One of the byproducts of both physical and emotional abuse is a lack of self-esteem. How can survivors overcome that?
This is a great question! Part of the goal of emotional abuse is for the victim/survivor to doubt themselves, believe they are not worthy and believe that no one else will ever love them. All of these feelings result in the victim/survivor being “bound” more tightly to the abuser. Overcoming a lack of self-esteem can be instrumental in leaving an abusive relationship and establishing a new life. How does one do that? Self-esteem is largely built through positive experiences that reinforce our value, so building self-esteem often takes place when we engage with people who value us, care for us, regard us, and are in situations where we feel successful.
Given how damaged a victim/survivor’s self-esteem may be, starting with baby steps is good. Set a small goal for each day and acknowledge your success in achieving it. Some days, it might be simply having the courage to get out of bed, text a friend to ask for support or cook a small meal to nourish yourself and your family. Then, build on these small successes and remember to acknowledge your growth. Surround yourself only with people who treat you with respect. Soon, little by little, self-esteem can be rebuilt and restored, but it takes time, effort, commitment, and, most importantly, learning or re-learning to love and value yourself.
Simply “getting out” of an unhealthy relationship is a huge issue for many women. What are the first steps?
It is very hard to leave an unhealthy relationship. The first step is likely to be simply acknowledging that the relationship is unhealthy. Many victims/survivors have experienced so much gaslighting, which is brutal for their self-esteem and often leads them to believe that what is happening in their relationships is either normal or their fault. So, naming the relationship as unhealthy can be an important first step. One must begin to see options outside of the relationship.
Depending on factors like how long the abuse has been going on and the degree of isolation, it may be hard for a victim/survivor to see anything outside the relationship. So, establishing any contact or connection with the outside world is also important. Not only can these connections provide resources for leaving, but they can also be important in helping the victim/survivor label their relationship as unhealthy. As one is preparing to leave, it is important to line up resources. These might include material resources like a place to stay, even if temporarily, and perhaps care for one’s children so that the victim/survivor can focus on getting support, attending hearings if necessary, and those kinds of things.
Non-material resources are important as well, especially social and emotional support. This is the time to lean on family and friends who can help bolster your self-esteem, offer you encouragement, and simply listen and believe, which goes a long way toward undoing the impacts of the gaslighting that many victims/survivors experience.
What is the reason a woman returns to an unhealthy relationship and how can they overcome that barrier?
Women return for all kinds of reasons. On average, it takes seven tries to leave permanently. Sometimes, victims/survivors return because they can’t pay rent and buy food on their own, and they return to make sure their kids have a safe place to sleep and food in their bellies. Sometimes, victims/survivors return because the abuser says he will kill himself or her, and she’s afraid for her life or his.
Most victims/survivors return because they love the abuser, and he says he will stop; it will be the last time. They want so desperately to believe him that they do, put their faith in him, and go back to give their relationship another try. Finally, many victims/survivors return because people they trust — their family, their pastor — tell them that a good wife or partner sticks by her man, even when it’s tough. They go back because they think it’s the right thing to do. How does one overcome these barriers? Not alone! The question I’d ask is: why don’t we, as a society, support victims/survivors in leaving?
If we extended a social safety net and provided them with food, safe housing and a job that paid a living wage, they would be more likely to leave successfully. And, perhaps most importantly, why don’t we believe them and support their decisions? If we stopped telling victims/survivors to go back and give it another try, they might just have the courage to leave for good.
Finances are one of the biggest barriers to leaving an unhealthy relationship. Whether you’re currently in, recently left or surviving such a relationship, many other resources can give you support.
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence: NCDSV offers consulting, training and advocacy on issues relating to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
- Allstate Foundation’s Financial Literacy Program: Allstate provides financial literacy and support services to domestic violence survivors. The foundation also gives grants to shelters which offer one-year financial literacy programs.
- Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence: This worldwide organization offers a supportive community to those who have lost a loved one due to domestic violence.
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: The resource center offers a comprehensive source of information for people who want to learn more about domestic violence and help others.
- National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV): NNEDV projects address the causes and consequences of domestic violence. Through WomensLaw, the program also provides legal information and resources to people experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or dating violence.
- Joyful Heart Foundation: The foundation helps survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and aims to heal, educate and empower survivors.
- National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE): The endowment is a national organization dedicated to helping individuals gain the necessary skills to increase their financial education.
- Steps to End Domestic Violence: This prevention and advocacy organization helps survivors of domestic violence safely transition to a new life by offering physical and emotional support.
- Savvy Ladies: This female-founded nonprofit provides financial education for women. The nonprofit also provides a 1:1 personal financial helpline that offers private, safe and secure guidance about money.