Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!



Problem Solving in Recovery

Chapter 9: Problem Solving in Recovery

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Problem Solving in Recovery

What are some barriers to productive problem solving in recovery from low self‑esteem?

Barriers to productive problem solving include:

  • A “Yes, but'' attitude.
  • Intellectual defensiveness; closed to new ideas.
  • The inability to be objective.
  • A fear of being “wrong.''
  • The inability to be creative or imaginative in developing alternative solutions.
  • Emotional “stuckness'' — being so chronically immersed in problems that no feelings or emotions can be elicited.
  • Believing that emotions and feelings about a problem are “wrong'' and should not be included when looking for solutions.
  • Resentment about having to solve the problem; wanting to blame others for causing the problem; having no desire to own the problem yourself.
  • Mental and/or physical fatigue due to finding no fruitful solutions.
  • Feeling so stressed, anxious, or tense in the face of a problem that your “systems'' shut down.
  • Getting so angry about the problem that all energy and attention is drawn to the anger rather than to the problem.
  • Feeling sorry for yourself and letting the “self‑pity'' overwhelm and obstruct all thinking on the matter.
  • Getting so depressed about the problem that a mental paralysis exists.
  • Denial that the problem exists.
  • Bargaining in dealing with the problem, e.g. agreeing to perform certain steps only as long as the solution to the problem results from taking such steps.

What common problems exist for you in your recovery efforts?

Review the following list and write down each problem you are having as you work on your recovery.


Overconfidence: after achieving 50% or more of the goal of recovery, you have become less cautious, less observant, less meticulous and less attentive due to the level of self‑confidence you reached by receiving many compliments for what you have achieved.


Weakened Commitment: since it takes a long time to achieve your goals, you find yourself weakening in your resolve. It takes too long, goes too slow, and requires too much of you.


Boredom: sacrificing, changing old patterns of behavior, and breaking old habits requires a tedious, consistent, managed effort on your part. Living a changed life isn't as adventurous, daring, immoderate, risky, or all‑consuming as the old, unhealthy life style. It can get boring.


Burnout: it requires enormous energy to change; thus, if you are not pacing yourself you can get exhausted or burned out by trying so hard to be "good.''


Overstressed:constantly having to watch yourself because you are being bombarded with temptations to return to old habits and constantly experiencing a great deal of stress in maintaining self‑control can result in a stressed‑out situation.


Lack of Trust: setbacks and slow results can surface after your exertion of a great deal of energy to change which can result in loss of trust in the program of recovery in the SEA's program and even in the skill, knowledge, and intentions of the professionals with whom you are working.


Relapse: although your intentions are good, you continuously find yourself relapsing to your old, unhealthy behavioral patterns, "falling off the wagon.''


Guilt: because you have found yourself cheating, maybe not sticking to the plan of recovery 100% of the time, you experience guilt because you have failed yourself, your program, and your support system.


Perfectionism: you are unwilling to tackle anything unless you can do it perfectly. Imperfection in your efforts to recover alarms you. You find it difficult to continue if you can't do it correctly 100% of the time.


Impatience: you are very upset because it takes so much time to recover completely. You want to be fully recovered now.


Let's Celebrate!”: you may have achieved an intended short‑term goal like overcoming an addiction or a compulsive habit. You want to celebrate, forgetting that the real goal is a full recovery with a lifestyle of moderation, time management, emotional and stress control, balanced diet, health maintenance, exercise, and a restructuring of life at work, home, and in the community. Celebrating too soon can lead to setbacks and can be counterproductive to healthy self‑esteem.


Rationalizations: to make this enormous change easier on yourself, you may have developed a system of self-deception, white lies, and excuses to lessen the impact of the health‑oriented program of recovery needed to obtain a new lifestyle. Examples: cutting 15 minutes of exercise won't hurt me; skipping a SEA's meeting is nothing; just one cigarette will be OK; it's only beer; I don't need to call a Buddy this week.

What are the roots of the problems?

Underlying the common problems facing people who desire to recover from low self‑esteem are the following root issues. Write down each root cause which is true for you.


Addictive Behavioral Pattern: many problem behaviors leading to unhealthy lifestyles are addictive, such as overeating, smoking, drinking, drug abuse, gambling, shopping, sex.


Lack of Hope in the Future: you have lived in the clenches of a compulsive, addictive behavioral pattern and may have tried and failed many times to change. You lack hope in any new plan of healthy growth and positive change.


Prophecy of Failure: believing you won't be successful in achieving your goals, you sabotage your program of change at a subconscious level. This fulfills your prophecy of ultimate failure.


Lack of Understanding: when you are caught up in compulsive or addictive behavior, you often lack full knowledge and understanding of what is involved in change. You are unable to realize your potential.


Overresponsibility: you may feel that you are totally responsible for everything that happens in your life and often in the lives of others. You carry every burden on your shoulders, leading to a martyr role: “poor me'' or "why does everything bad always happen to me'' attitude.


Irrational Thinking: unhealthy patterns of living and addictive behavior leads to an irrational way of looking at life. These beliefs lead you to misrepresent reality to yourself so that you act in self‑defeating ways.


Lack of Self‑worth: if you have lived in a chronic state of compulsive, addictive behavior, you might view yourself in such a poor light that you see no worth, no redeeming features in yourself; you view yourself as unworthy of being a winner in life.


