Self Esteem: its importance in addictions and life in general

Every now and then I like to get black and white and dogmatic.  Usually, most dogmatism doesn’t really make much sense, because everyone is so different, experiencing the world in unique ways.  But, there are times when I knowingly contradict myself, and here’s a time I’m going to do that. 

Self Esteem is the number one biggest trait to develop in a person with addiction.  It is the number one “problem” killer.  It is what any person struggling with life should look to improve.  I listen to clients everyday express their lack of self esteem, but they may not always explain it that way.  Other times, many clients know they have poor views of themselves.

What is self-esteem, anyway?  Is it just feeling good about ourselves?  Is it feeling confident?  Is it loving ourselves?  Is it just accepting who we are?  It’s all of that and more.

Nathaniel Branden breaks self-esteem down into six key pillars in his definitive work on the subject, called, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.  If you are looking for a comprehensive look into what self-esteem is, how to notice it in your life, and how to improve it, then his book is the way to go.  

Branden’s Pillars are:

  1. The Practice of Living Consciously
  2. The Practice of Self-Acceptance
  3. The Practice of Self-Responsibility
  4. The Practice of Self-Assertiveness
  5. The Practice of Living Purposefully
  6. The Practice of Personal Integrity

This view of self-esteem is more of a philosophical orientation to life.  If you are practicing these six concepts, then you are on your way to strong self-esteem. 

In terms of addiction, or anyone struggling, self-esteem is the foundation that we need.  It was also the foundation that was never built.  We cannot work on our relationships, without a better sense of self; we cannot work on our careers without a better sense of self; we cannot work on our communication skills, our assertiveness skill, our boundaries, or our inner life, without an improved sense of self.  That being said, working on some of the previous mentioned things, help contribute to self esteem.

Why is it so important in terms of addiction?  For two reasons: 1. Humans struggling with addiction usually had some sort of trauma, abuse, or overall dysfunction in their lives that directly worked against their healthy sense of self.  Their experiences told them they didn’t deserve better, that they were not worthy of better treatment or better lives, and that overall, who they were didn’t matter.  2.  The second reason is because for a long time now, those struggling with addiction have been told they are powerless, and have been treated poorly by our society.  If someone is told that they cannot help themselves, and that they must live with this “affliction” for the rest of their lives, how are they going to get to a place where they feel good about themselves; good about their accomplishments; good about being a responsible human being?  How are they going to be able to help themselves?

Even if one would like to argue that God is ultimately in control and we need His help to grow and change, and live with our problems, one must also remember that Jesus told the lame man to “pick up his mat and walk.”  Jesus didn’t walk for him.  Jesus enabled that man to believe in himself, that he actually had the power to walk.  That lame man was just wallowing in the pool of helplessness.

To do any changing in our lives, we have to do the changing.  We have to listen to our emotions, we have to notice our irrational core beliefs, and we have to change the ways we react to situations.  Change also needs motivation, and believing and understanding that we have the power to control our lives (granted there are things outside of our control) is going to propell us into a state of self-responsibility, freedom and autonomy.

I love Branden’s pillar, The Practice of Living Consciously.  The opposite of that is living obliviously.  Those struggling with addictions are living obliviously, as they cannot possibly be consciuos in the fog of addiction.  Living Consciously means paying attention; being aware; being present; and being in control.  Living Consciously means that we notice when we are over-stressed and need to make changes; it means we notice that living in alignment with our gifts and abilities strengthens our lives, so we put them into action; it means reflecting on our wishes and desires, as well as practical issues when making decisions.  Overall, it shows you care.  It shows you care about each aspect of your life with which you are consciously aware.

Simply stated, self-esteem improves the more you get back in touch with who you are.  Who are you?  Only you can answer that question.  Do you accept yourself, and do you believe you deserve a good life – a life that is created from the depths of you?

Hopefully you can see how important self-esteem is, and why developing it will greatly increase one’s ability to stay clean, or break through roadblocks.  It may not remove one’s cravings completely, but it certainly will give you the energy and ability to care for yourself in such a way that manages those cravings.

Consequently, self-esteem is not so simple.  Many who think they are confident, or look confident, actually are not so much.  Self-esteem also runs deeper than confidence, and is rooted in many different facets of our lives.

So start pouring that foundation by taking care of yourself, and beginning to learn how to get in touch with your wishes and desires; begin to live more consciously instead of obviously.  And begin molding that foundation by putting some of these life-concepts to work.  Branden’s Pillars are great places to start. Remember – to change, you have to change.

Finally,it will be hard to build your self-esteem if necessary grieving has not been done.  If there is unresolved pain inside, and we are not honoring that by expressing it somehow, then we are always working against ourselves.  That will be a topic for another day.

Go take care of yourself. Pay attention. Stay conscious.

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2 responses to “Self Esteem: its importance in addictions and life in general

  • Giovanni Vidotto

    Appreciate your thoughts. Hope to see more on this site. Couldn’t connect with your other site; my attempt brought up a “not permitted access” message.

  • jacque

    wow…you might be impressed to know that these words are an answer i have been searching for…for a very long time. ironic…if i had read these paticular words 4 yrs ago…
    well i am thankful to have finally found someone who articulates so well what i at 46 have come to believe, & continue to learn/struggle with {selfesteem}
    i have found a lot of what you’ve written very insightful…and bloody well useful! thank you.

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