How trauma impacts self esteem

This week we are looking at learning to like ourselves in order to strengthen or build upon trauma recovery. Individuals who have experienced trauma can have an extremely difficult time with regards to feeling positive about oneself. For adult survivors who experienced trauma in childhood - either by dysfunctional family members or abusive events outside their control; may have been conditioned to have a deep resentment for themselves and similarly so with survivors of late onset interpersonal relationship trauma as the fundamental core of self-esteem is ever changing throughout an individual's life.

Although experiencing trauma during cognitive development can cause additional difficulties due to changes found within the brain as well as being taught to dislike oneself. In any instance however, self-esteem can be changed and improved upon with the right support and personal reflection.

An overview of the topics we will cover this week can be found here; 

For this article, I intend to focus on how trauma impacts self-esteem. 

Trauma changes the relationship which you have with yourself and deeply challenges how a survivor thinks about themselves. With regards to trauma occurring in childhood; the potential to alter neural pathways is high, this is with regards to volume and pathways changing due to abuse but also having a high potential for change through an individual's recovery journey. That being said, it's common for childhood developmental trauma to deeply altar how a child relates to themselves through parents or carers direct abusive tactics, sibling abuse and childhood bullying. When traumatic events occur during the developmental period an individual child is still gaining an understanding of the self. Trauma which changes a child's view of themselves can be devastating to self-esteem as well as creating a perfection driven inner critic leading to a host of individual difficulties for an adult with an 'established' sense of self.

For survivors who have experienced adult multiple trauma either through domestic violence, dysfunction in work or family systems or trauma within interpersonal relationships: trauma can obliterate even the strongest of esteems. Trauma leads to an individual being unsure of their own judgement as what was once perceived safe is no longer (either via child abuse, neglect, narcissism, adult domestic violence, sibling abuse, bullying in childhood or adulthood and extends to single event trauma such as road traffic collisions - having the ability to impact self-esteem). When an individual faces a situation or event(s) that cause a shift in their perception; it can be common to have the belief that individual actions cannot change or influence a situation and so leads to feelings of self-doubt, powerlessness and vulnerability.

When a child or adult who has experienced a traumatic event(s) which includes feelings of loss of control and responsibility manifests into having a negative self concept; such manifestation can lead to perfectionism, micromanaging of daily routines or others, denial of intensity of events and self-blame for the event occurring itself. Each of which has a huge impact with regards to individual self-esteem.

It is understandable why trauma survivors may begin to exhibit these traits however none of which brings the intended or desired outcome. As an individual tries to control more and more elements within their lives, it becomes increasingly more difficult to manage - especially with other added difficulties trauma potentially causes. In such cases where self-esteem manifests to a need for control or perfection, the trauma survivor - who is already psychologically exhausted from past events; becomes even more drained through harsh, excessive expectations and demands of the self.

Trauma thus feeds a low self-esteem to be reduced even further by leading individuals to question their worth or even their selves as it is common to hear an individual who has experienced trauma say; if they had been "stronger, better or faster" - the events may not have even occurred. This negative reflection and inaccurate belief causes psychological distress and further psychological damage by creating what is a false conclusion to an individual trauma. Survivors of trauma benefit from accepting the events were outwith their control and in no way deserved or warranted. It can be helpful to remember that we cannot control the actions or reactions of others; you can't force a horse to drink so to speak.

Believing negative automatic thoughts (such as; if I were; faster/bigger/prettier/uglier/fatter/thinner/better or deserving of the event(s)) leads to extensive self loathing which can manifest to risk taking or self-injurious behaviours and become unbearable to live with.

For a survivor of trauma who has entered their recovery journey; it's helpful to challenge these negative beliefs through reflection, understanding and owning ones basic rights within a stable environment (free from toxic relationships, inclusive of a support system and when required; guided by a trauma informed therapist).

There are some helpful files in the group which cover self-esteem with regards to trauma and I have also included a few sub-units which also look at this in more detail.

There are many different ways to challenge negative self belief however doing so in a toxic environment can lead to any positive work being wiped away. It is essential in a trauma survivors recovery journey to maintain as individually safe as possible; aware of the signs of abuse and having assertiveness to employ healthy boundaries. Improving ones self-esteem is thus critical in having the ability to progress through the recovery path and lead a more empowered life; free from further abuse and possible revictimization.

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 :

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!