A common theme that arises in session with victim/ survivors of family and domestic violence is the impact this has on the person’s sense of self-worth and identity. While everyone’s experience is unique, this rupture in self-esteem often comes from pervasive experiences of psychological and emotional abuse.
Psychological/ emotional abuse has complex impacts on self-worth and identity as the tactics are often subtle and can lead to the victim/ survivor doubting their sense of reality. Emotional abuse tactics are manipulative, controlling and debilitating. They are designed to intimidate, subjugate and demean the victim/ survivor. Some common examples include:
• Humiliation and degradation
• Threats of abandonment
• Disapproval, contempt, condescension
• Unreasonable demands or expectations
• Judgement and criticism
• Negating and discounting
• “Silent treatment” or stonewalling (evasive behaviour, withdrawal, shutting down)
• Gaslighting (tactic of making someone doubt their own sanity)
Even in situations free from abuse, it is extremely challenging to ignore the words and actions of a loved one, we tend to internalize others attitudes and behaviours and take them on board as a part of who we are. Victim/ survivors who have been continually undermined, belittled, humiliated and controlled often lose sense of their innate value as a person and mastery in the roles they play at work, home, or as a friend or community member.
Psychologist, Alexandra Ehrenberg
I would recommend to victim/ survivors to remember their character strengths, tap in to activities and hobbies that give them a sense of happiness and meaning and focus on the relationships that provide them with respect, safety and positive feedback about who they are as a person.
The impact of family and domestic violence doesn’t have to become a part of a person’s identity of legacy, reconnecting with who you want to be and how you want to live your life can be an empowering step in the journey of healing.