The Relationship Between Self-Abuse and Self-Esteem

What impact does self-abuse have on our lives? How does it affect self-esteem? What do we lose when we hurt ourselves in this way? In this article, we'll tell you about the relationship between self-abuse and self-esteem.
The Relationship Between Self-Abuse and Self-Esteem

Last update: 14 January, 2021

Self-abuse is the opposite of self-esteem and is much more common than we’d think. Many of us make judgments about who we are, what we deserve, and how valuable our work is. These judgments are usually made internally, and often kept secret and minimized. At the same time, we also magnify our mistakes.

Consequently, we tend to be very self-demanding, feeling that things can always be done in a better way. Because of this, a person’s self-esteem can be affected. We even despise our own actions, thinking that anyone could have done better than us.

A sad woman.

How does self-abuse work?

Self-esteem, in general terms, is people’s capacity to value themselves. This area also encompasses the challenge of facing up to any negative thoughts that other people may have about us.

Low self-esteem makes people more permeable to criticism from others, increasing the likelihood that they’ll believe what they say and take it to heart. This is when the “inner dictator” of self-abuse begins to develop. We minimize achievements, increase our perception of mistakes, and feel ashamed of them, etc.

Self-abuse: the origin of the “inner dictator”

You’re exposed to other people’s assessment and judgment from the moment you’re born. Your motivation, or lack of it, is an indicator of the capacity you have to defend yourself from criticism.

If, from these early experiences, you see that your failures have been punished and your achievements belittled to some extent, you’ll probably end up seeing yourself as someone with few resources.

Moreover, not failing becomes especially important. If you do fail, you’ll have to deal with other people’s judgments and criticisms. If the motivation not to fail becomes more important than the achievements, you may lose the value all your achievements can bring you. You may not take the criticism constructively.

In this dynamic, you can easily internalize other people’s criticism of you and begin to consider yourself someone of little value. As a result, you could actually start to criticize yourself far more ruthlessly than those people did. You may start to harbor the belief that you aren’t valuable or worthy of love.

Consequently, self-esteem goes hand in hand with self-abuse. You may believe that your essence is based on your achievements and, in turn, you perceive yourself as of little value.

Self-abuse and self-esteem: how to detect problems

Normalizing self-abuse is very dangerous. Not only does it damage self-esteem but it can also lead to more dangerous forms of mood disorders, specifically depressive disorders.

Self-abuse doesn’t just appear suddenly. This type of negative attitude towards yourself builds for years. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to identify criticism from other people and from yourself.

When self-abuse starts to take root in your life, you’ll see even the most constructive criticism you get from others, designed to help you improve, as evidence of failure. For example:

  • At work, have your superiors and colleagues ever recommended that you do a task differently in order to get better results and the only thing you thought of is how badly you’ve been doing it?
  • How many times have you only thought about your mistakes, even though people have recognized your achievements?
  • Have you ever thought that you aren’t worthy of the job you have? Do you think that many people could do it better than you, and that, at any moment, your bosses are going to notice?
A sad man.

Stop your life to stop the “inner dictator” in its tracks

The voice of your “inner dictator” can be so strong that it can paralyze your valuable actions. If you interrupt activities that you consider valuable, then you’ll fall into the trap of your experiences.

What we mean here is the extent to which other people have judged you from your earliest childhood, in addition to the criticism you’re currently experiencing. In other words, you’ll base your life around trying not to fail.

Trying not to fail means that you aren’t willing to experience discomfort on the road to achieving values. However, even if you live this way, you won’t get rid of the “inner dictator” of self-abuse. It’ll probably tell you that you’re in the situation you’re in because you’re afraid and you aren’t able to face it.

But what’s the role of self-esteem?

Have you ever taken a step back to observe your situation as if you were someone else acting in response to criticisms given to them? If you stop to consider this, then you’ll realize just how your mind, in “self-abuse mode”, takes you away from what you consider important.

Listening to this internal dialogue and believing it’s an absolute truth can be frustrating when you’re trying to pursue goals. Very often, your mind will tell you that you aren’t capable.

However, trying to remove the “inner dictator” is like removing weeds from a garden. You can pull them out but they’ll continue to grow.

Reading books about self-esteem doesn’t help to eliminate these forms of self-abuse either. They only give guidelines to improve self-esteem and they’re simply one more source of knowledge in the light of many years of experience.

However, we’d like to tell you that there’s a very positive option open to you. As you fight the battle between self-abuse and self-esteem, you can try another perspective. It’s called the art of self-compassion.

Self-compassion allows you to observe this struggle from another perspective, allowing you to fail and make mistakes, and then observe what’s happening in your inner world when this discomfort appears.

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