Tag Archives: damaged self-esteem

Not Just Victims

Baking utensils, Author Pfctdayelise (CC BY-SA 2.5, 2.0, and 1.0 Generic)

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes
On you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing
That you’re doing.

Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head high.”

–        “Hold Your Head Up”, C. White, R. Argent © Marquise Songs

A rock song from the ’70s by Argent has special relevance for abuse survivors.  Called “Hold Your Head Up” it is a reminder that we are more than just victims.

But abuse victims, by whatever name, are not known for valuing themselves highly.  To the contrary, we can barely raise our heads, let alone form a realistic view of ourselves.

The abuse to which we were subjected created a web of lies – that we were worthless, that we were undeserving of love or care.  Trapped in that web, we were denied hope, as the scars (our response to the pain) hardened around us.

Not everything we do, however, will stem from or relate to abuse.  If we focus on that aspect of our experience to the exclusion of all others, we will only enlarge the tragedy, allowing it to engulf our lives [1].

We have relationships, vocations, and beliefs:

  • We are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. We are friends, lovers, and spouses. We are students, teachers, and mentors.
  • We are social workers, lab technicians, and police officers.  We are doctors, lawyers, dentists, and accountants.
  • We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

We have habits, preferences, interests, skills, and abilities.  Some of us are neat-freaks; others do not pick up their socks.  Some are dog lovers; others are “cat people”.  Some of us are musical; others cannot carry a tune. A few probably play the banjo. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse

Negative

Photographic negative of London’s “Big Ben” (picture taken from a bus), Author Diane from Chicago suburb, Source flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic)

Photos used to come with negatives when I was a girl.  These were reverse images on strips of plastic film, with light areas appearing dark, dark areas appearing light, and colors reversed.

We would sort through our photos for the best, then resubmit the corresponding negatives for processing, so that copies and enlargements could be made from them.

Instead of storing images as patterns of darkness and light, today’s digital cameras store images as long strings of numbers.  Film isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary.  But negatives have something to teach us.

Hard on Ourselves

As abuse victims, we find it easy to be hard on ourselves.  It’s second nature to us – as if we were specially trained to see only the negative aspects of our lives.  And, of course, we were.

We question our every action, criticize our every decision – past, present, and future:

  • Why couldn’t we have avoided the situations in which abuse occurred or have prevented it outright? As if children had such options…or such power.
  • Why did it take us so long to figure things out? As if abuse weren’t incomprehensible to children, and understanding proceeded according to a set timetable.
  • Why do we keep making the same mistakes? As if abuse had not impacted us at a formative stage in our lives.
  • How will we ever leave our abusers, support ourselves, succeed at work or school? As if we were “damaged goods” for having survived an unbearable ordeal.

This ongoing critique should not be confused with a genuine effort to improve our character or atone for some sin [1].  It originated as an attack by our abusers on who we are, an attack on our very being.

Judgment Passed

Judgment has already been passed against us by our abusers.  We are simply carrying out their sentence – lifelong punishment for the failure to meet insane expectations, for the unpardonable “sin” of intruding on their lives.

But judgment was passed without any real evidence. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Precious

“A Grandmother’s Love” (Courtesy of Women’s UN Reporting Network and USA National Resource Center on Domestic Violence)

A good-for-nothing man is an evil-doer; he goes on his way causing trouble with false words…” (Prov. 6: 12).

Baby girl, you are so precious.  You are so precious, you don’t even know.  Your Momma and I loved you from the moment she brought you into this world.  Even before that.  Your Daddy left early on, but we loved you just the same.

We rocked you, walked the floors with you when you were teething, saw you take your first step.  We cooked for you, we mended your clothes.  We saw you on the bus that first day of school.  You were so pretty, your hair all done up in ribbons.  Maybe you can’t remember, but I do.

You and I, we lost your Momma to hard work, then no work, then those devil drugs.  You must have asked me a million times where she was, on those nights she didn’t come home to us.  But she loved you.  She tried her best.  It just wasn’t enough in this cruel world.

Your Momma tried to help you with your lessons, in the beginning, taught you one and one makes two.  Do you remember that?  It was just that the lessons she had to learn were harder – lessons about hard men, and the hard road a woman faces alone.

Now you want to run after this man!  This good-for-nothing man?!  You think he’s going to give you something you don’t already have?  He doesn’t want to give.  All he wants to do is take from you.  Take your hips, take your fresh young face, take your smile.  But you believe his promises, promises as empty as noise.

Is it because your Daddy wasn’t there to tell you how special you are?  Is it because you didn’t see yourself in his eyes?  We tried, your Momma and I, tried to tell you that, tried to show you every which way we could.  Try and remember, baby girl. Continue reading

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Filed under Christianity, Poverty, Prostitution, Religion, Violence Against Women

The Twins, Part 2 – Perfectionism

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1441-1514) (PD)

Siamese Twins, Nuremberg Chronicles (1440-1514) (PD-Old)

This post was written in collaboration with Marie Williams whose remarks are highlighted.  Marie blogs at Come Fly with Me, https://mariewilliams53.wordpress.com.

