An overview of self-esteem, revictimization, negative automatic thoughts, the inner critic and compassion for trauma survivors.
Self-esteem is the opinion you have of yourself and impacts how you think, feel and act within your life and towards others. It is not a concept that is set in stone and has the ability to evolve over time. For survivors of trauma who have low self-esteem; there is scope to improve upon oneself image through reflection and learning to accept yourself; accepting and embracing both flaws and positive self traits.
Self-esteem develops through childhood dependent upon nurturing parenting and circumstance. Both of which not only have the ability to evolve over time but be altered even late into adult life.
Positive self-esteem is built within trusting relationships where respect and love is readily and fully available. At times trauma survivors may feel that having good self-esteem equates negative egotistical traits however, that is not the case. As a child is developing they may be chastised for having positive self-esteem as this trait does not suit abusers due to the difficulties they face in trying to manipulate or abuse their power or role. This also occurs within adult relationships and as self-esteem has the ability to change - an individual who also had positive childhood experiences can develop low self-esteem due to the nature of their adult relationships and circumstances which occur.
Low self-esteem occurs and develops due to unhealthy environments and negative interactions with others. This could either be due to present abuse or toxic relationships, but can also occur in the recovery journey when a survivor is unaware of triggers and reactions and faces continual perceived negative experiences as a result.
Being controlled, undermined and criticised reduces self-esteem to a poor level which impacts negatively on how a survivor may feel and react to a presented situation. For a survivor with low self-esteem; the chances of relationship difficulties, perception difficulties and risk-taking behaviours increase and this can further increase the risk of revictimization and further abusive events occurring.
Having negative self-worth can result in survivors also having feelings of guilt, anger, shame and worthlessness which may become unresolved. In such cases, a survivor of trauma can develop destructive and negative beliefs about themselves and enter a cycle of unhelpful behaviours. This is in no way to say that it is due to a trauma survivors negative self-worth and unhelpful behaviours which leads to abuse occurring. Rather than negative self-worth, dissociation and reactionary 4F responses can lead to a trauma survivor feeling that they are deserving of this treatment and prolonging the duration of the relationship.
With an added inability to show one's self compassion, it becomes exceptionally difficult to experience positive emotion which can become a catalyst in the cycle of negative thoughts and behaviours.
Learning to like yourself is absolutely fundamental in improving your well-being and reducing revictimization.
The saying goes; "you cannot love another until you love yourself" and seems rather fitting with regards to self esteem within relationships. However, it is not the only prerequisite for recovery. For instance; one could have strong self-esteem and enter an adult relationship which involves gaslighting. A common abuse tactic which slowly makes even the strongest of wills question their worth. Many factors therefore influence the direction of your recovery journey; self-esteem is one of them.
Negative automatic thoughts
negative automatic thoughts serve to maintain negative feelings and low self-esteem and can be commonly experienced by trauma survivors. The belief that one is unworthy followed by negative automatic thoughts serve to fuel destructive and risk-taking behaviours.
Experiencing shame, guilt and worthlessness can lead to cause huge self-loathing and harshness. Being critical can be a positive trait if employed healthily however, for individuals with low self-esteem, that inner criticism towards the self can be a form of re-abusing oneself.
The inner critic
when self-criticism runs non-stop within a survivors mind, the inner critic takes on a powerful force - impacting every thought, feeling and reaction. It is common for childhood trauma survivors and adult interpersonal trauma survivors to use self-criticism in order to avoid "rejection-inducing mistakes" (Walker, 2014). Catastrophe thinking may ensue obsessively in order to foresee possible future danger or abandonment and the survivor will find their inner critic has manifested into a perfection driving protector.
Walker (2014) shows the inner critic to be the superego "gone bad". where the individual will strive for perfection in order to gain approval. Self-compassion decreases significantly with the growth of the inner critic as the toxic inner voice begins to blame oneself as being the cause of abuse.
An individual who is critic driven can only focus on the negative parts of the self and shows no compassion for oneself when mistakes are made or life intervenes without warning. Over time this lack of compassion manifests a survivor's internal voice and results in negative self-talk and to an extent self-bullying. ("I'm A Loser ugly, stupid... etc)
Walker (2014) states that a negative inner critic is a distinct feature of CPTSD (and developmental trauma).
Reducing the inner critic through having awareness and compassion is key when recovering from trauma.
compassion is the ability to show consideration to yourself and others in a non-judgmental way. It includes sympathy, support, care, empathy and understanding for oneself as well as those around us, providing the self and others with feelings of safety and being valued.
Compassion is a learned skill that can be acquired (or not) through our parents examples, growing up, observing others and being treated by Compassion, it serves individuals well within their adult relationships.
Having self-compassion allows us to self soothe our minds during criticism, distress and natural self condemnation. Showing ourselves compassion can help keep us safe from our own inner critic as well as how we react in the face of criticism. Compassion can however be difficult to acquire - especially for survivors who have never been taught such skills in childhood. Like self-esteem, compassion can change and so if you have a negative inner critic and low compassion; there is potential to change that dynamic.
I intend to further look at how we can increase our compassion and self-worth and reduce our inner critic, specifically for survivors of complex interpersonal relationship trauma and childhood developmental trauma.
Our research group can be found here;
Currently we are conducting research into the causes of trauma. I have included a link to the survey here : https://surveyheart.com/form/5f06e63b3ed8765392fe12d0
If you would be interested in taking part, please feel free. If you would like to share this study i would also welcome you to use the link, many thanks!