Dear Therapist: How do I cope with lack of self-esteem from childhood abuse?
Dear therapist, I have low self-esteem and I know it stems from my mom’s neglect towards me when she did not neglect my other siblings. She has always been critical of me, verbally abusive and has compared me to others. This has impacted my social skills and I am unable to engage socially, especially when interacting with women. I am unable to even say hi to women as I ruminate about how my own mother has never liked me, then why would other women like me? I have become accustomed to aiming only to please women so that they like me and I do the same for my mother, hoping that someday she would be proud of me. How do I deal with this?
Dealing with emotional abuse and neglect can be extremely difficult and impacts a person’s mental and physical health. Parental neglect and abuse, such as what you went through, can cast a shadow over a person’s life and all their interactions and relationships.
A person who has been raised to believe that they are less important than others and undeserving of love and acceptance, often deals with unhelpful thoughts when placed in social situations or attempting to romantically engage with others.
Childhood trauma can also create an inconsistent sense of self, since you haven’t learned how to interpret your thoughts and feelings due to having been deprived of proper parental nurturing. You may see yourself as weird, feeling like you are not good enough and worry about how you are perceived by others, especially those whom you are romantically interested in.
The good news is, things CAN get better. While parental abuse can feel like a curse that one cannot escape from, if you address it appropriately, you CAN heal.
Here are some of the strategies that could help:
Learn more about yourself
Allow yourself time every day to focus on what you want, your thoughts and feelings, and acknowledge that your thoughts are sometimes a reflection of your traumatic experiences. When faced with a stressful or upsetting situation, feel the feeling and accept it instead of blaming yourself. Monitor your thoughts and note them, and use this knowledge in the process of recovery from trauma.
Get the help of a professional
Just like you may not go into a dark jungle without a guide, venturing into past trauma alone can be stressful. Finding the right therapist to work with can help you in discovering how trauma has impacted you and gain skills in building healthy social connections.
Rewire your brain to spend more time in the present moment
Childhood trauma can change your brain and force it to spend much of your time in anxiety, which is not healthy. Practising mindfulness at least once a day for one minute, can rewire your brain to take a break from ruminating about the past and worrying about the future and instead become present in the NOW.
She is not your abuser
If you feel anxious or insecure when approaching a potential romantic or business interest, remind yourself that they are not your abuser, this person doesn’t have those demeaning thoughts about you and you get to have a fresh start with them. Defuse your negative thoughts by taking a deep breath and be authentic, kind and show your best self.
Remember that you are here and you have the power to heal
When thinking about the verbal abuse and neglect you have been through, remind yourself that you are here now and that you are safe, and no longer forced to endure that situation. Remind yourself that you have a choice, and you don’t have to listen to the negative things you have heard about yourself. Remind yourself that childhood trauma was not your fault, and you deserve healing.