Finding Self-Worth and Self-Compassion in Recovery

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By: Leilani McIntosh In honor of my official discharge from my (almost) 4 year journey of being in all different levels of treatment, I want to repost an article I wrote for an awesome online magazine, “Be Wise”, started by my beautiful friend and role model, Ceciley Hallman.


I spent the majority of my high school experience in treatment for my eating disorder. Strong people fight cancer. Brave people fight in war. Educated people fight within a justice system. I fight with myself. I fight a battle inside my head every day. It is not easy, nor enjoyable, and it is certainly not a choice. A common phrase one might here is, “You are your own worst critic.” Analyzing the world around us, why shouldn’t we be harsh on ourselves?

Women and men are bombarded with guidelines the world has laid out for us. For example, a common expectation is to look like we always have everything together. Mothers are supposed to be holding the world on their shoulders, smiling, without breaking a sweat. Men are coached to show no sign of weakness. One’s manhood is threatened when they choose to open up to someone. The world has also given men and women guidelines on what the ideal body looks like. Men are supposed to be built and muscular, when women need to be skinny yet curvy. Women are taught they need make up to look beautiful… the list goes on and on. So how does that impact our lives?

Step back and ask yourself: What do I see when I look in the mirror? Am I happy? Am I comfortable in my own skin? Do I immediately find a quality that I wish I could change about myself?

I started nitpicking about myself in the fourth grade. People started commenting on my body and I became very self-conscious at a very young age. I started talking about diets and was worried about exercising. As I got older, those thoughts turned into my reality. Through my high school years, I went through many trials which I didn’t know how to handle. Some people cope by drugs or drinking, which turns into an addiction. I coped through eating disorder behaviors, and it became my addiction. It took me going to treatment to realize how unhappy I was.

Often I listen to the seconds of the clock ticking away… physically I think I am alone until I listen extra closely. I hear a voice. A clear voice who knows exactly what I am thinking. It is a voice who I am so familiar with that I don’t even notice that it is around. It is a voice whom I can find being my best friend and advocate, but it is also a voice who is my worst nightmare. My frenemy is the voice in my head.

When I went away to residential treatment, I felt stuck for a long time. I was just sitting there, following the rules, not speaking to anyone, and keeping to myself. When I had therapy appointments, the first little while, I kept things very vague; until my therapist asked me, “Do you love yourself?” The question brought me speechless. I ended up just shaking my head, no. She continued on, “Do you believe you have self-worth?” To be honest, I had no idea what she meant. The dictionary defines self-worth as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.” Your self-worth is commonly used as a synonym for self-esteem; but I have found it goes much deeper than that. Self-esteem is usually measured through one’s actions, when self-worth is valuing your own inherit worth as a person. It is about who you are, not what you do. My therapist told me that I needed to find what makes me worth it as a person, before I could love myself; so the journey of finding my worth began.

The first step to building self-worth is to stop comparing ourselves to the world and being overly critical about every move we make.  Easier said than done, I know. To be able to conquer the challenge of caring what everyone thinks, we need to challenge our “critical inner voice”. With these internalized conversations of thoughts, or “inner voices”, it undermines our self-worth and may cause destructive behaviors and may make you feel worst about yourself. Dr. Lisa Firestone explained in her article “7 Reasons Most People Are Afraid of Love:” We all have a “critical inner voice,” which acts like a cruel coach inside our heads that tells us we are worthless or undeserving of happiness. This coach is shaped from painful childhood experiences and critical attitudes we were exposed to early in life as well as feelings our parents had about themselves. While these attitudes can be hurtful, over time, they have become engrained in us. As adults, we may fail to see them as an enemy, instead accepting their destructive point of view as our own. As we challenge these critical thoughts, we will be able to see who we are and what we are capable of.

Find self-compassion for yourself. Self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion as you would treat a friend. I often resisted having self-compassion because I didn’t want to be conceded. WRONG. That was just an excuse my critical inner voice told me. Having self-compassion is a form of self-care. I learned three steps that helped me to have self-compassion.

1) Acknowledge and notice your suffering.

2) Be kind and caring in response to suffering.

3) Remember that imperfection is part of being human and something we all share.

By challenging your inner voice and stopping to compare yourself to others, you can begin the process of recognizing your own self-worth. You can push the way you see yourself from just an average, or below average, to a worthwhile person in the world. Developing my self-worth is something I work on every day.

This is my battle, and it is not easy, nor does it happen overnight; but it has truly changed my life. You do not know how your subconscious or present thoughts about yourself, truly affect your and your everyday choices and lifestyle. You can’t control many things in your life, but you can surly control your thoughts. It is hard to dig up uncomfortable feelings about yourself, and it may bring up a lot of emotions; but I promise you, it will change your life, because it has changed mine. Don’t let that inner voice stop you from becoming the best person that you can be. Don’t let others bring you down, because my friend, you are worth it.

About the Author: Blogger - NYC Based - Trying My Best In Recovery, Project HEAL volunteer. Follow her journey @leilani_mcintosh