If you were acting in a play, your behavior and lines would be directed by the script. In life, too, you are acting and speaking according to pre-written scripts. We often feel and act in strict accordance with how we see ourselves. If you see yourself as adequate, influential, and valuable you might act more assertively, talk to others freely, and express your opinions openly. If, however, you saw yourself as inadequate and inferior, you might withhold your opinion, avoid others, and be cautious when making new friends.
The Old Script
The relationships we have with people close to us, such as parents, spouses, siblings, peers, teachers, and others, are important because they shape the way we view ourselves. These influential people help take part in writing our script whether it is constructive or destructive. Understanding the concept of identity is important because most people do not live very differently than how they see themselves. If we saw ourselves as inferior and inadequate, we might be more tentative, shy, or easily embarrassed. We gather a view of ourselves by the way we are treated by important others and internalize those concepts over time.
The Foundations of Damage
We do not come into this world possessing a strong built-in sense of identity, nor do we inherently feel good about ourselves. Most attitudes and beliefs about ourselves are taken from the environment in which we were raised. Nobody had perfect parents, because all parents make mistakes when raising their children. According to Dr. Gary Collins, children are rarely damaged by the minor errors all parents make, but real feelings of inferiority do come when parents:
- Criticize, shame, reject, and punish repeatedly
- Set unrealistic standards and goals
- Express the expectation the child will fail
- Punish repeatedly and harshly
- Avoid cuddling, hugging, or affectionate touching
- Imply that children are a nuisance, stupid, or incompetent
- Over-protect or dominate children so they fail later when on their own
A Distorted View
There may have been many people around you who did not believe in you. The mental health problems and the addictions of others also damage and distort self-concept. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages received from people in the past. They may have said cruel, harsh, and disrespectful things. This can damage your self-esteem and leave you with fear and feelings of failure. Those pessimistic beliefs you have about yourself, hold you back even more than the treatment and difficult circumstances you endured in the past. You can’t change what happened to you, but you can change the way you see yourself, because of what happened to you.
Having a distorted view of yourself often erodes your confidence and weakens your resolve to continue in your recovery. This distorted view can also cause people to seek their own acceptance, security and significance through appearance and performance. These important concepts are not obtained through trying harder, but instead, by changing your perception of yourself. Living with the co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems takes a toll. You may feel unable to persevere. You may feel like you have had more than your share of chances but have always come up short.
Rewriting the Script
The good news is we can rewrite the old scripts. We can reprogram our own minds with positive thoughts and affirmations. We do not need to be products of a miserable past. Changing the way you think in the present can change your future. You can accomplish your goals and realize your dreams. You are no longer identified by your past mistakes, addictions, or failed relationships. Shake it off and move forward. Write a new, healthy script for yourself.
As you change the view of yourself, you will see the difference reflected in your choices and in your actions. You will have more confidence, a greater strength of character, and feel more secure. Your identity is not a product of your past; rather your identity is established by the way you see yourself in the present. You are no longer a victim. You are a victor, a conqueror having risen above the defeats handed you by the past and able to embrace the promises of future with confidence and hope.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!
Collins, G. R. (1988) Christian counseling: A comprehensive guide. Dallas: Word Publishing.