- Written By Granite Recovery Centers
- Clinically Reviewed By Cheryl Smith MS,MLADC
- July 21, 2021
Substance use disorder often brings a person very low in terms of how they see themselves and how they present to the world around them. It can cause someone to steal, lie, cheat, to poverty and homelessness, and so on. Because it takes so much away, it doesn’t leave a person with much confidence or self-esteem. They feel they can only survive with that substance, and it’s the only thing that will make them feel whole. Addiction will often continue because if and when the person stops using, they will experience feelings of shame and guilt at what transpired due to their use. It’s a terrible cycle that can only end with abstinence, which is when the discomfort of all those buried emotions come rushing to the surface and must be felt and dealt with.
When processing the trauma of an addiction, it is recommended that a person acknowledges the damage done, right wrongs where possible, and commits to living honestly going forward. While it is necessary to be cognizant of the past, it can make it difficult for the person to feel good about themselves. Having confidence is needed in order for them to continue on this new and righteous path of sobriety.
Having a healthy level of self-esteem can increase the chance of successful recovery. The tricky part is getting there without becoming overly confident, which can eventually lead to feelings of invincibility and possibly a relapse. The following covers why self-esteem is important and offers some tips on building up confidence in early recovery.
Importance of Self-Esteem in Recovery
Many people dismiss the importance of self-esteem in recovery, while others don’t believe they even deserve self-esteem because of the wreckage they caused. When you finally accept life on life’s terms, the glaring truth of what your addiction did is difficult to do, especially when you’ve been living in an altered state for so long, but it is possible and necessary.
Here are some of the reasons it is so crucial to build self-esteem for people to remain sober.
Learn to Say No
Some people struggle to turn down drugs and alcohol due to low self-esteem; it is often called a ‘social lubricant.’ An individual will think that people will like them more if they go out and party, or supply them with drugs. Their social life plays a large role in their lives, and losing it can make the user feel alone. However, increased self-esteem can give someone the confidence to say no when other people offer drugs. While most people think that this only applies to young people, adults can struggle to say no to the bar or substances, too.
Confidence will help alleviate the depression an addict may experience by increasing the person’s self-worth. The addict will not feel as strong of a need to take drugs to reduce the pain they feel inside every day. In some cases, depression requires medication that will keep chemicals in the brain under control.
Improved Outlook About Future
When someone is confident, they see the future and the possibilities it holds. Someone will not want to slip back into bad habits that can jeopardize their future if they truly believe they have a bright future ahead.
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify if the self-esteem or the addiction came first. Either way, when they become connected, it turns into a vicious cycle. People will use drugs to hide the pain of self-esteem. However, the addiction will lead to more self-esteem problems. This continues until it is difficult to know which problem developed first, but either way, it perpetuates addiction. The cycle continues until it is eventually broken for good.
How to Build Self-Esteem in Early Recovery
It is easy to know that you need to increase your self-confidence. However, that can be difficult, especially when you are in the middle of a low point that puts you into rehabilitation. Here are some tips on how you can build self-esteem in early recovery.
- Forgive Yourself.
Many people experience a hit to their self-esteem due to the things they did during their addiction. Some people make the mistake of neglecting friends and family in favor of the good feeling of the substances. Other people take it a step further by stealing or causing chaos.
Whatever you did in the past, you are on the road to becoming a better person. Forgive yourself for your past transgressions. You can’t change what you have done in the past, but you can change what you do from here on out. Being sober is one of the first ways to get on the road to forgiving yourself.
Start your road to self-forgiveness by committing to your sobriety. You should also do what you can to reach out to the people you have hurt in the past and put in the effort to rebuild those relationships.
Forgiveness takes time. You may need to be patient with yourself when you experience guilt for past actions. You will need to learn to push those thoughts out of your head. You will also need to give others time to get to know the new, sober you and forgive you.
- Get to the Bottom of Self-Esteem Problems.
Some people have self-esteem issues well before they started using. The addiction will be difficult to manage until they manage the self-esteem problems. One way to dive deep into the heart of self-esteem issues is through therapy. In therapy, a therapist talks to a patient about their self-esteem issues. The patient will have a safe space to express themselves. If you have struggled with self-esteem since childhood, a therapist can help you get to the root of the problem. When you get to the root of the problem, the change that comes next will be long-term.