We return to the topic of procrastination and perfectionism, related patterns of behavior in which many abuse victims find themselves trapped.

The part we play in creating our own dilemmas – the large and small crises in our lives stemming from procrastination – was discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Chance for Failure (Imperfection)

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1: 7).

Apart from the problems it would generate for anyone, failure – defined by many abuse victims as imperfection, to any small degree – results in shame and self-revilement for us.  Since creating these dilemmas greatly increases our chance for failure, the question arises why we persist in creating them.

“The whole time I was procrastinating, I thought myself foolish, an idiot, a dunce, a failure, because who in their right mind, sees a fire starting or about to start, purposely hides the fire extinguisher, forgets where she has put it and then goes and reads a book, deciding to deal with the fire when it becomes bigger and more unmanageable?  Because that is what procrastination amounts to when you come to think of it in rational terms.  Yet I could not help myself.”

-Marie Williams

The obvious answer is that we do not believe ourselves capable of accomplishing the task at hand.  Putting it off defers the painful acknowledgment of our own inadequacy.  And it provides us an excuse for failure.  Had conditions been right, had we started on the task sooner, perhaps we might have succeeded after all.

Again, the question is why.  Why are we so certain of failure?  This goes directly to our childhood abuse. On an unconscious level, we create these dilemmas to replicate the abuse which is what gives them such power over us. 

We were told repeatedly how inadequate we were.  Told how ugly, stupid, skinny, fat, or retarded we were.  Told that we would never amount to anything.  Or we were ignored entirely, starved for food and affection both.

No shock that we doubt and second guess ourselves, wrestling over decisions.

“I floundered when faced with choices.  Wanting to please and be approved of ALL THE TIME, I became lost in my own lack of confidence.  This, I think, was due to the fact that I couldn’t manage the abuse.  I adopted the same response to situations which generated that same confusion in me.”

-Marie Williams

Failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Our abusers are “proven” right.  So it seems to us.  Our failure couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the damage they inflicted on us.  Nooo. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Rape, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, Violence Against Women

Not Just Victims

Birdwatching in Panama, Author Alex Poimos (CC BY-2.0)

Birdwatching in Panama, Author Alex Proimos (CC BY-2.0)

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes
On you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing
That you’re doing.

Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head high.”

–        “Hold Your Head Up”, C. White, R. Argent © Marquise Songs

A rock song from the ’70s by Argent has special relevance for abuse survivors.  Called “Hold Your Head Up” it is a reminder that we are more than just victims.

But abuse victims, by whatever name, are not known for valuing themselves highly.  To the contrary, we can barely raise our heads, let alone form a realistic view of ourselves.

The abuse to which we were subjected created a web of lies – that we were worthless, that we were undeserving of love or care.  Trapped in that web, we were denied hope, as the scars (our response to the pain) hardened around us.

Not everything we do, however, will stem from or relate to abuse.  If we focus on that aspect of our experience to the exclusion of all others, we will only enlarge the tragedy, allowing it to engulf our lives [1].

We have relationships, vocations, and beliefs:

  • We are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. We are friends, lovers, and spouses. We are students, teachers, and mentors.
  • We are social workers, lab technicians, and police officers.  We are doctors, lawyers, dentists, and accountants.
  • We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

We have habits, preferences, interests, skills, and abilities.  Some of us are neat-freaks; others do not pick up their socks.  Some are dog lovers; others are “cat people”.  Some of us are musical; others cannot carry a tune. A few probably play the banjo. Continue reading

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Mercy Reprised

“Divine Mercy” painting in the sanctuary of the same name, Vilnius, Lithuania, Author Alma Pater (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported,  2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic)

There are 275 references to mercy, like this one, in the New King James Version of the Bible [1]:

Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments…” (Deut. 7: 9).

If our emotions were not dampened by abuse – suppressed so that we could better endure the pain – we are likely to feel great compassion for other victims.

But abuse victims have difficulty applying mercy to themselves.  We do not, generally, see ourselves as qualifying for pity.

  • We should have known better than to be alone with our abuser…no matter that he was a loved one from whom it was natural to crave attention and positive feedback.
  • We should have realized what would happen…no matter that we were too young to understand.
  • We should have found a way to avoid the abuse inflicted on us…no matter that our abuser was an adult, capable of manipulating us and our circumstances.
  • We should have figured out how to make the abuse stop…no matter that our abuser had all the power, yet showed us no mercy.

