By: Marilyn L. Davis
“If we get our self-esteem from superficial places, from our popularity, appearance, business success, financial situation, health, any of these, we will be disappointed because no one can guarantee that we’ll have them tomorrow.” ~Kathy Ireland
Spending Money on the Outside Doesn’t Always Help the Insides
People spend millions of dollars a year attempting to look like a stranger in an advertisement. Unfortunately, most of us know nothing about the character or qualities of the model; just this frozen in time visual that represents what is current for that monthly edition of a fashion magazine. The good news is that looks are easily changed:
1. Just walk into your favorite store.
2. Observe what is on the mannequin.
3. Find your size.
4. Pull out the credit or debit card and be on your way.
Becoming Yourself, Not a Label
When I work with my recovery clients, I ask them, “Who are you”? Invariably, I get a wife, husband, mother, father, business owner, caretaker, student, or a description of their roles or labels. I quietly let them give me these descriptors as we can use them to test how they feel and what they think about their role; however, it is not who they are.
We even use phrasing to mollify these situations. “I lost my job” as if we have just misplaced it like a set of keys.
A Personal Lesson in Who I Am, Not What I Do
I opened an award-winning women’s residential recovery home in 1990. Over the years, I had personal validation for what I did.
Brenau University, GA, created the Marilyn Davis Community Service Learning Award in 2008, an ongoing award to recognize advocates in mental health, recovery, and wellness. This award has special meaning for me, as the University had placed me in treatment for my addiction in 1988.
In 2006, I gave back to the institution by creating a psychiatric clinical experience for fourth-year nursing students. I knew that this action demonstrated my gratitude and appreciation for what the University had done for me.
In 2010, the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, GA awarded me the Liberty Bell Award for my contributions to the criminal justice systems and my community. Here again, I knew that my actions of providing education into addiction and recovery; advocating for treatment and not incarceration for first-time drug possession and supporting the efforts of law enforcement to stem the use of illegal chemicals demonstrated my better qualities.
They Judged my Qualities Not What I Did
Regardless of the awards, I saw my identity as the Executive Director of the recovery home. When the house closed in 2011, I felt a definite sense of loss – my identity, my income, and my purpose, and these losses started to undermine my self-esteem.
What happened when the house closed was that I was left with less than positive self-esteem. However, that is often times the norm for situational self-esteem; it tends to fluctuate, depending on our circumstances, roles, and labels.
How Do I Measure My Self-esteem Now?
With the house closing, I no longer listened to other people’s problems and found solutions for them. I could not claim that I did not have enough time to figure out my problems and find my answers. But then I remembered an exercise from school that I thought might help me discover me.
W = Weaknesses (internal)
O = Opportunities (external)
T = Threats (external)
In creating this S.W.O.T. for myself, I could see that I had many opportunities using the talents and strengths I had within me to become who and what I wanted to be in this next phase of my life. That was reassuring. In doing my personal S.W.O.T., I saw that closing the house was an opportunity.
Changing my attitude about the closing allowed me to focus on more positive aspects of the experience as well as put emphasis on the qualities that would help me increase my self-esteem.
When Circumstances Influence Your Self-esteem
I knew that Global self-esteem, what I generally thought about myself had been constant, both in my addiction (very low) and in my recovery (very okay). I had made many mistakes in judgment, choices, and actions in active addiction that I knew did not show me in my “finest hour,” but that over the 30 years that I had been in abstinence-based recovery, I had made many positive changes and so generally felt good about myself.
However, I also knew that my self-esteem as it related to what I did was high over the 20 years that I ran the house.
Doing my personal S.W.O.T., I felt good about my qualities and realized that the door that closed gave me opportunities to use my strengths to reach more than the thousand I have previously worked with at the house. I do that now through my writing.
Some Questions To Help You With Your S.W.O.T.
Put your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats into perspective. Make time to check them, also adding your talents, limitations, or words that help you hone in on the qualities within to realistically view yourself and increase your self-esteem.
1. What are the essential values to you?
2. What do people compliment you on besides an external possession?
3. What characteristics do you have that are admirable?
4. What positive attributes did you use to carry out your goals?
1. What are your negative habits?
2. Do you have any unfounded fears?
3. What tasks, people, or events do you avoid and why?
4. What negative attitudes do you need to change?
1. Do you have a network of helpful contacts that offer you sound advice?
2. Can you transfer your skills to another field?
3. Are there passions you can pursue now?
1. What obstacles are you currently facing?
2. Are there limitations that jeopardize your goals?
3. Could any of your weaknesses lead to threats?
4. Are you current with today’s technology?
Just a Reminder
Finding your answers within is cheaper than trying to find just the right car, house, suit, hairstyle, or latest accessory to increase your self-esteem.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart
When you’re ready to share your experience, strength, and hope with someone still struggling in their recovery, consider a guest post.