Rebuilding Your Sense of Self
After the fallout of an abusive relationship or a deep loss (or both), you might find yourself feeling shattered, as if the very person you were is now lying in little, broken pieces in the mud. You may feel tossed aside and abandoned by someone who you trusted above all others. Or perhaps you feel stupid for not seeing things more clearly earlier, and you might be beating yourself up for catching on too late. You might be angry with yourself for missing your ex, even if s/he was abusive to you. Although these feelings are all normal, eventually as you move through the stages of grief, you must begin to rebuild yourself and your fractured self-esteem.
If you were in an abusive relationship and/or were abandoned by a trusted friend, deep seated feelings of shame surface. It may be difficult to look in the mirror because you think that the person you see there is responsible for the pain, the loss, and the shame. You may even think that you are responsible for the relationship ending, chastising yourself that if you had only been a little more patient, or understanding, or fill-in-the-blank things would have worked out differently, even if your ex was the one lying, cheating, deceiving, or abusing you.
There are many forms of abuse. Verbal and emotional abuse can be devastating, especially when one does not recognize it as such. Sam Vaknin has a great article entitled “What is abuse?“
So, yes. Shame. I talked about the shame I felt after a loss in the post “Overcoming Shame.” Nine weeks later…I’m here to tell you that you are not responsible.
It is not your shame.
This is especially true if you have been with an abusive person. Abusive behavior is shameful. Verbal and emotional abuse is shameful. Deception is shameful. Toying with someone is shameful. Treating someone with disrespect is shameful.
Honesty and love are never shameful. Giving yourself to another person is never shameful. Trusting someone is never shameful, even if they prove to be unworthy of that trust.
Still, we have a tendency to take on our abuser’s shame, perhaps it is because we have a sense of integrity and responsibility; but ultimately, it is not our shame nor our responsibility. Once you get far enough along in the grieving process, this will become abundantly clear.
In the mean time, you must rebuild your sense of self. True, you did not fracture yourself, but you are the only one who can repair yourself and your self-esteem. I’m sure you hate to hear those words, but it’s because they’re true…and it does take work. I highly recommend the book Recovery of Your Self-Esteem by Carolynn Hillman, especially if you are a woman. There are a plethora of other books on the subject, as well as those directed specifically at recovering from an abusive relationship.
“Success is being happy first with yourself, and secondly with your life.” ~ Carolynn Hillman.
Hillman goes on to say how so many of us think that once we find that special someone (or if s/he would just come back to us) that our self-esteem would improve. She likens this to trying to care for a plant: “First grow, then I’ll water you.”
She talks about the importance of CARESSing oneself. Her CARESS stands for Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, Encouragement, Support, Stroking. Many of us give these things to others in abundance, but we have more trouble giving them to ourselves.
A book well worth reading.
Finally, the day will come when you are ready to “get back out there,” albeit with a little more caution this time. You most certainly don’t want to do this too soon, as that could be further destructive to your sense of self, especially if you have a tendency to make questionable decisions when over-stressed. You don’t necessarily want to get “under someone else” to get over someone. Certainly not too soon.
Yet, when you’re ready you will know. And then, on a day when you least expect it, someone new will walk into your life. S/he will respect you. Want to know you. Want to spend time with you. S/he will share their life and experiences and fears and dreams with you. Because if they don’t behave in this way, you will know far earlier.
And although your heart is somehow not quite as pure or whole as it was before it had been shattered, it is stronger now with the newly formed scars. With this stronger heart, you will be able to love even more deeply than before. This time, with someone deserving of your affections.
What types of things do you find helpful to maintain/rebuild your self-esteem?
Affirmations? Pampering yourself? Treating yourself? Taking breaks? Giving yourself permission to relax?