An online help column recently had the following anonymous post:
“…I really have nothing to offer. I can’t see why anyone would want to marry me… I’ve been treated like a loser throughout my life (starting with my mother, who abused me.) Now I can’t shake this ‘loser’ mentality. I feel inferior to every single person I meet; and, of course, that leads to people treating me like rubbish…” She goes on to say that that a ‘sense of worthlessness’ is ‘slowly destroying’ her.
Now, I know nothing about this woman’s age or circumstances. She is correct, though, in pointing out that the attitudes we have towards ourselves, and towards the world in general, grows out of the way we are treated growing up, or within a significant relationship. A child may be told that he/she is not good enough. A wife or husband, partner or employee may be continuously compared negatively to others. Abuse need not, as we all know, be physical.
The state of mind she is describing, however, is what is referred to commonly as ‘low self-esteem,’ which, in her case, seems to have reached devastating proportions. I also know that for as many people with a history of abuse, or those living in an abusive relationship, there are just as many that have escaped, that have walked away, and are trying to rebuild. And after escaping an abusive partner, starting a new life can feel empowering. You’re on your own. You are in control. You’re safe.
These positive feelings may not appear right away. I want you to know that this is normal. You may feel unsure, anxious or have a profound sense of loss, either for what you’ve left behind or something within yourself that may feel as if it is missing. You may start questioning your decisions: “am I strong enough to do this? Do I deserve good things to happen to me?”
Regaining your self-esteem after abuse takes time. It’s important that you work on it daily, just as you would work on strengthening your body after an injury. So how do you do that?
1. Be patient with yourself. Think about how you would treat a friend in the same situation. Would you tell him or her to “just get over it, suck it up”? Let yourself have as much time as you need to sort through the emotions, feel what you need to feel.
2. Find an exercise routine you enjoy. Be it a daily walk, some yoga, a Pilates class; research shows that regular exercise lowers rates of depression and anxiety, as it helps to release endorphins, your ‘feel-good chemicals’, in the brain.
3. Give back. Help someone else. This can make you feel like you have a sense of purpose in the world. Making someone else smile can be infectious. Find a local charity, cook for an ill friend. You never know how your unique skills may be invaluable to others.
4. Spend time with people who build you up. Get out and connect. Find an impartial person to talk to, like a coach. Say “hi” to someone new every week, just to help you build your confidence again. Avoid secluding yourself in the house for too long at any time.
Why would you allow your sense of self to decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth?