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Poor Self-Esteem: How to Build, Not Break

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Poor Self-Esteem: How to Build, Not Break

Self-loathing scratches. But for those who struggle with substance abuse, the instinctual reaction to it is not natural repulsion like we’d expect against the scratches of nails on a chalkboard. Self-loathing scratches feel more like a dark, resonating echo chamber that no one else can see. It’s those dull pangs that whisper about worthlessness, how your life and your needs and your aspirations don’t matter… that cruel, negative self-talk that many addicts (both active and those in recovery) are all too familiar with. These constant scratches wear us down over time, leaving nerves too raw to successfully handle the normal stressors of life. And that’s where drugs and alcohol come in: they break up the noise by making users numb to the scratches. But breaking up the noise does nothing to end the cycle (and tends to have the opposite effect if we’re being 100% honest). While self-loathing requires a lot of work to address, building positive habits to prevent the scratches works with much less collateral damage.

Poor Self Esteem

Building Means Putting Your Mind & Body to Work

Feelings of worthlessness tend to fester under certain conditions. While these thoughts may seem too commonplace to have specific causes, lifestyle has a significant effect on their frequency and volume. All of us deal with stressful situations at work, school, and with friends/family—but how we meet these stressors creates a trajectory for success or recurring anguish.

Self-loathing becomes cyclical when stress is met with maladaptive coping behaviors. These range from poor eating habits, to staying at home/inside too often, to not engaging in hobbies, to not making exercise a priority. The pedantic reminders from doctors and the fitness industry to engage in these activities get tedious and, eventually, can fall on deaf ears. But brushing off the importance of taking care of both the mind and body is a disservice to your wellbeing. The pull of your drug of choice gets stronger when the mind and body are neglected.

Starting Small

One of the major stumbling blocks to cultivating a healthier life (with less negative self-talk) is the apparent amount of effort it takes to get the ball rolling. As an example: looking at the effort it takes to meal prep every week, it’s much easier to eschew healthy eating altogether and keep opting for processed food (low in nutrients and usually high in salt or sugar) and takeout. But moving toward a lifestyle that nurtures rather than subsists the body and mind doesn’t have to take big steps. There is much more low-hanging fruit to pluck, which can provide the easy returns needed for further motivation.

To be frank, many people in recovery are not able to completely turn away feelings of worthlessness. Those feelings can return in light taps or the deep scratches that can make it seem like getting clean and sober was pointless. But these small, yet scary resurgences can be met with the same small steps that started the journey of building. Identifying those small steps represents a cornerstone of recovery. So, what are some ways to start inching away from those feelings of despair and worthlessness?

Concrete Building Blocks

The small steps needed to build a clean and sober lifestyle are different for each individual. They are affected by upbringing, culture, personality, spirituality, and so much more. But there are some pretty strong commonalities to consider.

  • Positive Affirmations and Meditation: The former can sometimes equate to “fake it ‘til you make it,” but doing this habitually does eventually change natural thought patterns by training your mind to stay in the mindset you hope to achieve. Meditation, on the other hand, is simply an exercise in quieting negative self-talk. But if practiced regularly, it can be a quick way and low effort means to calm anxiety.
  • Quick Stretches: Our bodies (including the brain) run on biological resources that benefit from things like better oxygen circulation, muscle extension, and flexibility. Prioritizing these goals doesn’t require a 5 mile run or an hour-long hot yoga session. It can be achieved with a few short poses: some favorites include inversions like downward dog, backbends like bridge pose, and spine alignment exercises like cat/cow pose. These don’t take more than a few minutes, and they can instantly help with alleviating stress and promoting feelings of wellbeing. Short walks are another low effort means to keep the body engaged and functioning well.
  • Eating Well: Depression and anxiety are chemical processes that are either abated or exacerbated by the chemicals ingested by food. The benefits of eating well go far beyond just looking god and staying in shape—it actually changes how the brain functions. Vegetables in particular have a multitude of vitamins that promote elevated moods.
  • Choosing One Thing to Give Up: Maybe it’s vaping, energy drinks, smoking… there are a number of poor health habits that may achieve the desired effect in the short run, but when looking at their overall effect on well-being, they represent a net negative. Giving one of these up moves a step toward a healthier overall mind and body.

Building the mind and body to create an environment of positive growth (rather than breaking up the silence with whatever drug of choice) fortifies the spirit against self-loathing and feeling worthless. These techniques are some of the cornerstones of recovery, along with critical skills like crisis management and daily planning. Starting them doesn’t have to be a marathon–small steps are all it takes to start moving in the right direction.


If you or a loved one is seeking help for a substance abuse problem, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 by phone: (833) 433-0448

Posted in Health and Wellness, Recovery