By John Batterman, CASAC
Self-esteem is a foundation of self that begins to develop at a very early age.
Relationships with friends and family are a major factor in how self-esteem develops. With age, self-esteem begins to get impacted by a variety of external stimuli such as success in school or in athletics. Self-esteem is dynamic and forceful; facilitating and driving human behavior, and decision-making processes.
Not surprisingly, we often find that those with low self-esteem place themselves in negative and harmful situations much more often than those with a high self-esteem.
Low self-esteem is often a common factor among those who suffer from the disease of addiction. Addiction often affects people who do not feel wanted or needed in society. In order to feel better about themselves and the world, they seek feelings of personal gratification by means of alcohol and/or other drugs. Addiction often becomes a primary coping mechanism for low self-esteem.
Lack of self-esteem can also keep people from recovery and success. Working to build this sense of self and discussing the insecurities that lead one to substance abuse are both key in the process to gain a healthy self-esteem and substance-free life style.
Improving self-esteem is obtainable. To begin, one needs to understand and embrace that certain things are simply unchangeable and need to be accepted - facial shape, skin color, height, family history, abuse history. But, change is important for those behaviors that are harmful and negative, and realistic goals need to be set; exercise three times a week, avoid engaging in self-hatred, name something to be thankful for each day. This change process is ongoing and often challenging, but integral to a healthy self-image and esteem.
The following tips may be helpful to you or someone in your family who struggles with self-esteem issues.
Be kind and encouraging to yourself! Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Try self-statements like "even though this is hard, I can cope with it" or "I can change if I want to, nothing is set in stone".
Blame the event, not yourself
We all make mistakes sometimes. Mistakes made in a particular situation are not permanent reflections on you as a person.
Reminding yourself to stay 'on task'
Try to focus on what you need to do. Taking action often makes you feel better.
Avoid 'shoulds' and 'oughts'
If you find that your automatic thoughts are full of these types of words, then it probably means you are setting unreasonable demands upon yourself or others. Removing these words from your thoughts can allow you more freedom to be yourself.
Recall good things
Focus on the positive. What things have gone well recently? What things do you like about yourself? What are you grateful for in your life? What personal skills do you have that have helped you cope in the past?
Relabeling the distress
Negative thoughts or feelings don't inevitably mean you are going to end up drinking or using. Think of them as signals and listen to them.
Are you over-reacting? Often events are much less catastrophic than you automatically think. Was it really the worst that can happen? How likely is it that this would happen? What could you do to cope even if the worst were to happen?
John Batterman, a credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselor at Quannacut Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center at Eastern Long Island Hospital, understands the importance of building and maintaining positive self-esteem throughout the process of treating those that suffer from addiction. At Quannacut, by learning new coping skills, attending meetings and engaging in self-reflection, a patient is able to redefine him/herself as a person without an addiction and achieve the ultimate goal of substance abstinence.