Disturbed and very concerned about my effectiveness as a Therapist, I sat in front of my internship supervisor severely shaken by the client I could not help.
Some days we worked hard and she left feeling like a superstar and the other days, no amount of work could convince her that she was not the worst person on earth.
An abuse survivor, she thought herself worthless, and therapy-sized doses of hope and positive regard got me nowhere a lot of the time. I was stuck and frustrated and discouraged.
Then my Supervisor said what set off a lightning storm in my psyche and changed the way I viewed my confidence. He said, “Susaye, sometimes you will have clients, especially those who have been abused, who are like sieves. You can slather on fistfuls of your best doses of confidence and fill them until they are running over and by the time they leave your office, it all leaks back out. Unless you plug those holes, you will have to keep filling them up every week.”
This analogy resonated so strongly with me because I knew I was one of those sieves and no amount of slathering was helping me. I felt like he could see into my soul. I tried to nod my agreement in the casual way you do when your mind is screaming “you’re talking about me, sir.” At that moment, I finally understood why the confidence I craved and worked so hard on only lasted for a moment.
Ever since I knew myself, I was plagued by feelings of not good enough, not worthy enough and definitely not deserving enough. I played the intellectual “I Love Myself’ game but knew if I loved myself like I claimed to, I would not have stayed in the relationships that I did. I would not have accepted the ways I was spoken to or treated. If I truly loved myself, my self-confidence would not have been circling the toilet. I knew on a subconscious level that my experiences of abuse had a lot to do with it, but I knew little else for certain.
What I know now and what has changed my life is that, experiencing abuse instills a belief in you that there is something fundamentally wrong with you; that you are worthless.
When this belief simmers in you, even small things become difficult to do. To imagine taking control and making some significant change in your life seems overwhelming. Feeling powerless becomes second nature.
As women, our power lies in the fact that we make things happen. When we do not experience this sense of confidence in our abilities, we live a life that is so far below our potential that it is frightening.
Confidence is such a powerful force that it takes milliseconds to identify its absence in another person. You may easily identify it in your neighbor who lives below her potential because she is too afraid to step out and go after the business she craves.
You see it in the coworker who comes to work dressed too provocatively, giving away what power she holds for the stares of men who are not thinking beyond what they see.
When women give up their power to others, when they aim to people-please to their own dissatisfaction, when they put everyone and everything above themselves even when it hurts we know that their self-confidence needs building. Yes, sacrifice is a part of life but martyrdom is not required to live an amazing life. Actually, quite the opposite is true.
Abuse not only soils your belief in your worth, but depending on how long it lasted, who the perpetrator was and the conditions surrounding the event, you may feel a ton of guilt, shame and self-betrayal.
When the perpetrator is someone who you have known and loved, who is supposed to protect you, your confidence in your ability to make good, loving choices gets seriously damaged.
When you did not disclose or was not believed, your confidence in your natural propensity to value yourself, your unshakable trust in your instincts and your conviction to take the necessary actions become impaired. Your inner guide becomes uncertain and out of tune.
When your inner guide is out of tune your ability to make the best decisions for yourself also goes off-course. This alone is a terrifying thing. If we can’t trust ourselves, who can we trust?
Clearly understanding and accepting that your experiences have damaged your confidence is a key step in moving forward and rebuilding your belief in your worth.
Confidence is one of the pillars of success. Your level of confidence directly affects your success in business, money and relationships. How confident you feel about yourself determines the choices that you make, what you will accept from another person and the value that you place on your body, your offerings and your soul.
How to Develop Your Confidence After Abuse:
- Whereas, I don’t recommend rumination, it is important to revisit your memories of the abuse and get a clear view of what happened.What actually happened? Who did what? Don’t gloss over the details. Don’t make it pretty. Own your experience. After years of being imprisoned by a memory, our view of the memory often feels and looks different than it actually was. We may have made the perpetrator so big and powerful that we still feel like victims. When we feel like victims, it shows up in how we show up in the world. Getting a clear vision of what happened to us, we are able to stand face to face with the person or person(s) who harmed us and acknowledge the truth as we know it. Good, bad or ugly.
- Clearly identify the things that you blame yourself for. What do you think you did wrong? A major reason why we get stuck in shame and guilt is because we feel or were told that it was our fault. We can’t understand why it happened and why we didn’t do more to stop it. Living in the shadow of these thoughts not only blocks our ability to value ourselves but it also stops us from giving credence to the things that we have done to protect and save ourselves since. The fact is that we acted in the ways that we knew and felt capable of at that time. There is a famous quote that says if we knew better, we would have done better. Think about that. If you felt there was a better choice to make, you would have made it. Blame and guilt cannot be unfelt and what happened cannot be undone.
- Forgive yourself for the choices that you feel you should not have made. Forgiveness, as Oprah defines it, is “Giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” When we don’t forgive ourselves we keep ourselves hostage for things that we do not have the power to change. If you forgive yourself for the role you believe you played, what beliefs about yourself will you finally release? If you know you made the best choice that you could have and forgive yourself for the harm that it caused, how will that change your feelings about yourself? If you enter into forgiveness and cry the tears that need to be cried and shed the guilt and blame that no longer serve a purpose, what will you be freeing yourself to do? Who will you be now that you’re no longer Miss Shame and Guilt?
- Find a new story to tell about yourself: Another reason our abuse experiences damage our self-confidence is that the story we tell ourselves reeks of victim. We feel broken and damaged and useless and hopeless because something was done to us or taken from us. We often do not pay attention to the amazing things that have happened to us or that we did afterwards. One basic thing that we did that deserves its own story is that we found the courage to go on. Yes, we have some lingering effects but we lived through it. We are alive and that is a good place to be. What have you done in the meantime? Have you traveled somewhere? Have you moved out on your own? Have you started a new job? Have you been an amazing mother? Have you taken a class, completed your degree or learned a new skill? Your challenge is to stop telling yourself the story of things that you aren’t and tell the story of ways that you can and have. Make a list; you’ll be surprised at the little wins that you have overlooked. Then craft a new story about that.
- Get a Mission and take active steps to put yourself out into the world. Help as many as you can. One secret that I have learned to building confidence is to pick something that scares you and overdo it. Nothing builds confidence faster than action. The more action you take, the more confident you will feel. Then, teach someone else how to do it. Your perspective on life and your purpose on Earth can help you to cement your confidence. Once you know you have something to accomplish, your experiences can be considered par for the amazing life course that you are on. Everybody loves a good story and what you have are great, mind-blowing stories of I CAN. Use them to your advantage.
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