Managing self Esteem after Abuse

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Self-esteem can be difficult to regain after abuse or neglect has occurred in childhood. It can be recovered, but it takes professional help in most cases. Then it must be managed by the abused throughout the duration of the lifetime.

The forms of abuse include verbal, mental, physical, and sexual. Any one, or a combination of these types of abuse leaves lasting scars on the overall well-being of the person abused. Many times, it takes years to recover, and some survivors really do not understand the full impact of the abuse. In the case of verbal abuse, a survivor may say, "At least I didn't get hit," and go on believing that the verbal assaults were not as harmful as, perhaps, being hit. Survivors of other types of abuse may make light of the punishments they suffered, not realizing how damaging those punishments were.

What suffers most as a result of abuse is self-esteem. How people view themselves and their place in the world takes a plunge after there has been abuse inflicted in their lives. Even if neglect has been the primary source of trauma, it has served to take away the true spirit of the victim and has seriously damaged their self-esteem, causing them to devalue themselves and see their potential as sub-standard or themselves as unworthy. Many teens who have been or are still being abused or neglected let their perception of themselves affect how they deal with real-world issues, such as school, relationships, and plans for the future.

Lack of self-esteem can last well into maturity and older age. Often, people who had to endure verbal, mental, physical, or sexual abuse as children have failed to achieve any semblance of success in their own estimation and possibly in the eyes of friends and family. Something or someone may nudge them to deal with previous traumas. These older people who are continually looking for answers to why they are depressed or have undue stress or anxiety, or issues with particular situations, may finally begin seeking answers to the questions that elude them.

No matter what age the realization occurs, it is the appropriate time to seek professional help. As stated, self-esteem and related positive characteristics can be recovered even if the abuse took place decades before. Counseling in the teenage years must be handled carefully because teens may resist the idea of being in therapy. When they are willing to trust and open up to a therapist, chances are, the counseling will be helpful. There must be a great deal of trust developed between the therapist and the teenager.

Those in the middle stages of life may be grappling with underachievement in their career or chronic unemployment, or any number of life situations such as relationship issues, divorce, or a general feeling of lack of success. If this is the case, seeing a family doctor to rule out any underlying medical causes for depression or anxiety may lead to a suggestion of psychological help. As the story unfolds, the abused person will come to understand the reasons for their unhappiness and can then begin a new path toward a greater sense of self-esteem and fulfillment. Finding greater sources of self-esteem can result from rediscovering past successes and building upon those rediscoveries to connect with higher levels of self-esteem.

In cases where there have been years and years of unfulfilled potential and non-existent goals due to lack of self-esteem, therapy can be extremely helpful in sorting out the causes and helping the older client change his or her self-view. With a higher level of maturity found in this stage of life, older people can often turn their negativity around quickly. Older age provides retrospect which is often helpful in seeing the overall picture of life as it has been lived to date.

Managing the self-esteem issue provides hope for an entirely different outlook on life, more peace, and more contentment. As former victims get past the idea of having been victimized and take on the role of a self-confident, successful achiever, self-esteem builds on itself, and the person is well able to manage their self-esteem appropriately.

The age of an abuse survivor makes no difference in whether or not management of self-esteem can be accomplished, for it is possible at any age after the contributing actors have been addressed. The main objective is to identify the abuse, find an appropriate approach to dealing with it and recovering from it, and managing a new self-concept and higher degree of self-esteem.

More about this author: Dr. G. A. Anderson

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