Children learn to value themselves from the reactions of others, especially those closest to them. Parents and caregivers shape the way we perceive ourselves as children and this can later affect our level of confidence as adults.
Childhood trauma can make a child feel worthless and despondent. As reported by various studies, individuals with a history of childhood trauma are more likely to report low self-esteem than those with no history of it.
According to Dr. Fox, childhood trauma or ACEs can be “any event or situation or series of events or situations that overwhelm a child’s ability to cope. Whether physical or emotional, real or perceived, these cause a ‘fight or flight’ response, which can affect or shape the way they view and experience life.”
Children surrounded by violence or abuse learn from an early age that they cannot trust people and that the world is an unsafe place. They might often blame themselves rather than recognize the parent as unreliable and dangerous, and they will likely feel powerless to change their circumstances.
Their shame, guilt, beliefs about themselves and others can diminish their sense of competency. They might utilize more avoidant coping mechanisms (such as withdrawal or criticism of oneself), that will later interfere with becoming a confident, self-reliant adult.
A healthy self-esteem can help you recover from the distressing effects of childhood abuse. While we strongly recommend seeking professional help if you struggle with childhood trauma, we also want to offer a few steps that can help rebuild your self-confidence.
Here’s how to fix low self-esteem if you are recovering from childhood trauma:
1-Eliminate negative self-talk for a better self-esteem
One of the main ways of improving our self-esteem is changing the way we talk to or about ourselves. This is an easy task for most people, but one of the most difficult ones for those who have experienced childhood trauma.
Maybe someone once told you that you can’t do anything right, but now those words are coming out of your own mouth. We often don’t realize how much damage we’re creating with negative self-talk. We put ourselves down and diminish our value as human beings.
If certain people in your past were not able to encourage or offer you any kind words, it’s time to do it yourself. So the next time you’re having a conversation with yourself, choose gentler words.
2-Know what you’re dealing with by looking into your past
Take a deeper look into your personal history and find out which events that happened to you as a child have slowly distorted your self-concept. Remembering those moments will be painful, but in order to heal you need to find the wounded areas. However, be careful! It’s important to take self-awareness in small doses so you can gradually digest whatever experiences come up.
Writing about your experiences and emotions can have a great influence on your healing process, as it will help you take some of the pressure out of your system. You can keep a daily journal or write letters (but not send them) to those who hurt you. If you want, you can safely burn those letters — think of it as a ritual where you release the pain of old wounds.
Also, if you feel comfortable sharing your experience with someone you trust, don’t hesitate to do it.
3-Accept how you feel and who you are
Another important step in improving your self-esteem is to fully accept who you are — with past experiences, flaws and everything else.
In this case, you have to allow yourself to sit with your emotions. Don’t deny or try to change how you feel. Let your mind fully process your feelings and express the discomfort your memories create in a healthy way. Cry or yell as much as you need to.
Also, think about how you accept your friends, even those who sometimes annoy or hurt you. If you can make the mental effort to accept your people with their faults, you prepare the ground to do the same for yourself.
4-Don’t blame yourself
Blaming oneself for the abuse one suffered is very common, and there are serious reasons behind this behavior.
Maybe the abuser overtly told you that it was your fault. Other times self-blame occurs when the victim has the courage to tell someone about their situation, and people refuse to believe them. When the abuser is considered “nice” by others around them, it makes it easier for the victim to believe that they’re the ones causing the maltreatment.
The only way to stop blaming yourself is to acknowledge that whatever happened to you was not your fault — you did not “ask for it” and you didn’t deserve it. You are not responsible for other people’s bad behaviour.
5-Learn to take care of yourself
Many victims of child abuse or neglect, will neglect themselves later in life. Start asking yourself if you’re taking care of yourself physically and emotionally.
From having medical check-ups to taking some “me time” and doing something as small as getting a haircut – all these will contribute to your overall well-being. Taking care of yourself will increase your sense of self-worth.
6-Reclaim control of your life
Feelings of helplessness can carry well over into adulthood. If you once were a victim of childhood abuse, it’s very likely to still act like a victim and this will cause you to make choices based on your pain.
To reclaim control of your life now, you need to remind yourself that you are not that child anymore. The present is yours to control so if the people that hurt you in the past are still part of your life, try to slowly remove them.
Replace your inner scared child by knowing that now you’re a fully grown adult that has rights and options. You don’t have to depend on anyone anymore — you can let go of old defenses and make life choices based on what you want to become, not on what you once were.
Don’t forget, you are safe now!
It can be hard to feel safe as an adult when the people who were supposed to take care of us and protect us when we were young, did the opposite.
Whenever you think about what you’ve been through as a child, remember that you are here now and that you are safe. You are now your own guardian and you are no longer forced to endure all those negative situations.
Healing from childhood trauma is a long and challenging process, but taking some of the steps above might help you help yourself on the way.
More helpful articles:
- After Years of Trauma, This Is What Choosing Myself Looks Like Every Day
- I Realized My Relationship With My Mother Was Actually Toxic And Learned to Parent Myself
- The Silent Killer: How Not Talking About Relationship Anxiety Hurt My New Love
- 4 Subtle Signs You Had Toxic Parents and It’s Still Affecting You