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Seven Ways To Build Self Esteem In Recovery

- 7 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

If you have just started the process of recovering from a drug or alcohol dependency it is likely that you are struggling with feelings of shame, remorse, guilt, self-judgment, or even self-hatred.

This low regard for yourself may be borne of mistakes you made while living in addiction, or maybe you’ve always felt that way and those bad feelings were what drove you to use in the first place.

Whatever the case, it is important to realize that you are not alone in feeling this way. Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation and those feelings are likely to keep you from making the kinds of deep connections you need to make in order to heal.

One of the most important steps you could take in your healing process is to build self-esteem. If you’ve been feeling down about yourself for a while, this may seem an insurmountable task but there are concrete, effective strategies for building self-esteem in recovery. If you feel at a loss as to how to build self-esteem, here are seven simple ways you can start.

1. Define Self-Esteem

It may feel like you don’t even know what the phrase, “self-esteem” means if you’ve been divorced from the concept for a long time.

You may mistakenly conflate it with overconfidence or maybe you feel that it sounds too broad or abstract to even aspire to.

Simply put, self-esteem is the opinion you hold of yourself whether it is low or high. To say that you want to build self-esteem means to work to build a higher opinion of yourself, your thoughts, and your abilities.

This may not sound important but the way that you feel about yourself directly correlates to the way that you navigate the world. The decisions you make are based upon feelings you have about what you think deserve. Including, whether you think you deserve a life free from addiction.

2. Understand What Formed Your Self-Esteem

Your sense of self-esteem has been formed throughout your life but many of the most formative experiences for most occur in childhood and adolescence.

Negative experiences during this critical developmental time can lead to long-term, pervasive feelings of unworthiness, sadness, self-loathing, and loneliness.

Some childhood experiences that can contribute to low self-esteem are:

  • Verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Harsh criticism
  • Teasing, bullying, or being ignored
  • Impossible standards, the expectation of perfection

These experiences are often internalized as a reflection of what the child thinks it deserves. But in truth, no one deserves to be treated unkindly.

If you experienced abuse in childhood or in any other period of your life you can start to build self-esteem in recovery by recognizing that you did not deserve it.

3. Forgive Yourself For Past Mistakes

It’s likely that over the course of your addiction, you did things that you deeply regret. Maybe you stole from a family member, or you missed a loved one’s birthday party, or you did something that endangered another person’s life.

Whatever you may have done, an important part of recovery is acknowledging your mistakes, letting them go, and committing to doing things differently in the future. Letting go of the past, instead of punishing yourself, allows you the freedom to better in the present.

4. Commit To Change

If there is something that you don’t like about yourself or the way that you live, you can change it. Research suggests that self-determination can help to build self-esteem in recovery and beyond. The choice to attend rehab is an act of self-determination.

Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming to try and change something about yourself. Especially if you’re looking too broadly at an issue. Start small, and make little adjustments every day.

Over time, these little changes will add up into a big measurable change. Your experience in rehab is a great example. If you are someone who does not like to share your feelings with others, try challenging yourself to share something in each group session.

5. Shift Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations

It may sound trite, but affirmations can be a powerful tool for building self-esteem in recovery. Choosing a simple, positive statement that resonates with you and repeat it to yourself a few times a day will begin to change your mind over time.

At first, reciting affirmations might seem counter-productive. You may feel like you’re lying when you say “I am proud of myself,” or “I am worthy as I am.” It may even feel bad, as feelings of resistance could crop up.

However, with time and repetition, you will start to internalize these positive messages just as you internalized negative ideas about yourself in the past. This tool for building self-esteem is backed by scientific research.

Pick something personal that packs a punch and stick with it. You will feel the results.

6. Practice Kindness

Just as negative things you did in addiction contributed to low-self esteem, good things you do while on the road to recovery can help to build your self-esteem.

This step is simple. In recovery, it is important to build community and make meaningful connections with other people. Connection is the polar opposite of addiction!

If you do one kind thing for another person every single day, even if it’s a very small thing, it will start to make you feel better about the person you are becoming. And it will help you to build healthy relationships with others, which also contributes to high self-esteem.

7. Keep Going, No Matter What!

The final and most important step is not to give up! Building self-esteem over the course of addiction treatment can feel like a lot of work, and you may not always feel like you are making progress. But commitment and kindness can make all the difference in the world.

That’s why it’s vital to find a supportive, holistic rehab program with staff that’s there to show you how to build self-esteem in recovery.

At Carolina Center for Recovery our doctors, clinicians, therapists, mentors, and recovery coaches have firsthand experience with addiction and recovery. They can provide you with the understanding, help, and kindness you deserve to help you build the self-esteem you need to reclaim your new sober life. Call today to get the help you deserve.