the problem with thinking of our self-esteem as a spectrum is, in my opinion, two-fold.
- it perpetuates the stigma that surrounds women & men who ‘stay’ in abusive relationships
- it detracts from the battle that is reclaiming, or regaining, self-worth
the cycle of abuse works because your self-esteem no longer exists. it isn’t just low or damaged or weak, it is not present. you cannot have self-esteem if you have lost the ability to see that you don’t deserve to be abused. whether it’s emotional, physical, psychological - if you stop questioning why this is happening to you, then you do not value yourself as a person who is deserving of happiness or love or goodness. and THAT is why people who have never been subject to abuse so often fail to understand why it isn’t as easy as dusting off your sassy gal crown, flicking your hair, and saying ‘i’m so much better than this’. because, by this point, you just don’t believe that you are.
the effort required to, essentially, regrow self-esteem is terrifying. self-esteem is primarily established in childhood - so to find yourself as an adult with none whatsoever, facing the challenge of developing it from scratch all over again - except this time not naive to the cruelty of the world & the people in it, this time fully aware of societal expectations & pressures, this time with social media as your existential backdrop - is nothing short of horrifying.
yes, we all have good/bad self-worth days. yes, it can dip & soar depending on so many external factors. yes, sometimes our hair sits right for once and we feel invincible - and the next day our fringe will be untameable and we’ll feel at square one again. but in order to understand better the struggle faced by those whose self-esteem has been demolished, we need to better understand the extent of the task which shadows over them.
but d’you know what’s nice? we also misunderstand, i think, the process of rebuilding self-esteem. i think that we so often expect there to be a shining moment of healing, of revelation, of everything finally falling into place and us - in that moment - being able to love every inch of ourselves again. and maybe, for some of you, that’s how it happened. but there’s comfort in knowing that, sometimes, it’s a tiny step in a seemingly inconsequential moment. it’s just taking a compliment when you’re given one, or thinking ‘i’m pretty good at making pancakes’, or seeing a picture of yourself that you think represents the you that you feel like deep down in your soul. not the you that you think you see in pictures of yourself that you hate, or the you that someone once made feel worth less than nothing, or the you that thought you’d never be loved again. it’s the you that you know you will be once more. and it starts with the tiniest peace offering of allowing yourself kindness. of allowing yourself to feel loved or special or proud of yourself for the most trivial thing.
self-esteem is a terrifying goal, deciding that you’re worthy of all the good things in life is a herculean task, but the steps to it are not. they are small, and in the everyday, and very often offered freely by those around us who will never realise the magnitude of their kindness. take the compliment, own your strengths, and never underestimate the power of a photo that makes you feel like the person you know you’ll be again some day.