Q&A: How do I coach a client with low self-esteem?

Low Self Esteem

Many people have low self-esteem when they come into recovery. It’s pretty common for an addict or alcoholic to look in the mirror and see someone they don’t like very much. Usually, in addiction, an addict or alcoholic will use drugs and alcohol to numb those unpleasant feelings. When the drugs and alcohol aren’t there, self-esteem can take an even bigger hit because they no longer have the false confidence that can come from a substance.

In addition, when a person first gets sober, they begin to remember all the things they did while drinking or using and all the people they hurt. They may start to realize how much time they have wasted during addiction, and that they are not where you “should” be in their life. Even if a client knows intellectually that addiction is a disease, part of them may still view it as a moral failing.

Whatever the reason, it is very likely that you will have to coach a client with low self-esteem at some point.

One of the challenges of coaching a client with low self-esteem is that it may be hard for them to let go of the image they have about themselves. For many, having low self-esteem is almost comforting. It allows them to avoid confronting anyone else because they just blame everything on themselves. They may also use it as an excuse to continue harmful behavior, i.e. “I lied to him because I’m not a good person.” Also, some people use low self-esteem to get sympathy or to avoid consequences. When someone confronts them about bad behavior, they will just say “I don’t blame you for being mad. I’m a terrible friend” or “I’m a piece of crap and I don’t deserve you in my life.” This is actually a form of emotional manipulation, because the confronter will often end up comforting the person with low self-esteem who was behaving badly.

One of the best ways to coach a client with low self-esteem is to get them involved in activities where they are helping others. This serves the dual purpose of snapping them out of selfish and self-centered thinking, and it makes them feel better about themselves. Doing service at AA meetings or volunteering at charitable organizations are great service activities. It’s tougher for people to rationalize that they’re terrible if they’re helping others, thereby helping to quell negative self-talk.

Meditation and exercise are also great self-esteem builders. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and it can help someone create a healthy body image. Meditation is another great way to reduce stress and increase a client’s level of acceptance and self-love.

Finally, one of the best things you can do when you coach a client with low self-esteem is to aid them in changing the way they behave and treat others. When a client starts to treat others with love and respect and behaving in a way they can be proud of, it can go a long way in building self-esteem.