For many people who are new to recovery, loving themselves seems like an impossible task. They may have made choices in active addiction that caused harm to themselves and people they loved. Remembering these unhealthy behaviors can cause the person to feel guilt, shame, and other difficult emotions. They may also be a trauma survivor or struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition, all of which can contribute to a feeling unworthy of love, even from themselves.
While guilt may lead a person to take responsibility and fix a wrong, they have committed, shame often paralyzes people or encourages them to hide the things they have done. Shame can convince a person that they are undeserving of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Though it can be scary to do so, the most effective way to overcome shame is to face it directly. Brene Brown, who is considered a leading expert on shame, suggests three steps to overcoming feelings of shame:
- Speaking to yourself as you would someone you love and respect – talking badly to and about yourself will only add to your shame and guilt by making you feel less worthy.
- Reaching out to someone you trust – identify a person (friend, family member, sponsor, therapist, spiritual leader, etc.) you feel safe talking to about what happened.
- Sharing your story – the more you share your story with people, the more you build empathy and compassion, both for yourself and for others who have experienced similar feelings.
Guilt, though painful to experience, is an emotion that can create positive change in some cases, if we are able to handle it skillfully and find a way to forgive ourselves. WebMD recommends the following steps, for processing guilt and forgiving yourself:
- Start from a place of safety – Visualize yourself with someone you trust who was supportive and helpful to you in the past. Remember how that person made you feel and imagine having them with you as you make a list of the good traits you have.
- Think about what happened – Consider the details of what you’re feeling guilty about. Make a list with three columns and label the columns to indicate if the problem was the result of a moral fault, a lack of skill, or something else and then break down the various parts of the situation that have you upset with yourself. A mistake caused by a moral fault may call for some spiritual seeking and guidance, while a lack of skill may require us to learn a better way of handling something in the future.
- Take responsibility – An important part of forgiving yourself is admitting what you did wrong, learning from it, and making the situation right for yourself and others who were affected. This may include apologizing, providing financial compensation, or repairing physical damage.
- Have empathy for everyone involved – Not only is it important for you to extend empathy to the other people who were involved in the situation, but you also need to see yourself as a human being who made a mistake but deserves forgiveness.
Learning to Love Yourself During Recovery
Dealing with shame and guilt are the first steps in learning to love yourself. Moving forward in that journey requires additional steps. Self-help guru Tony Robbins recommends the following ways to fall in love with yourself:
- Meditate – changing your breathing and your mindset can make you more receptive to the message that you are worthy of love.
Building a strong support system – by surrounding yourself with people who encourage you and believe in you, you will reduce negativity in your life. This will also make it easier to let go of relationships that aren’t healthy for you.
- Don’t lose yourself in relationships – though it can be difficult to speak up for yourself and your needs, it is important to do so in order to have a healthy, honest relationship. If speaking up for yourself in a kind, direct way causes the other person to react poorly, it may indicate that the other person or the relationship is not in a good place.
- Have an abundance mindset – if you believe that your life is going to be a disaster or if you believe good things are around every corner, Robbins would agree that you are right. It is easier to find whatever you are focused on than something you believe does not exist.
- Stop striving to be busy – our minds need down time to process information and think clearly. Self-reflection requires periodically removing distractions, to focus inward.
- Make time for fun and self-care – intentionally setting aside time to take care of yourself and enjoy life is a way to show love to yourself by providing for your own needs. Doing these acts of service for yourself may make it easier to find the emotional space to love who you are.
Why Loving Yourself is Important
Loving yourself has many science-supported benefits. We list a few of these below:
- Self-compassion can make it easier to cope with mental health struggles – not only are you less likely to develop anxiety and depression if you treat yourself with love, but you are more likely to have an optimistic outlook, which can also make it easier to manage mental health.
- It can reduce the stress that leads to procrastination – by allowing us to observe the downside of procrastinating, without making us feel bad about ourselves for sometimes indulging in the habit, self-compassion can make it easier to get out of a cycle of procrastination.
- Self-acceptance can make it easier to navigate adversity – a study found that people who went through a divorce found it easier to emotionally recover if they tended to speak kindly about themselves instead of harshly.
If you would like to learn more about how self-acceptance and self-compassion impact a person’s recovery journey, Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, has a team of professionals who can offer information and support.