Your self esteem is made up of personal beliefs and messages that reflect how you value yourself. Self esteem is either low or high, depending on the types of beliefs and messages. As an abused child you developed a sense of low self worth – these messages came from the adults in your life who abused you. You have also subtly incoporated some of these negative thoughts into your belief system.
Self esteem is an important issue for everyone who was abused as a child. Your attempts to stop the abuse most likely met with little or no success, which resulted in feelings of shame, impotence, helplessness, and incompetence. It is possible to carry these feelings with you into adult life and often they result in an individual’s low self esteem.
Blaming yourself for the abuse is also very common. It is a manifestation of low self esteem. We do this because we were either overtly told by our abuser that it was our fault or we are led to believe that it was our fault by covert messages we receive from others. Psychological abuse also attacks our self esteem and forces it even lower. Name calling, put downs and insults all add to give us the overall impression of low self worth.
Having internalized these messages we often play them back in our heads over and over again. The result is reinforcing these negative feelings, which may result in depression, or destructive behaviours that serve only to further lower our self esteem.
Putting yourself down are messages called negative self talk. They play down your value as a human being and contribute to your feelings of depression, anger, or frustration. The messages come from our past, but they are spoken in our own voice.
I’m fat. I look terrible, I’ve been losing my hair since I was nineteen and I started putting on weight when I turned twenty. I’m never going to find a lover looking like this. I’ve always hated the way I look. My nose is bent, my ears are big and I feel utterly unattractive.
I know all of this came from my Father. He used to make me stand naked in front of a mirror and then tear me apart verbally. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Exercise: Write down some of your own negative self talk messages. Be specific. are they work related? What about your intimate family? Do you run these messages with friends and family? Do you blame yourself for being abused?
So why change low self esteem? Well really low self esteem is self abuse. It continues to victimize us and perpetuates the cycle. Eventually it will also effect loved ones and family members. If you want to heal your wounds you need to come to terms with your inner abuser.