Discover more from The Mind, Brain, Body Digest
How to Rebuild Self-Worth After Abuse: Tips to Boost Confidence 🧠
From Pain to Empowerment: Why Rebuilding Self-Worth is Essential for Abuse Survivors (10min Read/Listen)
Initiating healing for abuse survivors begins with accepting pain and using reflective journaling to promote self-awareness.
Establishing healthy boundaries is critical for ensuring personal safety and fostering self-respect and empowerment.
Self-compassion and mindfulness are key to counteracting internal criticism and developing positive self-esteem.
A robust support network provides essential shared experiences and insights for rebuilding self-worth.
Consistent, manageable healthy habits are pivotal for enhancing self-confidence and resilience.
The journey to reclaim self-worth is continuous, with each step being a victory in self-discovery and resilience.
Now, on to the full blog!
Nurturing Self-Worth: A Neuroscientific Guide for Survivors of Abuse
Regaining self-worth is not only attainable for abuse survivors; it’s essential for living a fulfilled life.
Rebuilding self-worth is akin to lighting a beacon for survivors, guiding them from the shadows of their past abuse towards the radiance of newfound strength and resilience.
For those who have experienced abusive relationships and possibly grapple with Complex PTSD, the metamorphosis from a place of pain to empowerment is a deeply personal journey.
Below are ten science-backed strategies, steeped in neuroscience and psychology, aimed at bolstering confidence and reviving a sense of self-worth and self-esteem for survivors.
5 Tips for Survivors Trying to Rebuild Self-Worth Post-Abuse
1. Acknowledge Your Pain: The Gateway to Healing
Acknowledging pain serves as the catalyst for transformative healing.
It’s a pivotal first step in the journey of healing, allowing for the tangible realization and acceptance of suffering.
Reflective journaling, a method rooted in psychological science, can serve as an impactful conduit for acknowledgment, creating an initial platform for recovery.
By acknowledging pain, we activate the prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking, aiding in the management of emotions linked to painful memories, thereby initiating the process of transformative healing.
When we face the reality of our suffering, it activates neural pathways associated with self-awareness and emotional regulation, essential components in commencing the healing journey.
Engaging in reflective journaling can be a tangible acknowledgment of pain, providing a structured format for organizing thoughts, thereby contributing to cognitive clarity.
How to Practice Reflective Journaling:
To practice reflective journaling on a regular basis, secure a quiet and comfortable space, choosing a writing medium and ambiance that suits you.
Regularly allocate a brief period, even just 15-20 minutes, to honestly jot down your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, using prompts if needed.
Keep your entries private, ensuring a safe space for expression. Periodically reviewing your reflections and sharing your experiences with a trusted individual or professional can also be beneficial in validating experiences and rebuilding self-worth.
Journal Entry Example
Date: 26th September 2023
Prompt: Reflecting on a triggering interaction and my response to it.
Today, during a conversation with a friend, they raised their voice unexpectedly. This was triggering for me, instantly bringing back memories and feelings from past relationship traumas where shouting was frequent and frightening.
Feelings: I felt anxious, scared, and a little bit shaky. The loudness was reminiscent of past experiences, causing me to feel defensive and vulnerable.
Thoughts: I recognized that my friend raising their voice wasn’t meant to intimidate or harm me, but it was difficult to shake the feeling of being back in a harmful situation.
Reactions: I excused myself from the situation promptly, practicing deep breathing to calm myself and trying to rationalize the situation.
It’s clear that there are unresolved issues and triggers related to my past experiences. These interactions are a reminder of the importance of continuous self-reflection, healing, and setting boundaries. Also, it’s essential to communicate my feelings and triggers to my friends to foster understanding and support.
4. Action Plan:
Continue to work with my therapist on coping mechanisms for when I feel triggered.
Practice mindfulness and grounding techniques to stay present and avoid becoming overwhelmed by past traumas.
Communicate openly with friends about my triggers and my needs regarding respectful conversation and understanding.
2. Building Healthy Boundaries: The Architect of Self-Respect
Building healthy, clear, and firm boundaries is essential in fostering self-respect and safety.
They act as the building blocks of empowerment and self-worth, defining personal limits, and ensuring respect, thereby protecting survivors from further harm and exploitation.
Good boundaries help mitigate negative internal feelings and foster a strong sense of self-esteem.
Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential to protect ourselves from further harm and exploitation, safeguarding against mental health conditions that may arise from repeated violations of personal space and respect.
Establishing boundaries augments feelings of control and self-respect, counteracting the negative effects of abuse, and contributing to the formation of high self-esteem.
How to Implement:
Here are five examples of strong boundaries, influenced by the frameworks presented in “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall B. Rosenberg and “Difficult Conversations” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen.
1. Expressing Emotional Boundaries
“I feel anxious and triggered when there are raised voices around me. I need conversations around me to be calm and respectful to feel safe.”
2. Setting Physical Boundaries
“I am not comfortable with unexpected visits or physical touch. I request that you respect my space and ask for consent before any physical contact.”
3. Establishing Digital Boundaries
“I am taking time to heal, and excessive digital communication is overwhelming. I request that my privacy be respected and that digital communications be kept to a minimum and necessary.”
4. Clarifying Expectations in Relationships
“I am focusing on my well-being and healing. I need transparency, respect, and understanding in my interactions, and I expect both our needs and limits to be respected.”
5. Limiting Exposure to Potential Triggers
“I get triggered by certain topics and discussions related to abuse and violence. I would appreciate it if those topics are avoided in conversations with me unless I choose to bring them up.”
You’ve Got This!
Implementing these boundaries requires ongoing dialogue and mutual understanding, with open conversations being held about needs, feelings, and requests.
Establishing such boundaries is fundamental to creating healthy self-esteem and a supportive and safe environment during the healing process.
Regularly reassess and affirm your boundaries, making adjustments as needed, and remember if you make mistakes at first, that just means you're learning!
3. Cultivate Self-Compassion
Oftentimes, I find that the internal conversations my clients have in their own heads are brutal after abuse.
It's like there's an inner critic inside of them that's constantly eroding away their self-confidence.
This is why fostering self-compassion is central to mitigating self-blame and guilt, which are core components of negative self-talk and negative thinking.
The good news is that regularly practicing self-compassion can illuminate the path to empowerment, mitigating negative self-talk and fostering positive self-esteem.
Embracing mindfulness exercises, such as loving-kindness meditation, can offer a nurturing embrace to the imperfections and shortcomings within us, replacing the negative views with a more balanced emotional appraisal of our own worth.
Engage in self-care rituals like meditation or yoga and incorporate gratitude journaling to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
These practices are a great way to foster a positive relationship with ourselves and can make a big difference in cultivating a sense of self-worth.
Regularly practicing self-compassion activates the oxytocin system, mitigating the impact of stress and fostering feelings of safety and security.
Meditations I Love
4. Establishing a Support Network: The Fortress of Shared Resilience
A strong support network is a pillar of collective strength.
Connecting with supportive communities, either locally or online, provides a sanctuary for shared experiences and insights, fostering a sense of community and belonging, which is crucial in rebuilding a sense of self-worth post-abuse.
Connecting with understanding individuals and communities enables survivors to share their stories and gain insights in a safe and supportive environment.
Join local or online support groups and connect with empathetic friends or family members.
These connections serve as the backbone of rebuilding self-worth post-abuse, providing communal understanding and shared resilience.
A supportive community is a great place to find positive feedback and external sources of encouragement.
Social support has been linked to enhanced psychological well-being and resilience, playing a pivotal role in mitigating mental health conditions associated with abuse.
Join the Trauma to Transformation Community
This is our support community for survivors of abusive relationships and those struggling to heal trauma.
It's free and full of resources like podcasts, videos, courses, and most importantly lots of people willing to listen and support you!
5. Develop Healthy Habits
Integrating healthy habits is fundamental for maintaining well-being, and increasing self-esteem.
If you break down what self-confidence really is, you'll find that it's believing yourself when you say things.
This is why, there's almost no better way to increase your self-esteem than establishing some healthy habits after getting out of an abusive relationship.
In fact, this is the very first thing that I help people who I coach do. Almost every time they look at me with bewilderment, and ask something along the lines of, "How is creating a morning routine, or doing 1 push-up per day going to help me believe in myself?"
And inevitably, once they start the First 84-Days Challenge, they realize that showing up for themselves each day and hitting the mini goals they set for themselves every day, builds their confidence faster than anything they've ever tried in the past.
This is because it's building their "Showing Up" muscles! They say they are going to do 1 push-up per day, and then when they do, their mind sees that they followed through.
Slowly, but surely, the mind becomes more confident that when Cody says he's going to do something, he does it, this is self-confidence in its infancy.
Over time, when you say, "I am worthy."
And guess what? Your mind, brain, and body will believe you!
How to Start: The First 84 Days Challenge
So, what's the challenge? It's simple, but not always easy.
The First 84 Days Challenge is exactly what you should do the first 84 Days after leaving an abusive relationship (or any relationship tbh).
It focuses on the 6 most fundamental areas that science says you should have consistent habits and routines.
I call these areas the Heroes Body:
The goal of the First 84 Days Challenge is to create 1 habit or routine in each of these 6 areas.
For each, you'll want an ideal habit, and your MVP (Minimum Vital Production).
Your ideal is what you would like to do if everything goes perfectly in your day.
Your MVP is for when shit hits the fan, as it often does during the ups and downs of healing from an abusive relationship.
Your MVPs should be laughable versions of your ideal habits.
For example, a full 45-60 minute workout might be your ideal, but your MVP could be 1 pushup, 1 squat, and 1 situp.
Notice how ridiculous it sounds to not be able to do 1 of each of these things!
The point of an MVP is to get you a small win, instead of failing, you still showed up for yourself and got the habit across the line.
Doing this for 84 Days literally rewires your brain, and builds your confidence.
I have NEVER seen someone complete this challenge who didn't come out feeling better, and more confident on the other side!
If you’d like to do this with a team, join the Trauma to Transformation Community, we are constantly starting new people in this challenge!
The Journey to Empowerment
The journey to reclaiming self-worth post-abuse is indeed profound. This metamorphosis is not a quick fix but a continuous journey of self-discovery.
Every small step taken is a victory in rediscovering the authentic self.
Embrace this journey with resilience and know that rebuilding your self-worth is not just possible; it’s the foundation of your newfound strength.
Until next time… Live Heroically 🧠
Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.
Smyth, J. M., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2008). Exploring the boundary conditions of expressive writing: In search of the right recipe. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 1-7.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. PuddleDancer Press.
Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. Penguin.
Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.
Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in psychiatric treatment, 15(3), 199-208.
Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985). Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological bulletin, 98(2), 310.
Southwick, S. M., Sippel, L., Krystal, J., Charney, D., Mayes, L., & Pietrzak, R. (2016). Why are some individuals more resilient than others: the role of social support. World Psychiatry, 15(1), 77.
Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. Br J Gen Pract, 62(605), 664-666.
Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Random House.
Herman, J. L. (1992). Complex PTSD: A syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(3), 377-391.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.
Cozolino, L. (2017). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain (Third Edition). W. W. Norton & Company.
Arnsten, A. F. (2009). Stress signaling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), 410-422.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Macmillan.
Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.