This is our thinking.  These were our sins, sins for which we continue to punish ourselves to the present day.  Some of us even blame ourselves for “causing” the abuse. Continue reading

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Mustard Seed

Mustard seeds, Author Dsaikia2015 (CC BY-SA 4.0 International) 

Abuse is among the most depraved and destructive behaviors of which human beings are capable.

Less than Trash

We were taught as children that we were inferior, inadequate, lacking. Victims were cruelly used, abandoned, and discarded. Valued as less than trash.

Those lessons sank in deep. They continue to warp victims’ reality. Now, our inner life is marred by a pervasive sense of worthlessness. Depression is rooted in this. Groundless guilt and shame (rightly belonging to our abusers) are added to the mix.

Whatever we may accomplish in this life, in our darkest moments we see ourselves as devoid of good, and our lives as meaningless. It is not though true that the world would be better off without us.

An Act of Faith

Our supposed worthlessness is the cornerstone in a system of lies which allows us to see only our faults. That fact has enormous significance for abuse victims, for it implies we have a choice in how we see ourselves: either as worthless or as the infinitely precious children of God we really are.

Many of us lost our faith, as a result of abuse. After all, God did not rescue us. We find it incomprehensible that God might cherish us, let alone send His Son, Jesus Christ, to give His life for ours. Yet, astonishingly, that is the case.

So the Lord said, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,” and it would obey you’ ” (Luke 17: 6).

The feeling of worthlessness is a link in the heavy chain of sin which binds us. That link was forged by our abuse. In its place, victims are offered freedom. We are invited to step out in faith by letting go of worthlessness.

To do that, we must trust God to be greater than our abusers. In point of fact, He is.

Trusting God can feel dangerous and foreign, at first. The journey of faith lasts a lifetime. But we only need a mustard seed to take the first step.

This post has been modified

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Good Woman Transforms Outlaw, Part 2 – Influence

If we want healthy relationships:

  • We have to guard against fantasies about a man’s “noble” nature that run counter to objective evidence.
  • We have to avoid mistaking surliness on a man’s part for emotional depth and complexity.

Simple, right?  As if relationships were ever simple…

Influence

This brings us to the crux of the matter, and perhaps the most compelling reason misguided thinking about relationships holds women in thrall.

By changing a man, we are demonstrating our power as women. The “civilizing influence” of the female gender is made manifest. Heady stuff, indeed.

By changing – or at least trying to change – a man, we get to exercise power without stepping outside the female stereotype. This is “Beauty and the Beast” with Beauty in charge.

Women may cling to a belief in their ability to change a man in the face of all reason – in the face of violence, itself. Why should that be? There must be powerful forces at work.

Here is what, I think, is going on:

  • First, abuse tends to be self-replicating. Having observed (and frequently been subjected to) abuse since childhood, the victims of domestic violence are likely to view abuse as the norm. Poor self-esteem makes them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous men.
  • Second, the flawed thinking which stems from abuse miscasts the failure to change a man as a woman’s failure. Women may be reluctant to concede defeat, when doing so would undermine their already fragile self-worth and deprive them of their tenuous – if illusory – sense of control.

Continue reading

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Above Rubies

Cut Ruby Gemstone, Photo by Humanfeather (CC Attribution 3.0 Unported)

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.

Erosion

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-Hatred

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. Continue reading

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Not Just Victims

Stamp collecting: magnifying glass shows image of Deutsche Post 1 Reichsmark (postage stamp issued 5/12/46), Author Heptagon (CC BY-SA 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, 1.0 Generic)

“And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes
On you moving.
And if they shout
Don’t let it change a thing
That you’re doing.

Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head up,
Hold your head high.”

–        “Hold Your Head Up”, C. White, R. Argent © Marquise Songs

A rock song from the ’70s by Argent has special relevance for abuse survivors.  Called “Hold Your Head Up” it is a reminder that we are more than just victims.

But abuse victims, by whatever name, are not known for valuing themselves highly.  To the contrary, we can barely raise our heads, let alone form a realistic view of ourselves.

The abuse to which we were subjected created a web of lies – that we were worthless, that we were undeserving of love or care.  Trapped in that web, we were denied hope, as the scars (our response to the pain) hardened around us.

Not everything we do, however, will stem from or relate to abuse.  If we focus on that aspect of our experience to the exclusion of all others, we will only enlarge the tragedy, allowing it to engulf our lives [1].

We have relationships, vocations, and beliefs:

  • We are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. We are friends, lovers, and spouses. We are students, teachers, and mentors.
  • We are social workers, lab technicians, and police officers. We are doctors, lawyers, dentists, and accountants.
  • We are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

We have habits, preferences, interests, skills, and abilities. Some of us are neat-freaks; others do not pick up their socks. Some are dog lovers; others are “cat people”. Some of us are musical; others cannot carry a tune. A few probably play the banjo. Continue reading

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