Universally, abuse undermines the self-esteem of its victims, often destroying self-worth entirely. This applies whether victims are male or female, children or adults when the abuse takes place.
We view ourselves as deficient, defective, often as responsible for the abuse (which we definitely were not), and sometimes as deserving of it (which no one is).
Predators rely on this erosion, actively seeking to engineer it. Damaged self-esteem makes victims more vulnerable, more pliant, increasing a predator’s power over his/her victims.
We may be told that we are “ugly, stupid, worthless turds” and “whores” at the age of 3. Reality has no bearing on the insults and accusations hurled against us. And the closer our relationship is with the abuser (a parent, for instance), the deeper the wound.
Pain and Misperception
The pain can be unbearable, leading many victims to drug and alcohol abuse, cutting, eating disorders, and other self-destructive behaviors. All too often that pain clouds our perception of ourselves. We can see only the negative, our mistakes and shortcomings…even when they are non-existent.
Self-loathing will persist long after the physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect has ended. The self-hatred stemming from abuse can interfere with subsequent relationships, and contribute to suicide years later.
The Woman of Strength
The Bible’s Book of Proverbs has a description of the Virtuous Woman (or Wife, depending on the translation), literally the Woman of Strength. It is a model to which – abused or not, married, divorced, or single – we can all aspire.
The Woman of Strength is not servile, much less defective. She is intelligent, independent, and industrious. She rises at night to care for her family’s needs. She exercises her judgment, buys land, and plants a vineyard. She makes and sells fine linen clothing. She knows the value of the goods she produces and, by inference, her own value. She is prepared for the hardships of winter. She is fair to those she employs. She extends her hand to the poor.
The Bible says the worth of such a woman is “far above rubies”. Her husband and children praise her. They trust and rely on her. But her strength and value derive from God.
Abuse survivors, too, are women of strength. It has, in fact, taken enormous strength on our part simply to survive abuse. But we continue to believe the labels applied to us, carrying painful memories from our past into the present.
God loves and accepts us just as we are. He would love us as much, if the many insults hurled against us were accurate. This can be difficult to believe, given our experiences. It is, however, true. And it supersedes the false assessment to which we were subjected. God’s love wipes the slate clean, and helps us finally begin to heal.
In His eyes, our worth is already above rubies.
“She opens her mouth with wisdom,
And on her tongue is the law of kindness…
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates” (Prov. 31: 26, 30-31).
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