Self-Helper, vol. 7, no. 2, 1992.
Building Healthy Self-Esteem
James O. Henman, Ph.D.    

Building self-esteem is one way to prevent some of the social problems plaguing the state and the nation, said Assemblyman Sam Farr (D-Carmel), co-author of California's original self-esteem legislation with Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. And support groups build self-esteem and seem to provide an avenue to improved physical and mental health, according to data cited by Farr at a self-esteem fair last February. He estimated that billions of health care dollars - used to provide treatment for preventable disease - could be saved annually with care programs that include support groups.

    If you want to look at new ways of promoting self-esteem among your members, a new group model has emerged in the Central Valley. It focuses on self-esteem issues as the members' prime concern and uses a specially developed handbook for guidance. We offer you some of the experiences and methods of these C.A.I.R. (Changing Attitudes In Recovery) groups. - Editor

    C.A.I.R. groups continue to grow throughout California and are beginning to appear in other parts of the country as a response to an increasing need within our communities for a way of supporting healthy self-esteem. These self-help groups embrace the definition of the California Task Force To Promote Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility: "Self-esteem is the process of appreciating our own worth and importance, having the character to be accountable for ourselves, and to act responsibly toward others." Recovery is the process of developing healthy self-esteem and C.A.I.R. self-help groups welcome anyone committed to recovery. The problems that bring members to C.A.I.R. meetings include depression, anxiety and panic, eating disorders, relationship difficulties, and the gamut of addictions.

    This unique blend of diverse backgrounds with a shared focus on changing self-esteem allows members to work together in a supportive "family" of people committed to learning and practicing a "New Program" way of life. This growing process takes place in an atmosphere of "no-fault learning." C.A.I.R. self-help group meetings follow the format outlined in Changing Attitudes In Recovery - A Handbook On Esteem (Henman, 1990)

C.A.I.R. presents an esteeming set of principles and tools termed New Program which include a growing commitment to:

1. Being non-judgmental, open, and accurate;

2. Believing that we are all Fallible Human Beings;

3. Understanding that we react to life through our perceptual filters rather than directly to "reality";

4. Acknowledging and accepting the Reality of the Present;

5. Believing in Mutual Respect and Valuing;

6. Nurturing a healthy parenting relationship with the "wounded inner child";

7. Nurturing a growing relationship with a Loving Higher Power; and

8. Maintaining a continuing commitment to recovery, both our own and others'.

    In addition to the self-help process, the C.A.I.R. material has been increasingly used to support the development of healthy self-esteem in a variety of settings. Head Start Programs are beginning to use the video presentations from the Journey Series and the C.A.I.R. Handbook to develop a Self-Esteem component for their Parent Education. Because of the range of languages spoken by the parents, workers are translating the C.A.I.R. material into the native language of the parents. Head Start plans to utilize the free C.A.I.R. self-help groups to follow up on their training project with the parents. Psychotherapists have begun using the C.A.I.R. material with their clients in brief psychotherapy. They have found the material supports the therapy process and gives the basic tools and principles needed to build healthy self-esteem. They encourage their clients to attend C.A.I.R. self-help groups as a way of supplementing the limits of managed health care. General psychiatric and chemical dependency hospital programs have begun incorporating the C.A.I.R. material as part of their treatment and using the self-help groups to support aftercare.

    The best way to understand C.A.I.R. is through the eyes of members. A fairly new member of C.A.I.R. shared his experience this way: "I reluctantly attended a C.A.I.R. meeting to appease my therapist. I went to prove him wrong and hoped to get on with my counseling sessions without further need for these groups. With my own background of co-dependency issues, I did not need another group of people hashing over their problems for which I would feel responsible. That was several months ago and I have not missed a meeting since."

    "For me C.A.I.R. is a chance to nurture growth through the sharing of recovery tools. These tools are functional for all types of issues. Anyone can learn to use the tools and the meetings give us a chance to practice in a safe and Grace filled environment. There is no 'hired gun' with all of the answers - so no need to impress or defend."

    "I am so thankful for this wonderful self-help family. I cannot imagine the recovery journey without this 'rehabilitation' aspect. C.A.I.R. is to therapy what Hospice is to oncology - a caring community of hope, not immobilized by the problem, but challenged to help in our deepest areas of need."

    Les, one of the original steering committee members whose story was in the C.A.I.R. Handbook, recently related the following experience: "I'm sitting reflecting on last night's C.A.I.R. meeting and my head and my heart are filled with all kinds of feelings of excitement and wonder. Excitement that I risked sharing a part of me that was real scary to share and wonder that it was received with such warmth and love. I have been a part of C.A.I.R. since we began and this experience is not new to me. Making myself vulnerable, though less scary now, still is a risk that I choose to take. The response I get from my C.A.I.R. family allows me to safely look more accurately without judging myself and it's a real growing experience whether I am in Old Program or New Program."

   "This group is family in the truest, best sense of the word. Last night I was 'stuck' in the familiar pain of my Old Program. I was accepted unconditionally and gently incouraged to see other choices that I have available. We were talking about hurtful patterns that we'd like to change in our lives and I shared that even in my C.A.I.R. family I tend to compare myself to others and that I am fearful that as others grow and blossom that I will lose my place within this family. It's just been the past few weeks that I've gone inside and realized that this is coming from my wounded inner kids who knew only the reality of a foster home where it felt as though you were replaced every time a new foster kid arrived. I was reminded again that that is not the case in my C.A.I.R. family and that we are all unique, valuable and first class citizens here. It was also a reminder that I need to nurture those kids inside and tell them the truth of my current situation. Comparing myself to others and then judging myself harshly is painful and destructive. In this C.A.I.R. meeting I am again learning to own my own power in the present and not be a helpless victim of my past. I have choices I never imagined possible. The feedback and reflection I get from others in the group changes my perspective by broadening my options on how I look at things. As usual after the C.A.I.R. meeting some of us went out for coffee. It was also a relaxing and worthwhile time to carry over and discuss some of the thoughts and feelings that came up during the meeting."

    "Phone numbers have been exchanged in the past for support during the week and today I talked to several people in the group. It helped reinforce what I've been learning. All of this was also a reminder that my journey is not a solitary one. For me C.A.I.R. is a special gift that I have been given the chance to share in and I hope that as I risk with others, somehow I am able to give back some of this life-changing gift."

   Deanna shared that "at one of the Serenity Place meetings before Christmas someone mentioned that they had never had a Birthday Party so our C.A.I.R. family now has a Birthday Party the last Saturday of every month to celebrate any Birthdays in that month