“Where is my self-esteem?”

30 Mar 2011

Dear Annie,

I have finally ended the marriage and we have been divorced for 3 months, and yet I find I feel worse as time goes on. At first I felt a sense of relief (maybe because his anger, comments, judgement were still fresh in my mind). When I was with him I felt miserable most of the time. I couldn’t be myself, I had to watch what I talked about, who I talked about, and censor myself, all the time, so not to disappoint, hurt, or annoy him…It was exhausting at times….

So, why, as time goes on, am I not feeling better about my decision to end the relationship?  Is this normal in abusive relationships?

I feel I spend my time questioning myself. I keep seeking approval and acknowledgement from others…. But it needs to come from me.

Where is my self-esteem?

What has happened to my self-confidence?


Dear Rebecca,

It’s understandable that you would feel a sense of relief once you got your abuser out of your life – and I’d like to commend you for your courage in divorcing him.

It’s no less understandable that you feel worse as time goes on.

That’s not to say every woman does but – still – a lot do.  Sadly, that’s a very common, and normal, response.

It happens for a number of reasons.  First, there can be a sense of let down once you get the thing you had to work so hard for.  Yes, you’ve got the divorce but, that alone is not enough to make you feel happy and fulfilled.  Now, you’ve got to learn how to appreciate and value your life.

When he was around, you could easily – and justifiably – point the finger at him, and say:

”He’s the reason I feel so terrible.  It’s because of his ill treatment that I lack the strength to get on with my life.  He makes me feel worthless.”

There’s no doubt he did everything he could to make you feel bad.

Now he’s gone, you no longer have him to fight against in the real world, but you are still locked in conflict with him inside your own head.

One of the things that drove me to end my relationship was something my husband said to me.  He said it only once, but those words terrified the living daylights out of me.

He was going to Australia for 3 weeks to visit his mother, so it should have been three weeks of blissful respite for me.  He was shrewd enough to know that.

So what did he do?

The night before he left, he picked a fight with me about something petty, or crazy – I really don’t remember what.  But the attack was so disproportionately nasty that I responded.  And he vowed to me:

“I’ll fight you until I die.”

In that moment, I knew that he meant it.  I knew he would fight me until he died, if I let him. (He came from a family of alarmingly long livers.) That scenario was even more terrifying than the thought of being without him.  I can still remember replying:

“You can if you want to, but I will be long gone” – meaning I had no intention of letting him poison my life, daily, until death finally parted us.

Still, it wasn’t that simple.

I drove him from my life, but he remained in my head.

I spent months and months asking myself “How could he?”, drowning in the abused woman’s terror of being helpless, worthless, and useless, yet having to fend for herself.  Occasionally, I wondered if it might have been my fault.  Often, I continued old battles, telling him: “You had no right to…”

My self-confidence and my self-worth did not automatically return for the simple reason that that is not the way it works.

Abusive men program you to feel weak, inadequate, helpless, worthless, unlovable, and very, very scared.

They program you to be blind to the present, and fearful of the future.

They program you to see yourself through their eyes.

When they have done that, their work is done.

Sure, they might like to reappear from time to time, to twist the knife in your wounds, because that makes them feel powerful.

But, they don’t need to.

They know that they have installed their cruel, critical voice inside your head.

To put it another way, they’ve installed the ‘software’ on your hard drive, and you don’t even know it’s there.  But every time you start the computer, or open any program, that software is running in the background.

The net result is that you feel terrible.

As I’ve said many times before: time may wound all heels – although even that is not guaranteed – but it certainly does not heal all wounds.

There is no reason why you should not regain your confidence, your self-worth, your love of life, and your capacity to embrace life.

But it won’t happen for as long as you still have that ‘software’ running, unchecked, in the background.

How do you delete it?

Sadly, it’s not a one step process.

Your abuser was able to install his destructive ‘software’ because your system was vulnerable.

Clearing that software, and leaving your system protected require:

1)      a clear understanding of what happened to you, and why

2)      a commitment to your own healing

3)      a period of guided healing, and expert support, to keep you on track.  Otherwise there is a strong chance that you will either get back onto the hamster wheel with your abuser, or fall into a relationship with another abusive man.

My teleclass programs, and 1-2-1 coaching, are designed to keep you committed to your healing, while they guide you along that journey to self-worth and self-confidence, and protect you from the danger of crashing and burning.

Healing from emotional abuse is a very real possibility.  Getting the support you need to keep you on track offers you the best chance of healing your head, and your heart.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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