How Trauma Impacts Self-Esteem: How You Can Heal and Feel Worthy of Self Love and Acceptance

In recent news we have been bombarded by celebrities who are in pain and struggling. Whether they have chronic depression which leads them to take their lives or they relapse in their addiction. The thing they all have in common is intense pain that feels unending.  

This pain is what all of my trauma survivors, no matter their age have experienced. Feeling lonely, struggling with anxiety and self-esteem, not feeling good enough or questioning their worth is gut wrenching. Often people will dismiss others pain as a result of trauma if they have money! As if money is all that is needed to make all problems go away. This also affects someones worthiness. Whether they are a celebrity (just read peoples comments on the internet in response to the above tragedies) or people I come in contact with every day who grew up financially with a lot, they will often share that people dismiss their pain because “hey your rich what do you have to be sad about, you can have whatever you want?” You see in this culture we like to compare people. “Eat all that food, don’t let it go to waste, because people are starving in Africa” (for some reason it’s always Africa where people are starving even though we know that in America (stat about kids wo go to bed hungry). Or statements such as “what do you have to be sad about at least you have a roof over your head?” Again not only are you comparing apples to oranges but you’re negating someones experience because it makes you feel uncomfortable. 

Let that sink in for a moment!

No one likes to feel uncomfortable! In fact we often try to escape uncomfortable feelings by any means necessary but this avoidance can lead to problematic behaviors. I often recommend to my clients to lean into their discomfort because it’s here where you will learn a lot about yourself. Most of the discomfort is fear based and the reality is often a lot less uncomfortable than what we thought in our fear based anxiety filled minds. 

This is why I want to focus on how trauma impacts self-esteem. Trauma includes so much more than what you think. Trauma is more than an event or events that were bad, but they include your feelings during and after the events. They include others responses to the knowledge that you experienced these events. Insert brief chart about traumatic events and different responses. 

Self-Esteem is not fixed, but constantly moves along a continuum. 

Self-esteem is what we think and feel about ourselves. It develops over the course of ones lifetime, beginning when we are babies and our parents attune to our needs. When we cry they are there to try to make things better, by feeding, rocking, changing  or any of the other multitude of things parents do to show that they are paying attention and care about us. They often tell us how amazing, smart, and beautiful we are (these are the common things parents say to their babies). If we continue living in this safe and nurturing environment I have described, we begin to internalize these beliefs and the brain (without our conscious direction) begins to seek out information and situations which reinforce these beliefs. Almost everyones self-esteem takes a dip during middle school and high school when peer pressure becomes fierce and it’s all about fitting in. If you have that good baseline foundation and support you can recover. As you move into adulthood the way you feel about yourself continues to shift but the base is still there. 

But what about for those who didn’t have that ideal early environment? How is their self-esteem different? 

As a baby you depend completely on the adults around you for survival. When you cry you expect them to meet your need, to alleviate your stress because you cannot do it on your own. So what happens when you cry and there is no one there to alleviate your stress? Or When they come with the bottle it’s with anger and frustration, as evidenced by them yelling at you or maybe even moving you roughly? What happens if the words they say are “your so annoying” or “I hate you”? What if they say nothing at all and don’t even look at you, but they just lay you down somewhere propped up with a pillow to hold the bottle while they go off? Day in and day out this is your experience and this is if your lucky to be fed. What if you don’t eat for a day or two at a time? What is the message you receive about your worth and value? Do you continue to cry out? The brain is powerful and learns very early what works and what doesn’t, especially during those first 5 years when the connections grow faster than at any other time in your life. 

Maybe your basic needs are taking care of, so your mom or dad cuddles you and feeds you when you cry but they fight with each other. Screaming hitting, and slamming doors makes for a loud and scary environment for a baby. When you get older you learn to hide when this happens and you sit alone, in your terror, while your parents fight. 

How about your parents are attuned to your needs but you have that aunt or grandfather who you visit who touches you inappropriately while everyone is asleep? Who during the day tells you how special you are and gives you love and attention but at night uses sex to hurt you? 

Finally what about the parent who withholds love and attention when you don’t make the cheerleading team or of your grades are bad? Who places your worth and value on your accomplishments so your constantly striving for more? 

These negative experiences are what lead to difficulties with self-esteem. Questioning your worth or your value because everything is viewed through a negative lens. As a child you internalize these negative messages about yourself and the brain focuses on the information that reinforces your  negative view of self. As an adult you take these belief everywhere with you and it impacts all your behavior. From the jobs you apply for to the relationships you engage in, its all about self-esteem. You surround yourself with people that reinforce those negative views without even realizing it.

But this is not all doom and gloom. You can actually change this. It can be hard but it’s also possible. It just requires you actively changing your perspective. You kind of have to be on the watch for yourself at all times but it will eventually become automatic. By using these 4 steps you can change your perspective and build up a positive self-esteem.

self esteem and trauma

The 4 Steps to Building Your Self-Esteem

Step 1: Notice those negative beliefs about yourself and how they negatively impact your life. From jobs to relationship list the things that you have not done because you were afraid, but underneath was the fear that you weren’t good enough. 

Step 2: ask yourself where these thoughts came from. Whats the evidence for and against them? What’s the story you tell about your past, your present and your future?

Step 3: look at what it is that you want out of life. What do you want from yourself? Who are you?

Step 4: retrain the brain. Notice the negative thoughts when they come up and journal about them. Acknowledge that they were there in the past to help you but now they hold you back. And act any way. (Click here to download your free guide to help you retrain your brain)

As a child you felt like you didn’t belong. You were scared and alone. These feelings were painful and you found ways to escape the pain but that wasn’t enough. You may have also used other addictions to try to cope with the pain.The result, poor choices, which lead to self blame and shame. It became a cycle. Healing likewise is a cycle, a process thats not linear. As you heal you may fall back into old patterns, they are hard to change, but this is not a failure. You pick yourself up and you try again. The goal is to catch yourself before you slide all the way back and to continue to self reflect. 

If your childhood was not ideal and you feel like it’s impacting how you feel about yourself, then consider seeking professional help to help you heal.  You do not have to struggle alone and therapy does work. So act today and schedule your Free 15 minute phone consultation so you can start your path to healing. 

These are just a few strategies, steps, and recommendations! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

Thank you for taking the time to read. Remember sharing is caring, so share if you found this helpful!

Until we connect again,

Jessica

Jessica Lang

Jessica Lang

Hi I'm Jessica and I am a licensed therapist specializing in treating sexual abuse and other traumas. Whether you are pregnant survivor, a parent of a survivor or an adult survivor of sexual abuse or complex trauma I am here to support you on your healing so you can love yourself, find your empowered voice, and have the relationships you desire.

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