Insecurity: if you have lived a life of unhealthy habitual behavioral patterns, you might feel like you will never be “good'' enough to change. You have no emotional foothold to feel secure in any decision, let alone a decision to change and gain a healthy, happy life in recovery.


Delusional Thinking: you have been able to delude yourself into thinking that things in your life were never bad. You use denial and minimize your problems. For example, you may say: I wasn't that unhealthy or I wasn't that bad of a drunk, or I wasn't that addicted. After all, I never tried crack, cocaine, or at least I didn't get into the credit cards.

What is needed to overcome these common problems?

In order to maintain your impetus toward a full, healthy recovery, you need to do all of the following activities. Write down those activities which you are open to using to solve your problems in the recovery process.


SEA's Support Group and other 12 Step Program members: people attempting to recover need the support of those going through the same process. This can be obtained in the ongoing peer support group of SEA's or the 12 Step Program you are involved in.


Educational Support: people who are in a process of change need some formal training. This is available through workshops, seminars, and selected reading offered by SEA's.


Family Support: people who are changing need their families and the significant others in their lives to accept them and the changes they have made in their lives.


Co‑worker Support: in order for people to carry their changed lifestyle into the workplace, they need their co‑workers' support in accepting them and the changes they have made.


Crisis Intervention: people involved in a change process need to know there are people to whom they can turn during a crisis, especially true of the Buddies at SEA and your counselor.


Social Support: people need to develop a group of people they can call upon to provide constructive criticism, give compliments and offer confrontation to keep them both honest and on track in their efforts to change. Buddies at SEA can be one source of support.


Spiritual Renewal: people in this process of recovery must be able to "let go and let the Higher Power in their life'' carry the load of the emotional strain often involved in such an effort.


Professional Assistance: people in a change process need the help, knowledge, support, advice, and guidance of professional counselors whose job it is to help people with their recovery program.


Re‑assessment, Re‑setting of Goals, and Re‑commitment: people in the process of change continuously monitor their progress, re‑evaluate their efforts, and refresh and refocus their goals. This process is based on "take one day at a time'' and "get back on the wagon again'' mottos.


Productive Problem Solving: as each common problem arises on the road to recovery, you need to solve them with your various support systems, i.e., family, friends, co‑workers, members of your 12 Step Support Group like the Buddies at SEA, support groups, professional counselors. Use productive problem solving to come up with workable, alternative solutions.

What ten things are needed for productive problem solving?


  1. A clear, detailed description of the problem.
  2. A description of the limiting (or negative) factors involved in the problem.
  3. A description of the constructive (or positive) factors involved in the problem.
  4. A clear delineation of the ``ownership'' of the problem. Whose problem is it? Does it belong to you, the other guy, your boss, your spouse, your child, your parents, your teacher, or some combination thereof?
  5. A clear description of the scope of the problem. How big a problem is it? How long has it existed? How extensive is it? How many people are affected? What else is affected by this problem?
  6. A clear description of what the consequences would be if the problem remains unsolved. What is the possible impact on your family, job, marriage, school performance, and life in your community if this problem is never solved? What will happen to you if it isn't solved? How will your efforts toward a change in lifestyle be affected?
  7. A full list of brainstormed alternative solutions to the problem with each alternative analyzed as to its consequences.
  8. A system of ranking the solutions, best to worst, to aid the “final'' decision‑making process. A rating system for analyzing solutions can be developed, e.g., 100% chance of success, 75% chance of success, 50% chance of success, and no chance of success.
  9. A clear description of yourself as a problem solver regarding this problem. Are you procrastinating? Are you avoiding the problem? Are you in denial? Are you shutting down or blocking your creativity regarding this problem? Are you ignoring it, hoping it will go away? Are you using magical thinking and/or fantasy in addressing the problem?
  10. A determination to follow through on the selected solution, which involves full motivation to “take the risk'' and pursue the solution to its fullest extent.

Three tips for productive problem solving

1. Five‑dimensional thinking
Look at the problem from five different dimensions:
  1. What is the size or measurement of the problem?
  2. What would life be like if the problem was left unaddressed? Brought to a solution?
  3. How are you functioning in handling the problem?
  4. What do your five senses tell you about the problem? What do you see, hear, touch, smell and taste?
  5. What does reality look like from within the problem? How does it look from the outside looking into the problem?

2. Brainstorming

When brainstorming alternative solutions, follow these rules:
  • All ideas should be expressed.
  • No idea is too wild to be listed.
  • Quantity is wanted; every idea that comes to mind should be expressed and listed.
  • Combining ideas to improve solutions is highly desirable.
  • Criticism of any idea is absolutely forbidden.

3. Ranking Brainstormed Alternatives

When ranking brainstormed alternatives:

  • First: State all alternatives identified in behavioral terms
  • Second: Rate each idea on possible consequences as to if they will be positive or negative consequences
  • Third: Rate each for their percentage of probability of success


  1. Alternatives   Stated behaviorally   
  2. Possible Consequences Identifed as Positive or negative   
  3. Probability of Success Percentage of chance of success                    


NOTE:  For more information on problem solving, look at the chapter Productive Problem Solving in Tools for Relationships by James J. Messina, Ph.D.