One common denominator among survivors of all forms of abuse is low self-esteem. Regardless of whether the abuse originated when the victim was a child or if it began during adulthood, the effect is still the same. People with self- esteem issues have a very low opinion of themselves. They feel unworthy of love, respect and friendship. In fact, they feel unworthy in general. Many times they allow themselves to be treated as doormats by everyone they encounter because they feel inferior to every other human alive.
In order to manipulate and control their victims, abusers beat them down emotionally and convince them that their lives do not matter. Using phrases such as, “you’re stupid,” “nobody else could ever love you,” and “you can’t do anything right,” the abuser drives home the fact that the victim is worthless. Over time, these phrases are burned into the victim’s thoughts until they become reality.
Quite often, low self-esteem plays a large part in making the victim feel that leaving is impossible. It causes victims to have no confidence in their own decisions. Most likely the abuser has insisted on making all decisions for them both. The victim may recognize how toxic the relationship is, yet still feel escape is impossible.
The survivor who escapes has a long, hard journey ahead to find the confidence and self-esteem that the abuser stole. Even simple decisions are hard at first because there’s no confidence in the ability to do anything.
What can one do to build up self-esteem and learn to feel confident? Confidence comes with success. If I had to come up with just one thing to tell anyone trying to gain self-confidence and self-esteem it would be: Just do it! Whatever the thing is you are afraid to try, just do it.
Start small. Try making a small goal each day that pushes just past the comfort zone. Do things the abuser wouldn’t permit. Make new friends and go to lunch with them. Take a spa day and get your nails done. Break those barriers the abuser set up. He isn’t in control anymore. It’s scary at first. Anxiety will rule the day when an attempt is made because fear is the body’s typical response. But, it’s time to push past the fear and JUST DO IT! Success is a heady feeling!
Sure, there will be some not-so-great results once in a while, but there will also be some surprising successes. With each success comes greater confidence.
Secondly, take a leap of faith and join society. Trusting other people is hard after having been in an abusive situation, but it has to start somewhere. Join the book club that meets on Sunday afternoons. You will learn that the others really do want to hear your opinion on the book of the day. Search for local events and get to know people around you. Take up a new hobby and join in a group. Volunteer at a local shelter.
Thirdly, pay very close attention to your self-talk. Don’t put yourself down. Just because your abuser called you worthless doesn’t mean you should agree with him. Stop saying things like “Oh, I’m so stupid.” Your brain believes what you tell yourself. Instead, spend some time each day recounting your assets and abilities. Make it a point to find something good about yourself daily.
Assess how far you have come every few months. What things can you do now that you couldn’t do six months ago? What would you like to be able to do six months from now? Be proud of yourself. Celebrate your successes, even the
small ones. It’s a great feeling to learn you are worthy after all!
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