Have you ever done an exercise where you’re asked to write down 10-20 adjectives that describe who you are? This task can stir up all kinds of emotions. Maybe it’s relatively easy for you to come up with several descriptors. For me, I usually run out of ideas after about five or six.
But what if the words that immediately come to mind are so negative and critical that you would never speak them aloud to someone?
Often those hidden, negative words we wouldn’t say aloud cut to the core of who we are. These words embody the messages of shame that we either inflict upon ourselves or that we hear from others. When we name ourselves with these words, we give them power.
What are some of the negative labels that you apply to yourself?
For the female sex and love addict, there are plenty of labels that echo through her mind. Whore. Slut. Dirty. Easy. Needy. Too much. Not enough. These words give a glimpse of her low self-esteem with feelings of little value or worth.
For the addict, condemning herself can feel good. Hatred toward herself or others can mask the shame that she feels. If she can become angry at the behaviors in herself or at other people who practice them, maybe then she can force herself to stop. Unfortunately, all the negative words she uses as a way of trying to motivate change in herself only increase her shame. Since shame is one of the primary motivators of addictive behavior, she may instead cope with the pain by acting out more.
These shame-filled messages only increase the feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, and longing that drew her to the addictive behaviors in the first place. They echo stories of trauma and pain from her past. Addictive behaviors provide a temporary relief, but they don’t solve the problem at the root: the issue of identity.
What are we to do about this?
Instead of using condemning labels and heaping shame on yourself, take a closer look at your identity. Exploring and establishing a strong sense of personal identity is not work that can happen overnight. It is a gradual process that is steeped in self-care, relationships, and substantial shifts in your way of thinking about yourself and others. But If you rest in a true and authentic understanding of who you are, you are much less likely to act in ways that contradict that identity.
Here are some ways to explore your identity and have a more accurate assessment of your self-worth:
Practice nurturing yourself. If you’ve experienced any level of trauma or pain in your childhood, you’ve likely learned ways of coping or surviving that are more destructive than helpful. Begin to practice healthy ways of coping and self-care.
Identify what you need. Addictive behavior often stems out of a legitimate desire that either wasn’t met in childhood or earlier experiences, or that you’re feeling now. Ask yourself, “what do I need?” and look for opportunities to meet that need.
Speak words of kindness to your vulnerable self. In the moments when you feel the weakest and in pain, your tendency may be to heap more shame upon yourself. Instead, speak to yourself with words of love and kindness.
Make a record of your accomplishments. Giving yourself credit for accomplishments – no matter how small – can uplift your self-esteem and help clarify what’s important to you. This can pave the way for identifying areas of purpose and value in your life.
Spend time with a close friend or loved one. The people we are closest to can affirm positive aspects of ourselves to which we are blind. Ask them to name the positive qualities they see in you.
Spend time with God or reading the Bible. As Christians, our identity is founded in Christ. When you feel desolate and alone, reflect on God’s love and grace toward you, and become more firmly rooted in how He defines you as created in His image.
As you begin to explore your identity, you’ll develop a greater understanding of who you are, what makes you feel alive, and what gives you a sense of security and confidence in yourself. My hope for you is to remind yourself of your true identity daily. Make a collage of these words. Write them down. Place these words somewhere prominent so you can see them each and every day. Be encouraged by these reminders when the messages of shame begin to grow.
This article was originally posted on July 27, 2017.
Are you tired of struggling with issues of identity? Does your sense of self-worth feel shattered by past trauma and pain? At Restored Hope, I know that addiction and trauma can wreak havoc on your sense of security and confidence in yourself. Therapy can be a helpful tool for you to step into a more solid understanding of who you are. I offer support through counseling sessions at my Ann Arbor office, and I’d love to hear your story. Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to schedule an appointment.