Why Victims of Abuse Feel Guilty: The Self-Esteem Link

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Why Victims of Abuse Feel Guilty: The Self-Esteem Link

Why Victims of Abuse Feel Guilty: The Self-Esteem Link

Why Victims of Abuse Feel Guilty: The Self-Esteem Link

While it’s certainly not seen unanimously in victims of abuse, there’s a definitive relationship between self-esteem and psychological maltreatment. That’s not to say self-esteem CAUSES abuse, rather victims of abuse can experience low self-esteem as a result of abuse.

In other cases, those with low self-esteem may enter an unhealthy relationship and stay because they don’t think they’re worthy of something better. They may even blame themselves for the abuse.

Click here to read one woman’s story of abuse. She explains that although she may not fit the stereotype of an abuse victim, self-esteem was a continuous struggle.

The self-esteem link explains why so many victims of abuse feel guilty, even though they’re the ones being abused. This feeling is all too common in abuse victims, and today we’re going to offer some powerful self-esteem building advice for ANY woman.

First, let’s talk about just what self-esteem means.

What is self-esteem?

First of all, here’s what it DOESN’T mean:

  • bragging
  • being perfect (nobody is!)

So what is it?

It’s about how much we value, love, and accept ourselves. It’s also about knowing you are worthy of respect and love by the people in your life. As victims of abuse, this can become increasingly difficult.

Healthy vs. unhealthy self-esteem

People can have a healthy self-esteem or unhealthy self-esteem.

People with healthy self-esteem are able to feel good about themselves, appreciate their own worth, and take pride in their abilities, skills, and accomplishments.

All too often, people with low self-esteem may feel as if no one will like them or accept them or that they can’t do well in anything. For victims of abuse, it can even mean you end up blaming yourself for the behaviour of your abuser.

If you are one of the many people who often don’t feel good about yourself, there is good news: you can work to increase your self-esteem and feel better!

Let’s start by understanding the influential factors for our self-esteem.

Who or what influences your self-esteem?

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Romantic partners
  • The media
  • Yourself

How do you improve your self-esteem?

  • Hard work
  • Dedication to yourself!

Now, we know each of those steps needs to be expanded on. So keep reading for actionable steps you can take to improve your self-esteem today.

Actionable steps

We have steps from morethanmedication.ca that you can do every day, three times a day, to help improve the image, thoughts, and beliefs you have about yourself

Gain self-awareness

“Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-esteem is not about having only strengths. It’s also about embracing your weaknesses and learning how you can turn them into an opportunity to discover more about yourself.

Self-awareness, then, is the first step to making a change.

Start by taking a life inventory

Think of it like a business would do if it were not performing well. List your assets (strengths) and your liabilities (weaknesses). Review your weaknesses and try to identify ways that you can turn them into strengths.

For example, if your weakness is, “I’m too shy in large groups,” then work on ensuring your one-to-one relationships are the best they can be while enrolling in a public-speaking course.

That way, you’ll gain more confidence when in large groups but still have solid intimate relationships to enrich your life.

Silence your inner critic

Challenge your inner critic; don’t just take the abuse.

Do you have an inner critic who is an expert at finding faults? Are you aware of the voices inside your head? How often do you put yourself down during the day?

As you become aware of your negative self-talk, you can begin to turn down the volume and replace it with constructive feedback and praise.

For starters, change your reactive words to proactive ones: Replace “I can’t” with “I can” or “I want to.”

Check out this Dove Video on a Girl’s Self-Esteem

Use Affirmations (The Right Way)

The process of affirming is to make firm statements using words that reinforce the positive.

While many of us make them all day long, we usually do so unconsciously or our affirmations embrace a negative connotation.

For example, you might tell yourself something like, “I will not stumble during my presentation.”

This keeps you in a low self-esteem holding pattern.

For your daily affirmations, use short, strong positive statements in the present tense as if you have already obtained your goal.

For example, “I am a great public speaker.” This will help reprogram your subconscious mind and increase your sense of self.

Practice Gratitude

Every night, before going to bed, think of five things you’re grateful for.

This will help you turn your focus to the positive and seek opportunities for learning and growth

Accept Compliments

Don’t sell yourself short.

Every time you reject a compliment, you are basically saying that you don’t deserve the praise. Often, victims of abuse become accustomed to being dejected or put down so receiving a compliment feels foreign and uncomfortable.

Next time someone gives you a compliment, say, “Thank you.” Get into the habit of telling yourself, “I’m accepting it.”


Check out this short video about the Self-Worth Project

Plan for Action

You cannot develop self-esteem just wishing for it.

You must take action in order for you to move out of your comfort zone and conquer your fears.

This reinforces the belief you have in yourself and, in the end, you will feel better about yourself.

All these steps listed above are techniques you can use every day to help feel better about yourself.

Remember: It’s okay to have a bad day, we all have them, how you cope with it is the most important thing.

Maybe the step you need to take is leaving an abusive situation. But we are here to help.

Help for victims of abuse

If one of the actionable steps you need to take is getting out of an abusive situation, we can help. Contact our 24-hour helpline at 250-763-1040 or visit this link for more resources.

Click here to donate now to Kelowna Women’s Shelter.

Here are some other posts to check out:

10 Signs of Domestic Violence
Domestic Abuse in Canada: 7 Facts You Need to Know
Shocking Violence Stats

This article was originally published 2012, and has been updated in 2020. 

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