Healthy self-esteem is essential for good psychological survival. It enables us to feel more fulfilled and secure in our choices, career paths and relationships. When this is lacking however and also goes unchecked, it may lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, sometimes with tragic results.
Perhaps the most well known effect of abuse is low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem means that we have a persistent feeling of worthlessness. It also means that we have a habit of judging & rejecting ourselves constantly which causes us a huge amount of emotional pain. This emotional pain, is something that people with normal levels of self-esteem can’t possibly understand.
For those of us who grew up in abusive homes, this was a daily part of our lives and we considered it to be the norm. We intrinsically felt bad when we weren’t able to do something right, such as get good grades at school or be good at sports.We hated taking part in anything competitive, we always avoided the limelight and hated participating in class conversations, for fear of making a fool of ourselves.We avoided any situation or person who made us feel rejected, hurt and vulnerable.The core of this lack of self-worth was due to our parents telling us on a constant basis that we were not good enough, not smart enough, not lovable enough etc..The more constant and long lasting this was throughout our childhood, the more destructive the damage.This then stays with us for life, unless we have years and years of therapy.Even though most of us are intelligent and full of potential, our nasty inner critic tells us we aren’t good enough.This self-hate, sabotages any chance we may have of making something a success, before we even try it. We actually avoid trying things, to avoid the possibility of failing. To others, this may seem ridiculous. To those of us who have suffered abuse, this isn’t ridiculous at all. We have already suffered a huge amount of emotional pain in childhood which then continued into adulthood. Some things we can heal in therapy but others might be a bit more challenging, as they are so deeply ingrained in us.
For those of us with low self-esteem, we might notice that as we begin a new project or work on some goal, things begin smoothly and we are filled with optimism. After a little while, however, things start getting harder, we get worried and we start to beat ourselves up.This process repeats itself as we move forward with our goal so that it seems like we’ll never reach it.Too many of us give up at some point because we’re overwhelmed by the feelings of worthlessness.The minute we make a mistake, we fall apart emotionally. In a sense, it gets even harder as we move closer to the goal because during times when things are moving ahead smoothly, we get our hopes up.
This sort of dynamic is what happens after abuse. Although most people are able to deal with obstacles, an abuse history can lead others to feeling overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness. Most people understand that an obstacle to a goal is part of the process, no matter what creates it, whereas for abuse survivors, an obstacle may be seen as a challenge to our self-esteem, proof that we mess everything up, that we’re not capable as others are. These dark feelings can overwhelm us so much that we give up.
Another effect of abuse, that is linked to low self-worth, is when we have an emotional flashback. In adulthood, a tone of voice, a firm look or a certain opinion about something we have or haven’t done, may trigger us into an emotional flashback of when our abusers told us we couldn’t do something and made us feel worthless. Some ‘red flags’ of an emotional flashback, are when we overreact to a present situation because it brings up feelings from the past. These feelings completely hijack us and it is very hard to control them or realise they are actually from the past.We are usually also overcome by feelings of helplessness & hopelessness and a lot of the time they can be linked to feeling worthless.An emotional flashback can be hugely emotionally painful and once again, others have no idea why we are so upset.
So how do you manage chronic low self-esteem?
Since chronic self-esteem is caused by the vicious inner critic that our abusive parents created in us, we have to learn ways to silence this critic. This critic tells us all the horrible things that our parents made us feel when we were younger.
We have to learn to become aware of it and every time we think a destructive thought, we have to stop it. We have to challenge the negative thoughts that pop up dailyand say ”Stop it” or ”That’s a lie” or ”Your father was wrong, you aren’t worthless”.We also have to give ourselves small challenges that we can work towards. The more we are able to achieve, the better we will slowly feel about our ourselves. The more evidence we start to see of ourselves actually being more adventurous or more successful, the better we will slowly feel about ourselves. This takes a lot of persistence, effort and help from a coach or therapist.
If you are interested about how to cope with emotional flashbacks then please check out my post here: https://couragecoaching.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/child-abuse-complex-ptsd-managing-emotional-flashbacks/
Thanks for reading
Much love Athina ♥
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