Breaking the silence - Why abuse has a direct impact on a persons self esteem
I feel it is important to mention that both men and women can be victims of abuse, though typically in relationships, more often than not the woman is the victim with the man being the abuser. To make things easier in writing this article I will refer to the victim/ survivor of abuse as female, with the abuser being male.
Self esteem is defined as the following:
'Self-esteem is the emotion or feeling a person has with regard to his/her self worth which is composed of his/her self-competence and self-respect. It is the limiting factor on a person's performance. Simply said, a person's performance will not exceed his/her self-esteem. This is evident from 'Maslow's hierarchy' of human needs in that self-esteem needs must be fulfilled before the need for self-actualization (performance) can be addressed.'
Taken from: Self-esteem: The Key to High Performance
Abuse is defined as the following:
Abuse is a pattern of behavior in which physical violence and/or emotional coercion is used to gain or maintain power or control in a relationship. A single incident of assault also constitutes abuse. Taken from 2006, University of Toronto.
What is your level of self-esteem? Your level of self-esteem is how you see yourself and what you believe about yourself and your capabilities. If you have poor self-esteem you believe that you are not worthy of love, happiness or respect. You believe that you do not deserve anything good in your life. You believe that you do not deserve to take up space, or that you just don't matter. If you have good or high self-esteem you believe that you deserve to take up space. You believe that you deserve good things and you know you that you are worthy of love, happiness and respect. You know that you matter and you feel it and believe it deep down in your soul.
Survivors of abuse struggle with their level of self esteem which is a direct result of the abuse that they have suffered. There are many forms of abuse with some being much harder to detect such as verbal and emotional abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse is very damaging to the survivor (sometimes more damaging than physical abuse) as the abuser uses this kind of abuse on a regular basis to break the survivor down, convincing her that she is to blame for his abuse and that she is totally worthless. Other forms of abuse (Both childhood abuse/ intimate relationships) include physical, sexual (rape and incest, child pornography/ prostitution) and ritual abuse (Cult abuse). It can take years for a survivor of abuse to get their self esteem back up to a healthy level. Often times the survivor suffers in silence too ashamed to seek support, blaming themselves for the abusers mistreatment towards them, eventually withdrawing from social circles. Survivors of abuse see themselves in very distorted ways believing that they just do not deserve any better. If the survivor has come from a violent and abusive upbringing, it is much more likely that the survivor will find herself in a controlling and abusive relationship (or a series of controlling and abusive relationships) further damaging her self worth and may even solidify the belief that she already has about herself - that she just does not deserve any better.
Abusive personalities can smell a victim of abuse and gravitate towards this person as abusive personalities have a need to dominate, control and abuse. They themselves have probably been a victim of abuse as 'abuse' is a 'learned behavior'. It is very typical for a male to become the abuser and the female to become the victim of abuse. This is not always the case, but it usually is. The way males are raised in abusive families is to 'teach the woman a lesson', 'show her whose boss' and throw his weight around with physical violence with his father setting the example. Females raised in abusive families are taught to be submissive, do what they are told, and often times witness their mother being physically and verbally abused.
It is also common for the abusive personality/ or abuser to do anything to maintain power and control over his victim by any means possible. This means that the abusive personality/ or abuser will lie about you and your relationship. He will deny his behavior, rationalize, guilt- trip, play the victim, vilify the victim, play the servant role, project blame, shame the victim, and minimize the abuse-he will tell others that you are unstable, crazy, a liar and try to make you look like the one that is abusive-basically whatever he has to, to shift the focus from his behavior or from taking any responsibility for his behavior. He will really step this up when he knows that you will no longer tolerate his abuse and that you may start to seek outside support as he is afraid of being exposed and does not want to face the consequences or loose control. Abusive personalities are very good at hiding their abusive ways. They work hard to make sure that 'no one knows' how they truly are to their partner -this often times leaves their victims feeling very alone.
The only way the cycle of abuse stops is when the victim/ survivor and the abuser seek help separately for their own issues - otherwise the cycle will continue to repeat no matter who the survivor or the abuser is involved with. The sad thing is that most abusers don't believe that they are abusive and refuse to seek help (Even with all of the evidence shoved in their face) thus perpetuating the cycle of abuse over and over again. The wonderful thing is that more and more women are taking their power back by seeking outside support, leaving the abusive relationship and rebuilding their lives.
Ways the survivors self esteem is impacted by the abuse:
Unable to trust her own perceptions
Blames herself for the abuse
Believes that she is of no value
Believes that she doesn't deserve any better
Unable to view the relationship in a realistic light
Afraid to be alone
Survivors of abuse may develop negative coping skills to deal with their pain from being abused. Below is a list of some of the negative ways that survivors cope when dealing with trauma.
Negative ways of coping:
Alcohol and/ or drug abuse
Minimizing or pretending that what has happened wasn't that bad
Denying your past or your abuse
Work- a- holism
Being a perfectionist
Destructive lifestyle (Sex industry/ etc)
Seeking or avoiding sex in a compulsive manner
Directing your anger at everyone except your abuser
Creating chaos in your life
Issues with control
Self-injury (S.I.) such as cutting, burning, slashing, taking an overdose or any dangerous or self destructive behavior
Denying your feelings or splitting off from your feelings
Becoming involved in abusive relationships
Placing yourself in dangerous situations or around dangerous people
Not taking care of yourself (Not eating properly, sleeping properly, exercising regularly, etc)
Being super alert or hyper-aware
Safety at any price
How to enhance your self-esteem
Practice self care (The examples below are all about self care)
Spend time with people who like you and care about you
Ignore (and stay away from) people who put you down or treat you badly
If you are in an abusive relationship - seek support/ counseling and get out of the relationship
Allow yourself to have and express feelings
Give support to others and allow yourself to accept support in return
Allow yourself to make mistakesand learn from them (You don't have to be perfectno one is)
Do things that you enjoy or that make you feel good
Become self aware and aware of other people (communication/ reading people)
Do things you are good at
Reward yourself for your successes
Try new things and allow yourself to make mistakes
Give and receive love
Accept your body the way it is-if need be this is the first step in changing it if this is what you want to set as a goal
Develop your talents
Be your own best friend -treat yourself well and do things that are good for you
Make good choices for yourself and don't let others make choices for you
Take responsibility for yourself, your choices and your actions
Always do what you believe is right
Be true to yourself and your values
Respect other people and treat them right
Set goals and work to achieve them
Most of all- be yourself!
If you are involved in a controlling or abusive relationship, or experienced childhood abuse you can seek support at your local shelter, a counseling agency, through your family doctor who can put you in touch with helpful resources, or even through a trusted friend. Breaking the silence is crucial in order to heal.
Domestic Violence http://www.domesticviolence.org/