Addiction is hard on your self-image. Many people who develop substance use issues are intelligent, sensitive, and capable. However, after years of addiction, they may not even recognize the people they’ve become. Addiction can damage your health, relationships, career, and even your values. Once substance use becomes your overriding drive, you may engage in behaviors you would have previously considered unethical or beneath you. Perhaps worst of all, you feel like you have no control over your own behavior. As a result, many people enter treatment with a pretty low opinion of themselves. They may feel full of guilt, shame, and regret. People often decide to get treatment for addiction at the lowest point in their lives, so if you’re feeling bad about yourself, you’re not alone. However, with persistent effort, it’s possible to once again see yourself in a better light. Here are some tips for improving your self-image in addiction recovery.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Nothing will make you feel worse about yourself than comparing yourself to others. There’s always someone who seems to have it better- a classmate who didn’t get sidetracked by addiction, someone else in your treatment program who seems to be progressing much faster, an Instagram celebrity who always looks perfect, and so on. However, comparison is always a trap. First, everyone starts in a different place, has different advantages, and faces different setbacks. Someone who seems to be doing better than you may not have had as many challenges to overcome.
Second, you never really know what someone else is going through. You only know what they show you. Someone can appear to have her life together but feel like she’s falling apart. This is especially true of the carefully curated lives people show you on social media. In fact, one study found that comparing your life to people on social media makes you feel worse, even if you feel superior to others. The mere act of comparison seems to make you feel worse about yourself. Let go of comparisons, and instead focus on making each day a little better than the one before.
Realize that you have inherent value.
It’s easy to get the mistaken impression that your value as a human being depends on external things. In other words, many people feel like they have to earn their value. How we feel obligated to earn that value varies for each of us. Some feel they have to get a high-paying job or an impressive title, some feel like they have to be extremely intelligent or talented, and others feel like they have to take care of everyone. We also feel our mistakes detract from our value, like the more mistakes we make, the lesser people we are. However, all this kind of thinking is grossly distorted. You have inherent value as a person, as does everyone. No one does anything perfectly and mistakes are inevitable. Your value does not depend on your performance in some areas of life.
Connect with loved ones.
To better understand your own inherent value, spend more time with people who love you and accept you with all your flaws. More importantly, accept that these people care about you and don’t expect you to be perfect. When you are tempted to criticize yourself, ask whether you would say the same thing to your best friend. Try showing the same compassion to yourself that you would show to the people you care about. The more you spend time with people who love and support you, the easier this becomes.
Set achievable goals.
Setting achievable goals is an important part of recovery and it can also boost your self-esteem. It is especially good for increasing your feelings of self-efficacy. Every time you set a clear goal and achieve it, you have a little more confidence that you can influence the direction of your life. These don’t have to be big goals. In fact, it’s a good idea to start out small. For example, you might set a goal to exercise for 20 minutes every day for the next week, no matter what. Or you might set a goal to apply for one job every day until you get hired. These may seem small, but they establish your ability to follow through on something important to you. You can make the goals more challenging as you gain confidence.
Volunteering is a great way to improve your self-image. Many people in recovery are burdened by the feeling that they have been taking from the people who care about them. It’s not always possible to give back what you took during active addiction, but you can give of your time and expertise. Volunteering has been shown to make people feel happier, more grateful, and more socially connected. It can also change your image of yourself from a taker to a giver.
Use your strengths.
None of us have the exact same strengths. Some are good athletes, some are good artists, some are good with people, and some are caretakers. However, the demands of our daily lives, and especially of our jobs, may or may not have anything to do with our strengths. As a result, you may not feel like you’re particularly engaged or competent most of the time. You can correct for this by making it a point to use your strengths as much as possible, even if only for fun. The more you use your strengths, the more capable you feel, the more engaged you are, and the more fulfilled you feel in general.
Improve your weaknesses.
Just as we all have unique strengths, we all have weaknesses. Most people won’t be able to turn their weaknesses into strengths, but they can make their weaknesses less of a liability. For most things, good enough is good enough. With consistent effort, you can improve your weaknesses consistently so they don’t prevent you from doing what you want in life.
Burning Tree Lodge is a 90-day addiction treatment program that specializes in helping clients who have tried multiple times to recovery from substance use disorders. We offer an individualized treatment approach and a continuum of care to help clients successfully transition from residential treatment to leading healthy, substance-free lives. Contact us today for more information.