Tag Archives: negative self-image

Rescuing Ourselves

“The Rescue” by John Everett Millais (1855), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia (PD-Art l Old-100)

There was finally a point in my teens when I realized that I would never be rescued from sexual molestation [1].

The shock of that revelation was overwhelming…as if all my trauma had been condensed into a single instant.  It felt, at that moment, as if I had been struck in the chest by a sledge hammer.

Trauma Beliefs

Traumatic childhood events (especially those involving a parent) can give rise to false core beliefs [2].  Often, such trauma beliefs are not articulated.  They may never be identified and consciously brought to mind.

But trauma beliefs can be enormously destructive – not only damaging our self-image, but crippling us.

Here are a few versions of such beliefs:  I am stupid; I am ugly; I am unlovable; I do not deserve to be cared for; I must do everything perfectly, or I will be rejected; I should be punished; I will be abandoned by everyone I ever love.

Self-Hatred

Deep inside, I concluded that I was unworthy of rescue, because I would never be the woman my mother was.  I would never be as kind, gentle, or generous as she was.  Most especially, I would never be as vulnerable or petite.  This translated into self-hatred.

That I developed weight issues in high school seemed “proof” of my deficiency.  Clearly, I had an innate flaw that went through to the bone.  So it appeared to me.  I became a perfectionist to offset this.

Acting Out Trauma Beliefs

Weight problems can be a source of torment and discouragement, especially in our culture.

Those of us with problems involving our weight try diets, weight loss programs, and gyms.  We buy expensive exercise equipment, and gadgets guaranteed to change our dimensions.  Some of us even have surgery, and still the weight comes back.

Weight issues are the symptom, not the disease.  Weight issues are a constant source of shame which is why, with some part of ourselves, we cling to them.  They reinforce our trauma beliefs.  That these false core beliefs were laid down so early in our lives gives them added strength.

Perfectionism is likewise a harsh taskmaster.  Perfectionism (another way of acting out trauma beliefs) insures a sense of inadequacy which is the reason it is so tenacious.  The bar is constantly out of reach.

What these two have in common is that they preserve the feelings we had as children.  Those feelings have simply found a new focus. Continue reading

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

Mirrors

“Girl before a Mirror” by Pablo Picasso (1932), (Fair Use)

In this political season, there is a great deal of emphasis on image. Candidates craft their images with care, choosing just the right setting, just the right music, just the right wording for political ads, campaign photos, and sound bites.

These carefully crafted images are not necessarily a true reflection of the candidate’s character – more like a carnival house of mirrors, with everything distorted.

What about the images abuse victims have of themselves? How accurate are those?

One crucial distinction between the images politicians design for themselves, and those abuse victims carry over from childhood, is that victims do not get to choose their images. In large part, those are crafted by the adults around them.

However, when the mirror is cracked, twisted, and deformed, so is the image reflected in it. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Politics, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women

Bitter Pill

“‘…and the truth shall make you free‘” (John 8: 32).

One particularly tenacious scar of abuse is the vicious criticism victims direct at themselves. In most cases, this criticism continues long after the abuse, itself, has ended. It undercuts our relationships, our endeavors, and our peace of mind.

Because the rationale behind self-criticism is not immediately clear, victims are tempted to take the criticism at face value. This can be a crippling mistake (even a fatal one, if the criticism feeds depression).

When those who preyed on us expressed their criticism of us – our behavior, our hopes and dreams, our very being – verbally, it does not require a great leap of faith to draw the conclusion that our critical inner voice is actually theirs.

What of those among us who were not verbally abused? Abuse by any other name remains abuse. Victims are not unfeeling lumps of clay. They know what is being done to them is wrong, whatever blandishments accompany the violation, whatever labels are applied.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it, “Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked.”

Why then is it so difficult for victims to still that inner critic?

The truth at the very heart of abuse, the reason we continue to excoriate ourselves long after the abuser has gone, is that we would rather destroy ourselves than believe we meant so little to someone who should have loved us.

That is a bitter pill to swallow. But it is the medicine we need to heal from this scar.

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