The word ‘esteem’ originates from the Latin word ‘aestimare’ – meaning to determine the value of something or appraise its worth, to estimate. So self-esteem is how we assess our own value, how worthy we consider ourselves to be. After years or decades in addiction, your self-esteem can suffer greatly. Coming into recovery, you may become aware of things you aren’t proud of in your past. You may have behaved in ways that were out of character or didn’t fit with your true values. Often, addiction does a lot of physical and mental damage too, which affects how you feel about yourself.
In addiction recovery, you can repair and grow your self-esteem – but how do you do this? Here are 10 ideas to get you started.
It’s obvious but absolutely vital for recovering addicts – in order to preserve your self-esteem, you need to stay free from harmful addictive substances or processes. For this reason, absolutely anything that helps you to maintain your addiction recovery will also raise your self-esteem.
So, if addiction recovery meetings help you stay sober, go to them regularly. If aftercare sessions at the rehab you attended help you stay drug-free, make them a priority. If trips to the beach make you feel calm, go more often. If you find it’s hard to remember what makes you feel good, make a list and display it where you can see it every day.
Many people who lack self-esteem fail to recognise the worthwhile things they already do. They take themselves for granted in many areas of their life. You may be caring for an elderly parent or looking after kids – you’ve done it for so long that it’s just part of life – but it’s still worthy of your respect. You might be working hard to get through college or recovering from an operation or giving £4 a month to a charity you like. If you’re doing it, give yourself a pat on the back.
Self-esteem doesn’t come from doing new or showy things. It’s often more connected to sticking with the things that matter to us and others.
When you think about the people you respect, do you know exactly why you look up to them?
Do they care about their community? Are they passionate about an issue you care about too? Do they show up for their neighbours, family and friends? Do they always remember to send you a birthday card? Or smile generously when they greet you? Are they consistent about their values? Do they speak up about their beliefs? Or perhaps they don’t take life too seriously – they’ve always got a joke to tell, even if it’s not particularly funny!
If you can name the things you admire in others, you can set out to do similar things yourself. It’s not about copying other people – it’s about drawing inspiration from your communities.
Why is it good for your self-esteem to thank other people? Surely that says something positive about them, rather than you?
Thanking people is recognition of their value. It is a small way of saying to someone, ‘I want you to feel good about yourself’. By saying thanks, you’re offering that person an opportunity to boost their self-esteem, which is a worthy thing to do.
And the more we notice good qualities in other people, the more we tend to notice our own positive qualities.
Did you speak to your partner abruptly this morning before you left for work? Perhaps you forgot your best friend’s birthday. Maybe you took something from your sister that didn’t belong to you.
It isn’t about saying sorry in these circumstances. It’s about saying what you did, why that wasn’t okay and how you want to do things differently. In 12-step addiction recovery, this is known as making amends – but even if you don’t practice 12-step recovery, it will benefit your self-esteem to put right the mistakes you’ve made.
Affirmations are very simple, encouraging statements about ourselves. Many recovering addicts feel very uncomfortable saying nice things about themselves, however! In addiction recovery, it can feel strange or embarrassing to affirm yourself – even when no-one else is watching. You may be much more used to beating yourself up or judging your mistakes. Affirmations help to counteract our negative or limiting beliefs, so it’s worth a go. The more you say them, the greater the boost to your self-esteem.
Below are some examples of affirmations. Why not take a deep breath and say them out loud? Add more short statements that mean something to you. If you feel a bit daft, say them again, even louder – go on, we dare you!
• I am proud of myself.
• I am worthy of love.
• I respect myself and others.
• My life is important.
• I take care of my health.
• I’m allowed to make mistakes.
• I accept my past.
• I treat myself with kindness.
• I am a good friend.
In addiction recovery, the people you surround yourself with can have a major impact on how you feel about yourself. You don’t have to cut off all your old friends who continue with an addiction – but if it doesn’t make you feel good to be around them, or you’re very tempted to go back to your addiction, then it will help to step back from them in early recovery.
Addiction recovery isn’t about giving yourself unnecessary challenges or hardship. There’s no need to test yourself or prove you can do everything you used to do. It’s better to give yourself space and time to build solid recovery foundations. Being around people who encourage and support you will help to rebuild your self-worth – and as you feel better about yourself, you are less likely to return to addiction.
Healthcare should never be an afterthought or something we get around to once everything else it’s done. It’s the top priority in your life. Sometimes people have a faulty belief that putting their health needs before anything else is selfish. Or perhaps it feels like you don’t have time to sort out a nagging health issue. But ignoring your health sends a message that you don’t value yourself.
Put simply, if you look after your mind and body, your mind and body will look after you.
Sometimes you need to talk to a qualified counsellor about recurring issues with self-esteem. Perhaps you don’t feel good about yourself because of something very specific – an aspect of your appearance, a bad relationship or a disappointment at work. Maybe there’s a limiting belief that’s really holding you back – you don’t feel worthy of love or good things in life. The benefit of talking to a professional counsellor or therapist is their skilled training will help keep you safe. You will be able to explore and overcome difficult emotions or painful events, without exposing yourself to more harm.
Look into trauma therapy for childhood trauma or very painful experiences, especially if they’re jeopardising your recovery. How we feel about ourselves today often has very strong connections to traumatic past events.
Don’t deny yourself recognition and rewards for the good things you do. If you’ve passed an exam, buy yourself a gift. If you’ve had a long day at work, have a soak in the tub. Set aside a bit of cash each month to do things you love – it will pay dividends in terms of your self-esteem. And if you’re short on cash, choose some free activities that you enjoy instead. By treating yourself, you’re signalling that you believe in your value. You’ll feel better for it.
For help and support to overcome addiction, please get in touch with UKAT to discuss the options for treatment.