Spirituality and Self-Actualization: A Universal Need and a Powerful Tool in Recovery

The concept of self-actualization is based primarily on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, theorized that human needs could be ranked in a pyramid shape. Basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid -- survival elements such as food, sleep and water -- must be realized before moving up to higher needs, beginning with security, followed by love, belonging, and development of self-esteem.

Maslow theorized that only when those basic needs are realized can people reach the tip of the pyramid -- self-actualization and true potential.

Individuals who become addicted to drugs and alcohol are often stuck at the lowest level, and may depend on drugs and alcohol for survival. Once that dependence is broken, often through drug and alcohol treatment or rehab, individuals are able to move up through the higher levels and become free to self-actualize and thrive.

Self-actualization involves positive growth that gives life shape and meaning. This includes the development of spirituality, which is highly personal and different for each individual.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality is not the same as religion. This is an important distinction because individuals who have had a negative experience with religion may not like to think about the concept of spirituality.

Although religion can be spiritual in nature, religion is organized and typically involves certain customs, beliefs, rituals and traditions. On the other hand, spirituality refers an individual search for a life of meaning and purpose. It involves connection to the other people and to the world. A spiritual connection brings unconditional love and serenity.

Spirituality and Recovery from Addiction

Spirituality has an important role to play in addiction treatment and recovery. Research indicates that individuals who attain self-actualization and spirituality live a more optimistic life, with lower levels of anxiety and greater resistance to stress.

A personal belief system may take time to develop and may not be present during the early days of recovery. However, a sense of meaning and purpose ofthen takes hold and expands as recovery progresses.

People have turned to spirituality as a source of comfort and healing since the dawn of time, so it comes no surprise that spirituality can transformative for people striving to escape the suffering of addiction.

Studies suggest that individuals who attain spirituality during treatment and recovery are more likely to remian abstinent than those who fail to develop a personal spirituality, referred by many as a “spiritual awakening”.

Fully recovering from addiction requires personal growth, honesty and a deep exploration of connection that extends beyond ourselves. Discovering personal spiritually is a complex process that can’t be summed up in a few sentences. However, daily practice is the route to discovery of a rich spiritual life. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Practice gratitude every day. Acknowledge the good things in your life, however large and small. It may help to write them in a notebook or journal.
  • Consider prayer or mindfulness meditation as a tool to get in touch with a power greater than you.
  • Engage in activities that bring you joy and peace. For example, many people find that painting, listening to music or writing poetry are spiritual endeavors.
  • Reach out to other people. Practice listening instead of talking. Step away from noise and drama whenever possible.
  • Spend time in nature. Observe the world around you.
  • Practice forgiving yourself. Shame and guilt can be crippling emotions that get in the way of recovery.
  • Forgive others. Let go of gridges that stand in the way of spirituality and serenity.

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