It drives me crazy when I hear counselors talk about improving self-esteem. It’s cliched, but worse, it’s not something we can fix alone. Like most everything else in recovery, it’s something we need to explore and accept outside input on.

Young children do not intellectually grasp what self-esteem is, and yet they have it. The child has a general disposition – a sense of worth based on how they are treated by caregivers and those closest to them. The child who is unconditionally loved and cherished learns they are deserving. The child who experiences abuse and neglect learns that their worth is poor and/or is a product of what they do.

As my friends in 12 step fellowships say, “What we lived with, we learned and what we learned, we became.”

Recovery involves countless lessons of unlearning. Much of what we seek to change is based in memories and feelings from a past we’ve tried to forget. Making these changes hinges on having a greater awareness of self – most of the unhealthy things we do clean & sober are purely subconsciously driven. Our self-talk is a prime example:

My favorite Facebook meme: “How you speak to your children becomes their self-talk.”

To improve self-esteem is to have healthier self-perception, dignity, and self-respect. Our self-perception is a distorted mess early on. We choose to reject the lies we were taught and accept the truths that are offered to us by the healthy people in our lives today. It’s a tall order.

The small step in this direction is to simply accept positive sentiments. We are people who desperately want praise, recognition, affirmation and validation. Sadly, we are also uncomfortable receiving them and so we often reject (minimize, water down) kind words. We often question the motives or perception of those who offer them.

Learning to take a compliment is super simple: Smile and say, “Thank you.” You don’t have to agree, consider, or analyze. You can simply accept that it’s appreciation being offered and be mindful that it feels bad to have an act of kindness rejected. (We overlook that rejecting a gift like this affects the giver).

We must resist both the emotional reflexes of deflection and overthinking. We can listen to our gut/intuition and simply ask ourselves whether the giver believes what they’re saying to us. If they do, we are likely to find that their perception does not match our own. If we are mindful, we will gradually collect more and more evidence that we are far better than we believe. Choosing to afford ourselves dignity and self-respect will enhance this process and facilitate transformation.

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Published by Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre is an addictions and trauma recovery expert. He is the cofounder of Sobernow.com. Jim invites your comments and questions: [email protected]