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Five Ways to Build Self Esteem

Diminish the Power of Addiction by Changing How Your Feel About Yourself


Updated April 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The relationship between low self esteem and addiction has been established for decades. In the 1970s, drug users, particularly women, were found to have low self esteem, and more recently, the connection has been demonstrated between low self esteem and behavioral addictions, including internet addiction, eating problems, and compulsive buying. Whether you are contemplating doing something about your addiction, or you are already in recovery, you will benefit from taking these simple steps to build self esteem.

1. Write Your Own Affirmation

An affirmation is a simple, positive statement you say to yourself. While affirmations may not seem genuine at first, over time, reciting them does change the way you feel about yourself. Write an affirmation that reflects how you want to feel about yourself, and give yourself a month saying it out loud to yourself every day.

2. Forgive Yourself For Past Mistakes

People who have struggled with an addiction are often plagued by self blame, which worsens self esteem. Addiction can really affect your judgement and impulse control, so you say and do things you later regret. Beating yourself up about what you did in the past will only increase the likelihood of relapse, so now is the time to recognize and acknowledge what you did, let go of punishing yourself, and commit to doing things differently in the future.

3. Accept Compliments

People with low self esteem often miss the opportunities to build self esteem presented by the kind words of others. Next time someone gives you a compliment, resist the urge to dismiss it, or think to yourself that the person didn't mean it. Instead, imagine it is true, and you might just find that it is.

4. Do Something Kind Every Day

One way of increasing the appreciation that others express towards you is to do kind things for them. You do not have to make a grand gesture -- something as simple as holding a door open for another person, giving up a seat on the bus, or giving someone directions if they look lost can elicit a genuine "thank you." Even if the other person does not express their gratitutude, you can bask in the good feeling of having helped.

5. Start Making Changes

Nothing helps you to build self esteem like self determination. Everyone has things they would like to change in their own lives, or in the lives of those around them, but for people with addictions, change happens in stages. If a major change seems like too much, break it down into smaller acts, and choose to do one a day or one a week, whichever you feel you will follow through on. With each small change, inwardly celebrate your success in moving towards your goal.


Gossop, M. “Drug Dependence and Self-Esteem,” Substance Use & Misuse 11(5):741-753. 1976.

Hanle, A. and Wilhelm, M. "Compulsive buying: An exploration into self-esteem and money attitudes." Journal of Economic Psychology 13(1):5-18. 1992.

Mayhew, R and Edelmann, R. "Self-esteem, irrational beliefs and coping strategies in relation to eating problems in a non-clinical population." Personality and Individual Differences 10(5):581-584. 1989.

Niemz, K., Griffiths, M., Banyard, P. "Prevalence of Pathological Internet Use among University Students and Correlations with Self-Esteem, the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), and Disinhibition." CyberPsychology & Behavior 8(6): 562-570. 2005.

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