Helping Women in Early Recovery Build Self-worth

Women in our society are faced with glass ceilings, stigma, and closed doors every day of their lives. In the Western world we are light years ahead of other cultures, but these barriers still exist in our culture and are preventing women from feeling valuable.

When you think of what it means to be a woman in American culture, what messages come to mind?

We should be good wives and mothers….We shouldn’t be too outspoken or opinionated….We should look a certain way….We should dress a certain way….We should aim to please others….And the list goes on.

The problem is that these messages set women up to believe that their value is based on opinions of others and society, instead of placing value on their own dreams, goals, and needs which are consistently neglected. When our value as a person is based on the approval of others, we are constantly searching for ways to feel good about ourselves through other people. The problem with this situation is that self-worth is not conditional, it is something that every human has a right to feel, no exception.

For some, the pressure to obtain value from others is overwhelming. For some of these women the chronic shameful thoughts they experience have been present since childhood. Life has been a series of unsuccessful attempts to develop self-worth and value through other people and things. Some women turn to self-medication to escape feelings of not being good enough. Whether its alcohol, drugs, sex,shopping, work, or anything else used to escape, chronic feelings of shame are too much for anyone to bear.

For women in early recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, shame can be a constant state of being. Shame exists from not only chronic feelings of not being good enough, but also feeling as though they have failed as wives and mothers. And now that they are in recovery, some also experience shame for having an addiction. Shame is a feeling that can trigger relapse. It is important to distinguish shame from guilt. Guilt is a normal human emotion that we experience when our behavior has led to a consequence that we feel bad about, such as hurting someone’s feelings. Shame, however, is a much deeper, more pervasive feeling. Shame is a feeling we experience when we feel that not only is our behavior bad, but we are bad.

Helping women develop healthy self-worth in early recovery is one of the most important aspects of relapse prevention for women. Women have to feel as though they are valuable and that their feelings and needs are important. All women need to be treated with respect and dignity by family members and treatment providers. These women will need help determining which relationships in their life are healthy, and which are unhealthy, and assisting them to set boundaries or end unhealthy relationships. It is especially important for facilities and counselors to provide treatment and assistance to these women in a way that helps to empower them, not hinder their development of self-worth.

All women deserve to feel they are valuable. If you are a woman in early recovery struggling with low self-worth, it is important to know that you deserve compassionate and respectful treatment from professionals that will empower you and help build you up, not break you down.