Recovery from a negative self-image is gradual. As is the case with any extended recovery process, the course is not a steadily smooth uphill slope. One does eventually reach the top, but rarely without sustaining some slips on the way. Slips that occur after a person has begun to improve may be more painful than the original chronic depressive state. It’s like falling off a ladder. If you are standing on the first rung, the fall probably won’t cause any injury. The higher you have climbed on the ladder, the more severe the fall. Similarly, someone who has felt more or less unhappy day after day may actually have become accustomed to that state of existence. If the person begins to feel much better and then has a recurrence of even a brief depression, this is felt much more keenly.
Even after reaching an essentially stable stage, there is always the possibility of relapse. To understand why this happens, try a simple exercise. Take a piece of thick cardboard and fold one corner. Now straighten out the fold. Where the cardboard was folded, there is a crease. This crease will remain regardless of how much you flatten the fold. If you try to bend the cardboard at any other place, you will encounter some resistance, but at the crease, the slightest pressure makes the cardboard bend. A person who recovers from a negative self-image may be left with a “crease.”
Anything that occurs, even years later, that constitutes a threat to the ego is likely to resurrect all the feelings of inadequacy that he or she had already overcome. Some or all of the symptoms that accompanied the negative self-image may emerge again. People who have recovered from alcoholism or another chemical dependency are vulnerable to relapse into chemical use at this time. Awareness of this possibility may help prevent a panic reaction or chemical use in the event of a relapse.
Other advantages of recovery from a negative self-image are also likely, as in our work. If we continue to function at a fixed low level of performance we do not arouse any expectations from anyone. We, our families, and our employers won’t expect more of us than our routine performance. As we gain self-confidence, our performance level is likely to increase, and as a consequence we may be given additional assignments. Our employers may assign us to new duties, our families may expect more, and we ourselves may accept new challenges.