Most people who are recovering from addiction have a problem with self respect. After all, if you have indulged in addictive behaviour that may have included lying, cheating, aggression and laziness, it is quite difficult to respect yourself.
The alcoholic who invents a ‘business meeting’ so he can spend more time in the pub instead of going home to his family, is acting against his conscience: he is lying, he is being selfish, he is causing distress to his family and he is spending his money in ways he should not. Deep down he knows this, his conscience tells him so, but he does it all the same and it makes him deeply unhappy – he will probably need another drink to help him cope with the bad feeling! Such behaviour, repeated regularly, cannot fail to erode self respect.
Like happiness, self respect cannot just be ‘got’. It is important to understand this because many people, in desperate need of self respect themselves, try finding quickly something to make them feel better: perhaps buying a new car or new clothes or displaying an arrogant behaviour in order to feel ‘superior’. Or perhaps letting others invade their boundaries because any kind of attention makes them feel better.
Building self respect in early recovery from addiction, can be a slow but highly rewarding process. It combines elements of assertiveness, self acceptance, spirituality, realism, focus, forgiveness, respect for others and humility. It is rewarding because you can see results and better still, you can feel them, as your self respect increases.
Try these self respect building exercises:
1. Assertiveness: Recognise when people disrespect you and take steps to stop it. A person with self respect doesn’t allow others to treat them badly, and would rather not associate with someone who is disrespectful. When someone doesn’t give you basic respect, you need to be able to say, in one way or another, “You just disrespected me and that’s not acceptable to me.”
2. Self acceptance: Get to know yourself. The more you understand yourself, the more you’ll appreciate how unique you are. Discover your own values, personality, and abilities. Stop people-pleasing and start developing your own character and standards. Be true to yourself. It is important you have faith in your own values and remember what is important to you. Just because other people think you should behave in a certain way, doesn’t mean they are right.
3. Spirituality: True self respect brings inner peace. Spirituality nurtures that inner peace. Do not reject this side of your personality. The journey towards spirituality can be an exciting and deeply satisfying experience.
4. Realism: Learn to handle criticism. We are sensitive beings. To maintain a sense of self respect, we need to learn how to deal with criticism. Don’t take criticism personally. Look at it from a detached perspective.
5. Focus: It is motivation that matters, not actual results. The problem is that we equate our self respect to outer displays of wealth, success and social standing — and this is a mistake.
6. Forgiveness: Forgive others and forgive yourself. Don’t live in the past. Move on from past mistakes and difficult situations.
7. Respect others: If you have no respect for others, how can you respect yourself? It is the wrong approach to try to feel better by putting others down. If you look for good qualities in others, it will be easier to see the good qualities in yourself.
8. Humility: The way to self respect is not through praise from others, which gives a false sense of pride. Be selfless.
9. Self love: Never hate yourself. This can become a dangerous habit. We make mistakes, we may do the wrong thing, but we should never put ourselves down unnecessarily.
10. Responsibility: Make a conscious decision that you are no longer going to take the ‘victim’ role – you are responsible for your life and only you can make change happen. Joan Didion, an American author, says that ”the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.”
Doing the above exercises and working on our self respect means we are taking responsibility for our lives. We are no longer doormats, people-pleasers, self deluders or self haters. In short, we are ourselves – unique, independent, beautiful and self respecting.