How to improve your self-esteem after Domestic Abuse

Self-esteem refers to confidence in our own worth, character, abilities and value.

Having good self-esteem is important because it influences and motivates us in a positive way, it’s linked with happiness and is important to our sense of wellbeing.

People with good self-esteem are more likely to achieve their goals and reach their potential. Achieving goals and reaching potential will feed into self-esteem and strengthen it. Self-esteem also impacts on our relationship choices, emotional boundaries and health, both physical and emotional.

Because self-esteem is related to how we are treated and valued by others, it’s perhaps no surprise that Domestic Abuse is almost invariably damaging to our self-esteem. Being physically assaulted, emotionally abused, bullied, coercively controlled and degraded in an abusive relationship, often makes us feel bad about ourselves. Domestic abuse commonly encourages the survivor to self-blame, so we may believe the abuse we are suffering is our fault and this thought will further damage self-esteem.

To make a positive recovery from the abuse we have suffered, it’s vital to work hard to re-build the self-esteem that’s been lost, but how do we go about it?

There is a lot of unhelpful information written about building self-esteem. Proponents of positive psychology write about the value of affirmations, but telling yourself – ‘I’m great and will achieve amazing things’ is not likely to help very much unless we take some positive action first. To feel good enough about ourselves to raise our self-esteem.

We need to take action and achieve things. We need to take positive steps towards achieving our goals and then feel proud of our achievements.

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” – Albert Einstein.

How do we know what goals to set? It’s important we establish what we’re good at and what skills we possess that can be built upon.

If our self-esteem is low, we may struggle to identify anything that we’re good at initially, but it’s important to work to our strengths and so identifying our strengths is crucial. It’s also important to establish what our core values are. Your values are the things you consider important and if you live and work in a way that aligns to your values, life is usually good and things turn out well. Perhaps you value healthy eating, so setting up a business making cupcakes might be set to fail, but you may find your niche working at a vegan café.

If you value creativity, being a train driver may leave you frustrated, whereas teaching art at a night school might satisfy you. Identifying strengths and values is so important, because if we’re going to put effort into something, we don’t want to waste that effort by heading in the wrong directing in pursuit of goals when we’re destine to fail. What we need to do is find our life’s purpose, we all have one!

“There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.” –  Viktor E. Frankl


work it out together

If this sounds like hard work, it is! But it should also be fun, satisfying, inspiring, educating, liberating, energising and ultimately make you feel very proud of yourself thereby raising your self-esteem.

It’s important not to be put off by feeling overwhelmed.

When I talk about goals, this really can include relatively small achievements that will make us feel better about ourselves. We may value keeping fit but have neglected to exercise, so committing to 10 minutes of Pilates or a half hour walk each day might feel an achievable goal which should certainly make us feel better about ourselves.

Perhaps we value volunteering and have identified that gardening is a strength, so giving our time at a community allotment once a week may be an achievable goal that will feed into our sense of self-worth. If a bigger goal is identified, then breaking it into smaller ‘bite sized’ chunks will make it appear rather more manageable.

We all have intrinsic worth.

Everyone is innately worthy and every person is as valuable as anyone else. Our worth is not conditional on doing anything other than being us, no action is required. But our intrinsic worth is very different from our self-esteem, and for high self-esteem, just ‘being’ generally isn’t enough for us to feel proud of ourselves.

Once you have achieved goals you’ve set yourself or done things that make you feel proud, satisfied or pleased, this is the time for self-affirmations. Make these affirmations specific to the achievement, for instance ‘I’m an amazing cook’ once you’ve made a lovely meal, or, ‘I’m so proud that I’m helping others at the allotment’. Self-esteem is built with experiences of competence, effort and ability. Saying ‘I’m amazing’ or I’m going to be successful’ without taking action will feel empty, difficult to believe and will ultimately not help.

Another way of enhancing self-esteem, is to learn to accept positive comments and feedback from others.

Learn to accept compliments when they’re offered and do what you can to internalise them. If you initially find this difficult, consider how the person who gave the compliment may feel if you reject it. A simple ‘thank you’ is all that’s required. Accepting compliments may seem alien following an abusive relationship, but it’s so valuable to self-esteem if you learn to accept the positives that others say about you.

Being surrounded by people who support, nurture, encourage and love us is also likely to positively impact on self-esteem.

If still in an abusive relationship, it can be difficult to maintain or develop good self-esteem when being constantly undermined. Having left an abusive relationship, it can be helpful to do a friendship audit and re-establish relationship boundaries. It’s not uncommon to have ‘friends’ and relatives who undermine us and don’t have our best interests at heart. Establishing what we will and will not tolerate from these people is helpful, as is distancing ourselves from those who undermine us.

Please read our blog: ‘ Are the people there for you Drains or Radiators?’ which you may find useful.

Practicing good self-care will also enhance self-esteem.

hair salonWhen we take care of our physical and emotional health, we are demonstrating to ourselves that we matter and that we’re worth the effort. Taking time out, saying no, putting our needs first occasionally, eating well and exercising are all actions we can do to nurture ourselves.

It’s common when domestically abused to be so focused on our perpetrator’s needs that we learn to neglect our own. This needs to change if we want to recover positively.

As with much in life, self-esteem needs to be constantly worked on or it may slip, but the effort should be enjoyable and fun. However difficult it may seem, getting out there, challenging yourself, doing something different and making progress will generally make you feel better – and proud of yourself too.

“Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.” ― Iyanla Vanzant

If you have found this blog useful, and would like to support BWP in our work supporting victims of Domestic Abuse, you can donate to us today through our Just Giving page.  You can also comment or share this blog on social pages – tagging us in. www.twitter.com/broxtowewomen or Facebook. 

You may also want to read these further blogs from Sandra.

Contact us

If you have been abused by a narcissist, or you feel awful in your relationship but not certain it’s abusive, it might be that you could do with help to understand what has happened to you.

Narcissistic abuse is more difficult to untangle than a black eye, and the damage it causes can be long-lasting. At Broxtowe Women’s Project, our Outreach Team are highly experienced in supporting women who have suffered at the hands of a narcissist. If any of this sounds familiar to you and you think you would benefit from help, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01773 719111.

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