As a child growing up with violence, chaos, incest, and rape, I had developed a distorted sense of self early on. Family members who were supposed to love, protect, and respect me, as well as the boys and men who had raped me, treated me in ways that caused me to question my worth as a human being.
It’s not that my parents didn’t love me – I know they did. But the constant ups and downs of my parents’ approval and disapproval, along with their corporal punishments, alienated me from the belief that I was worthwhile and lovable.
As a child, I couldn’t comprehend why my older brother Buddy had molested me. The only explanation, in my young mind, was that I must be a very bad person for him to abuse me in such a vile way. I became riddled with guilt and an immense feeling of shame.
The gang rape and subsequent turning me into the neighborhood whore only served to increase these feelings. How does a child maintain any sense of worth when she is used as a sexual plaything at the hands of those more powerful and in control? Added to these assaults on my psyche and soul were the rapes I had endured at the ages of seventeen and twenty-six.
How do I develop into a healthy, functional adult who understands her value as a human being? How do I look at myself in the mirror and feel love and respect for myself? How do I come to feel worthy of love and respect by someone else? What are the steps I must take to feel good about myself?
Every day I am faced with the challenge of reprogramming my psyche as I berate, diminish, ignore, criticize, undermine, and negate myself. Every day I must catch myself as thoughts of unworthiness and unlovability try to take hold in my mind.
I challenge these negative beliefs by replacing them with affirmations, positive statements I say out loud or write down on post-it notes and pin to my bulletin board. I have been programmed to view myself as unlovable, powerless, and worthless. I use affirmations so that I can retrain my mind into knowing that I am lovable, I am powerful, and that I am worthy of respect.
Every time I call myself stupid or worthless, I squash those thoughts by affirming to myself that I am an intelligent and resourceful woman worthy of respect and love. Every time I believe that I can’t accomplish something, I tell myself that I am a confident, competent human being. Whenever I feel powerless in a situation, I tell myself I am powerful and capable. When I call myself fat and ugly, I replace those thoughts with the affirmation that I am beautiful, inside and out.
Sometimes, when using affirmations, I must fight thoughts that tell me I am lying to myself. I do not always accept these positive statements as undeniable truths. When this happens, I take on the “fake it until I make it” attitude because I know that one day, I will believe them.
Other ways in which I work to gain self-respect and increase my self-esteem include: learning to advocate for myself, learning to set healthy boundaries, trusting my intuition, and expanding my comfort zone by facing my fears and taking risks, which strengthens my confidence in my abilities.
Every time I catch myself in a negative belief and change that thought into a positive statement about myself, I succeed. Every time I advocate for myself, maintain a boundary, trust my intuition, and face my fears, I am that much closer to achieving my goal.
This is an ongoing process, one which I might have to do every day for the rest of my life. But I believe that self-love, self-respect, and a high self-esteem are attainable. Believing in myself often takes tremendous effort, but… I AM WORTH IT!
Photo by Felix Russell on Unsplash