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?

~ by omgrey on March 23, 2011.

19 Responses to “Rebuilding Your Sense of Self”

  1. Hey im well seasoned! Been doing podcasts since 2008!

  2. Wisdom comes with all that “rebuilding” of our hearts and lives.

    So here is wish you a wise and wonderful new love:)


  3. Thank you, Rebecca. You are absolutely right. Wisdom, if we allow it, is the product of heartbreak and healing. xo

  4. …this is the most help I have received so far. I find Ms. Engel’s books to be very helpful and practical.

    No kidding, I have had over 20 years of counseling and going to support groups. I wish someone could have told me what she is saying in this book.

    I’ll be 50 years old August 2009 and I feel sad that I have lived my life with low self-esteem. I have read elsewhere that this is her best book so far (well next to the Nice Girl Syndrome).

    I am in the process of studying her book. She offers very helpful techniques.

  5. […] for now, I must heal and forgive myself. I hope my readers can forgive me, too — for going against my own advice. For this blog and […]

  6. I can’t tell you how timely this post was for me. I was in an abusive relationship (in all ways that someone can be abused) which finally led to me fleeing and seeking a divorce. When it was apparent he would have no more control of me in this life, he chose to take his own life as his last statement of control.
    It has taken me some time to shake off the impossible amount of shame I felt in all of this, but it has happened. Little by little, piece by piece…I am reclaiming me.
    Thank you for writing this and I am off to share this…

    • Oh my goodness! I’m so very sorry you had to go through that. You are an amazingly strong woman, not only for surviving but also for recognizing that it was not (never was) your shame. Thank you for sharing your story and sharing my blog with others.


  7. Hi I really enjoyed this post. I am a male in his older 20’s who was left with no closure in a 4 yr relationship. I was a loving, trustworthy, and loyal partner and I saw no warning of my girlfriends unhappiness. I was verbally and emotionally abused by my controlling girlfriend but I dealt with it because I thought her depression and immaturity would be solved ober time. Even with her abuse I have been so sad and depressed that she left me. I realize that all I can do is to try to find my self esteem again and become a healthy independent person. I believe that she feels she doesnt know what she wants in life but I wish she would have communicated things to me so that I wasnt left in the dark.

    • You’re likely trapped in a betrayal bond with her. It’s one of the reasons it hurts so much.

      I hear far too often that things turned on a dime, and it saddens me to no end. The person left in the dark has been done an injustice. They got no warning. They didn’t get the respect of a choice or being part of the decision making process. And it hurts. No doubt.

      It doesn’t make sense, does it? When we are so loving and supportive and trustworthy…and they leave us anyway. We think there is nothing else we could’ve done to be better, to be enough. The truth is, and this is very hard to accept because it’s so out of our control, that it’s not that we’re not enough. It’s that they are not enough. They are broken. And they break others around them, usually not intentionally, but they do so out of their unconsciousness and pain.

      You will get through this. Unlike me, just try not to make the same mistake next time. Learn the signs of abuse early and get out as soon as you see them.

  8. […] year, almost to the day, I published a post called “Rebuilding Your Sense of Self.” It talks about the necessity of picking yourself up and forging ahead after the loss of a […]

  9. magnificent points altogether, you just
    received a new reader. What would you recommend about your
    put up that you just made a few days in the past? Any positive?

  10. I really needed this right now. I am so thankful to have found this post. I have been in an emotionally abusive marriage for the last 20 years and have just started therapy to address this in the last month. Realizing how broken I am and in all the many ways makes me so incredibly sad. It was important for me to hear the phrase “grow and then I will water you” as I find I am often falling into the thinking of wanting to be fixed right now. Not knowing where to even begin has been very hard. I plan to get Hillman’s book as soon as possible. I want so much to heal from this and return to the strong, independent and confident person I once was.

    • I’m so pleased you found my words helpful, although I’m sorry to read about your abusive marriage. The first step is recognizing the abuse for what it is and starting to take care of yourself, and it sounds like you’ve already done that.

      You are not alone. I am here if you need to talk to someone.

      May you find peace.

  11. Reblogged this on reflections2change and commented:
    This spoke to me so deeply. Perhaps shame is something I need to look at…

  12. I loved reading this. I am struggling with letting go of my abuser. My mind has realized I deserve better but my heart won’t allow me to stop communication. I just had our baby two months ago and I try to justify the contact with him even though he has told me he doesn’t want to parent with me. Our son looks exactly like him and it makes it sooo hard. I know I’m instigating the abuse because he pretty much won’t talk to me unless I message him. I do it because I want to remember what we had in the beginning he is always nice when he first responds. Then it gets bad real quick, every single time. My self esteem has vanished and it’s hard for me to accept the horrible things I’ve been through. I just want to have that moment when I am strong enough to stop allowing myself to be hurt. I’d thought I’d reach out for advice I’ve never done this but I need help. I obsess about my situation all day. I want just want peace.

  13. Thank you for this. I am currently going through a divorce and leaving an emotionally abusive relationship.
    Those around me keep mentioning my value, although I ‘know’ it I just can’t ‘believe’ it, I’m really hoping that I’ll just wake one day and get out of this.

    I have realised that whenever he comes and sees the kids, he still makes comments that puts me back in that same place, so I think I need to maybe get some proper time away from him if I am to heal properly

    • I’m so sorry you’re going through this. The best way to break the betrayal bond and to begin hearing is to go into No Contact (NC). Block him from your cell and texts. Block him from social networks. Block him from email. Do not see him alone. If he must see the kids, have at least two friends there with you. He will be better behaved then. Or, better yet, don’t even see him then if you can help it.

      Create firm boundaries. Gather friends for support. Hold your ground. Read about the betrayal bond.

      May you find peace.

  14. I never heard of the term betrayal bond before. But it sure fits to my experience with several people who used to be in my lifr. A group of people treated me very poorly. A guy who had been a friend first , before dating, treated me like he never knew what he wanted, very push pull. Then a female mutual friend of both of us I ended up finding out was secretly undermining my every step. The guy I had been seeing tried to fool me and make me think he cared every time I would try to move on. Anyway, he did it one final time worse than ever, and ended up emotionally abusing me sooooo bad. He called me every name in the book and it devestated me. They all gaslighted and betrayed me till I thought I would lose my mind. Well it didnt destroy me and Im pretty darn happy now and im happily married. I have a ton of sympathy for anyone who has been toyed and played with. It took me a long time to stop being really pissed about it, to the point of actively hating those people, and hurting myself in the processes. Ill never give a crap about any of them, but Im too happy to focus much energy on it, and Im not consumed or actively hating anymore. You want to stop the hurt to yourself and negate the horrible tape of their words and memories of betrayls.

    • I’m so sorry you experienced those things. The betrayal bond is very real and very, very strong. It’s nice to hear you’ve found some peace with it.

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