself for it. Just acknowledge that it's happening. As you become more aware of how often you speak to yourself negatively, you can start to dispute these thoughts and shift them into more positive ones. When building self-esteem in this way, talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend, or someone you love. As you practise this consistently and over time, you'll shift your baseline internal narrative from a negative one to a supportive, positive one.
5. Learning to accept compliments
Research shows that people who struggle with low self-esteem have a hard time accepting compliments from others, and also miss out on benefiting from those compliments. When you struggle with low self-esteem, accepting compliments can feel so uncomfortable. However, not accepting compliments will only make it more difficult to build a sense of self-esteem. Additionally, it may make people who love you feel less inclined to offer you compliments if you are always rejecting them.
When you struggle with low self-esteem, sincere compliments from others can feel patronising or insincere. However, it's important to know that people are saying kind words to you because they mean them. The next time somebody offers you a compliment, try to resist the urge to counter what they said to you. Refrain from denying the compliment, and try just saying thank you and sitting with it. This will definitely feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but the more you do this, the more you will realise that the compliments shared with you are sincere, and that you have a lot about yourself to value.
6. Focusing on the things you like about yourself
If you struggle with low self-esteem, you probably don't spend a lot of time acknowledging the things you like about yourself. In fact, you might even say that you don't like anything about yourself. However, if you dig deep enough, you will definitely be able to find at least one thing about yourself that you like, and that will shift your perspective and lead you to more things that you like about yourself.
When you focus on the things that you do like about yourself, it helps you value who you are as a person. Knowing your inherent value helps you increase your self-esteem in a deep way. When coming up with things that you like about yourself, you can think about your positive character traits, the way you treat people, the love you have for family members or friends, or maybe even a creative talent or ability you possess. When building self-esteem, it's important to make time to acknowledge our positive attributes.
7. Remembering your inherent worth
Sometimes, we go through experiences that leave a negative impact on our self-confidence. For example, maybe you were up for a promotion at a job but somebody else received it. Maybe you asked a woman out on a date, but she rejected you. Maybe you created a painting or wrote a piece of poetry and showed it to a friend, but your friend said it wasn’t good. These are just examples, but situations like this can easily prompt us to spiral downward in our minds, pushing us to buy into the limiting belief that we are not good enough or worthy enough. However, we are inherently worthy simply for existing.
It's important to remember that if something doesn't go right or if someone has a negative opinion about you, that is just one view and that is just their opinion. Those opinions and views are not based on fact. So if you get passed up for a promotion, remember all the reasons why you are a valuable worker.
If you get rejected for a date, think of all the reasons why you would make an incredible partner. If someone says they don't like your art, think of all the reasons why your art is beautiful, and think of all the people who would resonate with it and be touched by it. Always remember your inherent worth, as this will help you build self-esteem. The opinion of one does not dictate the opinion of all, and the opinion of you that matters the most is your own.
A final word on building self-esteem in recovery
Remember, developing true self-esteem doesn’t happen overnight, and is built over time through conscious efforts and awareness.
If you try the tips above consistently over time and continue to struggle with confidence, it may be helpful to speak to a counsellor or a therapist. They can help you explore the traumas that are impacting your self-esteem today in a safe, nonjudgmental space.
Author - Thurga
Limiting beliefs and how to get out of your own way
- 10 ways to build confidence https://www.forbes.com/sites/francesbridges/2017/07/21/10-ways-to-build-confidence/
- What is self-worth and how do we build it ? https://positivepsychology.com/self-worth/