February is International Boost Self-Esteem Month, but what does that have to do with recovery from substance use and mental health disorders? Everything.
Those of us with addiction or mental health issues tend to have lower self-esteem than other people. Of course, in our illness, we have done many things that we have come to realize are wrong. But even before the onset of behavioral health issues, research shows there is a connection between having low self-esteem and becoming addicted — including alcohol/drug addictions, internet compulsions, eating problems, and compulsive buying. In fact, we use alcohol, drugs, or compulsive behaviors to mask our insecurities and make us feel more confident.
Yet, those feelings are short-lived. A hit on the pipe, likes on our social media pages, or new shoes only go so far. Over time, the effects of an addiction just makes things worse. The resulting financial issues, relationship problems, depression, and anxiety end up harming a person’s self-esteem even more, making recovery more difficult.
So, when is the last time you worked on increasing self-esteem? Whether you’re contemplating doing something about your addiction, or you’re already on the road to recovery, these five exercises can help rebuild your self-esteem, improve your well-being, and provide a better outlook on life:
- You know, that simple, positive statement you say to yourself. It may not seem genuine at first, but reciting it eventually changes the way you feel about yourself. Write an affirmation that reflects how you want to feel about yourself, for example: “I am proud of myself.” Say it out loud every day for a month.
- Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes. Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to let go of feelings of anger and resentment toward someone who has wronged you. While we might be generous in our ability to forgive others, often we are harder on ourselves. To forgive yourself: 1) take responsibility for your actions; 2) feel your guilt but move on; 3) make amends where possible; and 4) focus on what you learned and how you’ve grown.
- Accept Compliments Gracefully. Research has shown that people with low self-esteem have difficulty accepting and benefiting from compliments from other people. This hurts your self-esteem. When someone gives you a complement: 1) resist the urge to dismiss it; 2) mindfully assume the complement is sincere; 3) say thank you and enjoy it, 4) note how the compliment reflects your strengths.
- Do Something Kind Every Day. Engaging in prosocial behavior — actions designed to benefit others — can play a role in improving self-esteem. Even if the other person doesn’t express gratitude, you can bask in the good feeling of having helped another struggling human. Volunteering to help others in recovery is a great start.
- Begin Making Changes. Everyone has things they would like to change in their own lives, or in the lives of those around them. For people with addictions, change happens in stages. If a major change seems like too much, break it down into smaller acts. Choose to do one thing a day or one a week – whatever you feel you’ll follow through on. With each small change, inwardly celebrate your success in moving toward your goal.
And remember, L.A. CADA is proud of you for your progress in recovery. We know you got this, one day at a time!