Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Sense of Self: Where Is Yours Coming From?

Give yourself permission to be your true self.

Andrea couldn't stand to be alone; she just didn't know it. At home by herself, usually at night, she would panic -- heart racing, hyperventilating, sure she was having a heart attack. The attacks would come upon her suddenly, in the middle of watching television or after cleaning up the kitchen. Terrified, she tried to calm herself, but when that proved futile, the fear would accelerate as she convinced herself something was physically wrong.

After her third visit to the emergency room in as many weeks, a hospital caseworker suggested that Andrea's health difficulties might better be addressed by a therapist than a physician. Andrea had never considered counseling before -- it seemed too intrusive and personal -- but she was desperate, unable to hold her debilitating fear at bay.

Even though desperate, Andrea arrived at The Center guarded, wary, and on edge. She just wanted something, anything, to stop the panic attacks. She insisted that the only reason she had come in was because the hospital suggested it. What she wanted was medication. What she got was the truth about herself.

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Andrea came to realize that because of emotional abuse she had endured as a child, she never felt truly comfortable with herself. Instead, she derived her sense of self from other people. Andrea strove to please those around her and to do the best job possible. She was a perfectionist when it came to her job. She was at her best in the midst of a busy, bustling office with a high level of demands. When Andrea had something to do, she knew who she was. Growing up, being busy meant being away from home, and that meant she was out of range of an unhappy, bitter mother and a demanding, capricious father. If you weren't busy, you were noticed. If things were quiet, there was no place to hide.

Living in a household where an emotional attack was a real possibility, Andrea grew up never feeling safe or being totally able to relax. As long as people were surrounding her and things were going on, Andrea was able to divert her growing anxiety and panic into tasks and activity. It was at home, in the quiet, that panic took the upper hand.

In order to heal, Andrea needed to learn to relax and be herself -- something she had never given herself permission to do as an adult. Andrea needed to learn to like who she was, even with nobody else in the room.

Any kind of abuse, emotional abuse included, is an attack on a person's sense of self. It demeans and controls that person through words or actions, devaluing that person and ultimately elevating the abuser. If you have suffered emotional abuse in your past or are suffering it in the present, it is not something to be ignored, denied, accepted, or perpetuated. The damage it does to your sense of self is pervasive and destructive. Over the course of my years working with the abused and abusers, I have found several distinct negative effects to the sense of self associated with emotional abuse:

  • low self-esteem
  • lack of self-confidence
  • transfer of needs
  • acting out sexually
  • loneliness
  • failure syndrome
  • perfectionism
  • unrealistic guilt
  • crisis oriented
  • unresolved anger and resentments

Countering the lies of emotional abuse with the truth about our true nature and value as individuals is important. For help in doing that, read over the following statements of commitment.

My Commitment To Myself

  1. To believe in my true value.
  2. To reject the lies of emotional victimization.
  3. To learn more about my true self, not my abused self.

One of the most important commitments you can make to yourself is to substitute the negative effects of emotional abuse with positive, affirming characteristics. To that end, meditate on these commitments regularly and visualize the positive difference they will make in your life.

2013, Hope & Healing From Emotional Abuse, Gregory L. Jantz, Revell.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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