I Have No Confidence After Emotional Abuse

21 Jan 2019

“I have no confidence after emotional abuse”, my client said.  “I have no confidence in myself, my abilities, or the future. I just don’t see how I can ever pick up the broken pieces of my identity and   put my life back together again.  I’ve been broken into so many pieces that I don’t believe I can ever mend.”

Every woman who wants to move on is faced with the problem of having no confidence after emotional abuse.

How could it possibly be otherwise?

The inevitable chorus of bystanders are quick to express their surprise – and disappointment –  that you got into this mess (their judgement, not mine. )

In their (woefully ill-informed) opinion, you should “just” be able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and… stop making them feel uncomfortable. (Mostly, your unhappiness makes them feel a tad inadequate. Whereas, if you would just follow their – dubious –  advice to the letter, they could have the satisfaction of “knowing best”.)

What NOT to do when you have no confidence after emotional abuse

Regrettably, there is an awful lot of misguided twaddle talked about what you should do when you have no confidence after emotional abuse.  My pet hates include:

  • Just get on with it. (It takes an enormous amount of effort to withstand – let alone get over – an emotionally abusive relationship.)  Bystanders’ talk is cheap and, not uncommonly, toxic.
  • Get “back in the saddle”. When you have come out of a disastrous relationship and are emotionally vulnerable, the last thing you need is to go looking for a replacement partner.
  • Stick a few more labels on yourself – or allow a therapist to stick some on you. (Feeling depressed is normal – and sane – given the circumstances.  Anyone who tells you that you are “addicted”, or “broken” is someone that you may want to give a wide berth.  If they can’t believe in your resilience, you really don’t want to listen to them.)

What you should do when you have no confidence after emotional abuse.

I have yet to talk to a survivor of emotional abuse who does not have a fairly impressive sounding  Should List for getting their life back together.  Unfortunately, there is a S-E-R-I-O-U-S problem with all Should Lists.

“Should” is actually shorthand (shouthand?) for “Look, I don’t want to feel like a total failure but I really do.  If only I could feel better, stronger, and quite unlike myself, I would be doing all these things like a shot.  Only I feel terrible and I can’t.  So, I use the Should List to beat myself with, in the hope that it will inspire me to do the things that are totally beyond me right now. I feel like they always will be.”

Take the time out to write out your entire Should List.  Then, with all due ceremony, burn the wretched thing. And create a new mantra for yourself,

“I will do as much as I can, whenever I can.  And when I don’t, it’s because I just can’t right then.”

Having dealt with the toxic stuff, let’s move on to the constructive stuff.

So, what do you do when you have no confidence after emotional abuse?

  • Accept that it is perfectly normal and appropriate to have no confidence after emotional abuse. Abusive men need you to feel weak, inadequate, helpless, worthless, unlovable, and very, very scared.  They know that is the only way they can keep you in the relationship.  (Yes, I know that emotionally abused women often call what they feel “love”, but it really is NOT love.)
  • Understand that your Mr Nasty has become your very own personal “earworm”, and he is even more of a pain than conventional earworms. You are left with his thoroughly toxic jingles going round and round your head. But the saddest thing is that you mistake his “earworms” for the truth of who you are.  The “earworm” says you are stupid, and you believe it. The “earworm” has a number of nasty refrains which you, naively, mistake for reality.
  • Get appropriate help. When you are left with no confidence after emotional abuse, it is incredibly hard even to know which way is up.  That has happened for a reason – your emotional abuser never wanted you to know which way was up.  Feeling confident, and feeling good about yourself are actually life skills that you –currently – don’t have.  Maybe you never did. So what? Life skills, like any other kind of skill can be learned.  Get yourself a good teacher, and you can expect good results fast. You probably would not choose a piano teacher to teach you how to drive.  By the same token, don’t put your trust in someone who may not even understand the problems you face, let alone have the expertise needed to teach you the new skills you need to learn.
  • Stop giving yourself a hard time – that hasn’t worked for you so far. It is NOT going to work for you, now – or ever. You really need to start thinking about yourself as someone you love – not someone you dislike, find fault with and, generally, put down.
  • Let go of your “prophet of Doom” habit. Every woman I have ever worked with came with a “future story” that made her back story look like a picnic.  She had thoroughly plotted her future nosedive into Despair, Disaster, and Destitution.  Not one of them had any talent for reading the future.  Not one single life turned out anywhere near as bad as they firmly believed.  (In fact, they are all thrilled and delighted with how their post-Nasty lives have panned out.)
  • Forget about confidence. Confidence is a red herring. Confidence is really not the be-all and end-all. Confidence is nice to have, but it is just a by-product of what matters most.

What you need when you have no confidence after emotional abuse

There are 3 things you need when you have no confidence after emotional abuse.

  • The demise of the “earworm”. Imagine how life can be without that wretched “earworm” making you feel hopeless and worthless all the time. It is perfectly possibly to enjoy silence inside your own head, instead of the constant barrage of criticism. When you do away with your resident “earworm”,  you will – finally – start to enjoy piece of mind, and the Despair-Disaster-and-Destitution consciousness will fade away.
  • Connect with your own power and resources. Little Miss Helpless-and-Hopeless is the standard persona  that every emotionally abused woman confuses with her true identity.  Making important decisions, feeling motivated, and staying positive become surprisingly easy, once Little Miss Helpless and Hopeless stops running the show (or more correctly, running from running the show)
  • Know exactly what to do and what not to do. Being in an emotionally abusive relationship is akin to dangling on a rope at the edge of the known world. You have not a clue where you are, but that doesn’t stop you racing furiously first in one direction and then another. The fact is, in difficult times, especially, your energy is finite. It’s too easy to waste it pursuing things that won’t work out, when you just need to focus on the key issue.

How not to get caught up in overwhelm

Barbara, a  1-on-1 client, was in overwhelm over everything she needed to change. That “Everything” included accommodation problems, her children, getting back into the job market, dealing with her toxic, estranged husband, coping with her faith community and friendships that had turned sour.

Together we whittled that “Everything” down to just one thing: her loss of sense. She not only had no confidence after emotional abuse, she felt she had no self. As I worked with her, she rapidly discovered a self whose strength she could rely on.  Suddenly, she became much, much bigger and more powerful than the problems she faced.  In that moment, she found she had all the confidence she needed to deal with her problems.

A couple of years after we stopped working together, Barbara contacted me to update me. She followed a path of study that led to a career that she loves.  Her relationship with her ex is as good as it can reasonably be.  They cooperate over the children, who are all doing well. She has a caring, supportive new partner who cannot do enough for her and she has friends and a faith community where she finally feels she fits.

First steps

If you have no confidence after emotional abuse, that is a really important thing to understand about yourself. You then have to ask yourself, “What do I need to do to change that? How much longer can I put off feeling good enough about myself to rebuild myself.”  It’s normal to feel you have no confidence after emotional abuse. However, you do yourself no favors when you accept feeling un-confident, powerless, and fearful as your norm. First acknowledge that you are where you are. As nearly U-N-J-UD-G-M-E-N-T-A-L-L-Y as you possibly can.  Then reach out to get the help that you need.



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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