How to Deal with Shyness and Low Self-Esteem in Recovery

Low Self-Esteem in Recovery

Terror And Fear

You’re terrified of treatment. You’re afraid to get help. Maybe it’s the fear of judgment. You’re already crushed by guilt. You’re like Giles Corey, being flattened by many accusers. Your thoughts accuse you. They point at you and condemn you. Call you a failure. A loser. An addict. They tell you that you don’t measure up to any standard. They say that you’ve ruined your life beyond repair. But perhaps you think even worse thoughts than those. Perhaps you think you don’t deserve to be alive. That maybe the people around you would be better off if you weren’t here.

If you feel anything like this, begin by breathing deeply. Inhale. Suck in so much air that it hurts. Then exhale. If you’ve done that, then you’ve committed to at least one more breath. That’s a good thing. It’s good that you’re sticking around. If you’re breathing, you have a purpose. Even if that purpose is just to take one more breath. If your blood is flowing, you have a chance. If there’s a pulse, there’s a way forward. It might feel painful. And most likely, it will involve very difficult choices. But you must be around to make those choices. Because no one else can.

Considering Treatment? You’re Ahead!

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb you may have heard. It goes like this, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” History attributes that advice to Lao Tzu. Just the thought of considering treatment seems too great a feat. You hold that thought in your mind and you feel hot. Your temples throb and your palms sweat.

If you’re considering treatment, then that’s something to feel good about! If you’re thinking of treatment as a legitimate possibility, that means that you believe you’re ready to start over. You’re done spiraling downward. You’re done with lack of control. You’re ready to put in work to change your life. You’re already doing well. Tell yourself that. Let yourself really believe that you’re making a good choice to even consider treatment. On some level, you have to believe you need treatment before you’ll actively look for it.

Group Meetings 101

Different treatment programs suit different people in different seasons of their lives. Each program varies in its restriction of your personal autonomy. But one thing all programs have in common: group meetings. You’ll be in a room with other people in different levels of treatment. The exact structure of the group meeting may vary. But they all follow a similar blueprint. Group meetings all have a facilitator (a counselor, social worker, therapist, etc.). At the beginning of the meeting, the facilitator will begin by suggesting a topic. They might choose a topic on their own. Or, the topic might be something another group member mentioned in a previous meeting.

The facilitator will then shift to the participants. A participant may voice their observations, opinions, and feelings about the given topic. They may speak about what they have learned. They may offer wisdom or insight they have gained. Once that person finishes speaking, the facilitator will ask for further speakers. If no one volunteers, the facilitator may call on a member of the group by name. Note: you will never be required to speak. But think of group meetings like an investment: you get out what you put in.

Low Self-Esteem in Recovery

When first attending, feel free to remain silent. If you don’t want to make eye contact, find an inanimate object to look at. Find a unique pattern on the floor. Or a piece of art hanging on the wall. Pretend to be invisible. Imagine that you’re hidden; that no one can see you. Focus intently on your own breath. Forgetting yourself like this will help you become more attentive to the conversations around you.

And that’s your mission for your first group meeting. Listen. Internalize what other members are saying. Think deeply about it. Reflect on it and learn from it.

Group Etiquette

To help you ease into the group, here are a few ground rules. Knowing what to expect will help you grow more comfortable with the setting. Group therapy conversations work differently than real-world conversations. Never interrupt when someone speaks. The facilitator should prohibit cross-talking, i.e. addressing your comments to a specific group member. You speak to the group, rather than to a particular person.

Likewise, the facilitator should not allow group members to question other group members. If the facilitator thinks certain comments need clarifying, they may ask the speaker a question. But group members do not interrogate other group members. No matter how difficult the conversations become, remain seated. Stay in the room for the entire duration of the meeting. Group meetings typically last about an hour. The facilitator will dismiss the group when the time ends.

Speak The Truth

Speaking in front of a group is scary. The eyes on you. The judgmental thoughts. The criticisms. What must they be thinking of you? Focus on what you’re talking about. Keep yourself resolute. Speaking is just breathing with form. It has more sound. A different purpose. With your thoughts trained on your words, talk slowly about what you have to say. Tell the truth. Don’t sugarcoat. There’s no need for profanity, but be honest about your feelings, opinions, and observations. You’re not here for other people’s negativity. You’re here to transform yourself.

Your Words Might Help

You don’t know how your story might help someone. What you’ve been through – your failures, your choices, your experiences – can make a difference in other peoples’ lives. Speaking openly and honestly about your life can provide wisdom to those listening. Just as you can gain understanding from listening to others. If you don’t speak, you may wonder, “what if?” Who might you have helped if you spoke up? If you spoke your truth about your experience with addiction? Granted, no one may approach you and say out loud, “Hey, what you said really helped me.” But rest assured, if you remain silent you will help no one. And yourself least of all.

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