- Surround Yourself With Kind People.
Some people in our lives support positive mental health and self-confidence. Other people are not as helpful in this regard. No one deserves to be made fun of, nagged, or critiqued too much.
If you have people in your life who seem to enjoy bringing you down, you need to do what you can to reduce their presence in your life if they do not change after you explain your need for more support. Instead, spend your time with people who build you up. Search for people in your life who already uplift you. If you need more people, make friends with people in rehabilitation or a 12-step program. In a pinch, you may even consider recruiting a life coach.
- Daily Affirmations.
Words and internal dialogue have power, and you can gain control over your words and internal dialogue with daily affirmations. Daily affirmations are small phrases you can say throughout the day to help keep your spirits up. For people who struggle with self-esteem, it’s a good idea to recite affirmations that point out positive things about yourself.
Start by writing down a long list of the things that you like about yourself. Read this list to yourself when you get ready for your day in the morning. You can keep them in your journal if you keep one. If you can, look at yourself in the mirror. You will start your day off with an extra boost of confidence.
Affirmations aren’t simply a list of positive qualities about yourself, though. You will also need to have a list of affirmations about maintaining a positive attitude and believing in yourself. You will use all of your positive affirmations throughout your day when you start to feel down.
Positive affirmations may not take right away, and the process may seem awkward at first. However, you should keep at it. The more you do it, the more likely you will be to feel good about yourself in time.
- Accept Compliments.
Many people receive a compliment and immediately get uncomfortable or dismissive. Every person deserves compliments from time to time — even addicts! It is important to learn how to hear and accept compliments. With time, people may even start to believe that they deserve a compliment and then start complimenting themselves.
To train yourself to receive compliments better, start by simply saying, “thank you.” Do not turn compliments down. Accept them. If it makes you uncomfortable, try not to show it. Maintain good posture, eye contact, and a smile. You don’t want to appear nervous or guilty. This can require practice and training, but keep at it. Ultimately, though, you want to get to the point where you aren’t too worried about compliments or insults from other people at all. Your confidence should not derive from other people but from your own qualities, accomplishments, and good deeds.
- Help Others.
Self-esteem can develop from helping others and putting others before yourself. Take some time to put yourself out of focus and worry about someone else for a change. Start small by visiting relatives. You can also find opportunities to volunteer for charities that appeal to you. You can feed poor people at the local soup kitchen, tutor underprivileged children, or help people with their sobriety. Doing something good for others will make you feel better when you lay your head down at the end of the day.
It’s important to remember not to help others to the point that it hurts you and your progress. Some people think that they can make up for past sins by helping others to the point of self-sacrifice. Just remember that you won’t truly be able to help others until you take care of yourself first.
- Take Actionable Steps Toward Change.
The life you were living wasn’t giving you the self-esteem you need to stay sober. For that reason, you need to make some changes. Some positive changes include improving relationships, getting a good job, and staying sober and healthy.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It is a good idea to write down your long-term goals so that you have something to work toward. Long-term goals can include weight loss, career aspirations, and family goals. However, for each long-term goal, you should write down the small goals that will get you to the ultimate goal. Start small and go day by day. Celebrate the small changes until you finally see significant change. Eventually, you will look back and hardly recognize where you were a year or two earlier. Hold yourself accountable by including close people or a therapist on your journey — set deadlines for certain goals to give yourself a point to evaluate your progress. When progress isn’t coming along as far as you’d like, don’t get discouraged. Try again or slightly change your goals to make them more realistic. Don’t forget to celebrate the little wins when you do succeed at your goals.
- Continue Therapy.
During early recovery, you have mental health staff available to work on any self-esteem issues you may have. Even if you have made substantial progress, you need to keep up with treatment for your self-esteem after rehabilitation. The best way to do this is through individual therapy, if possible. Of course, you can look into alternative methods. The point is to prioritize self-esteem long-term. You don’t want self-doubt to lead you to crave illicit substances that will set you back in your recovery.