The term "low self-esteem" brings up many thoughts and ideas. Some people might think that having low self-esteem means they don't like what they see in the mirror, are insecure, or that lack confidence. While this is how low self-esteem surfaces for some, the hard truth is that low self-esteem runs much deeper than what we consciously think about ourselves—it’s how we treat ourselves and where we set our standards for how we feel we deserve to be treated.
I've come across countless survivors of abuse who think they have healthy self-esteem. They have an accurate view of themselves as well as their strengths and weaknesses, and overall feel good about who they are. However, because they don't walk around hating themselves, they don't see how their self-esteem could play a part in why they are continuing to date or befriend manipulative or abusive people. A big part of healthy self-esteem is treating our time, energy, money, body, and space with value. In part, this means setting boundaries, removing ourselves from perpetually confusing or anxiety-inducing situations, and not waiting until we have concrete proof someone is abusive or otherwise problematic before we leave—that them having crazy-making behavior is enough to be a deal-breaker.
Even if a target had healthy self-esteem before getting involved with a manipulator, the odds are that their self-esteem has been damaged in ways they aren't yet aware.
3 Results of Low Self-Esteem
If you distrust your judgment and perceptions of people and situations, then odds are you look to others to take the lead on what you should think, feel, or how you should act. This is how people tend to get involved in a series of abusive relationships. They doubt themselves, attributing any misgivings they have about someone are because of their PTSD or previous relationships with abusers. Then they either as the abuser or those around them for reassurance. Not trusting your perception of others or of events is a problem, especially if the new person is manipulative or abusive.
If you are continually unsure and need validation or direction from others, then odds are one of two things will happen: you will either be continually anxious and fearful when it comes to making a decision, or you will have perpetual regret as to why you listened to what someone else thought you should do. You must know yourself to be yourself. Becoming your own counsel and following your own course is vital, as deep down, you know what's best for you. You really do. It's okay to ask for input from others, but it's vital that you are able to ultimately form your own opinion. Learning to validate yourself takes time, but it can be done. It helps to start by making small decisions, remind yourself that you control the pace, and can get distance when you need to. Additionally, it helps to think about someone that you've known for a while and with whom you do feel safe around (perhaps a trusted sibling or family member, friend, or therapist). Think about how you feel around them, and use this feeling as a reminder that you don't always feel anxious around people.
LOW DEGREE OF SELF-PROTECTION
If you are continually placing your safety and sanity last, or can't tell when you are being mistreated or in danger, then this is not only a problem—it’s incredibly dangerous. This is especially the case if the other people you are making a priority are manipulative or abusive. All animals have protective instincts and would easily be picked off by predators if they didn't. Humans are no different.
Here are some signs that your ability to be self-protective needs work:
You can't tell the difference between a safe person and a dangerous person.
You are quick to drop any and all boundaries if someone is nice, attractive, friendly, or funny.
You trust others completely upon meeting them and think that doing anything less than this means you have trust issues or are hyper-vigilant.
You look to others to validate your decisions before you take action—no matter how problematic they are or how major the situation is.
When you have concerns about someone's behavior, you automatically assume that your instincts are wrong. You then interact with them as though they don't have concerning behavior, giving them the benefit of the doubt until their behavior proves that they are, in fact, untrustworthy or dangerous.
You keep abusive or destructive people in your life thinking that they would never hurt you like they have others—that your relationship with them is special and different.
You continually go back to a person who has threatened or harmed you thinking that your love can fix them.
You matter just as much as anyone else.
Putting yourself in harm's way to try and save someone who doesn't want to be saved—or worse, who wants to hurt you so that they can feel better about themselves or get their way—is a huge problem that can cost you your life.
EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL
A locus of control is how and where you attribute the cause of things that happen or don't happen to you. There are two types of locus of control: internal and external.
If a person has an external locus of control, they feel that their life is largely directed by things outside of their control—usually other people. This external focus causes a person to become angry, bitter, jaded, defeated, helpless, depressed, anxious, distrusting, and fearful.
A person with an internal locus of control is largely self-directed. They understand what they have control over and what they don't. They feel capable of implementing positive change in their life, and as a result, feel empowered. Shifting to developing an internal locus of control starts with getting in tune with your emotions and discerning what is safe and unsafe as well as nourishing and draining for you. Once you have a better grasp on these things, it will be easier to develop boundaries, standards, and deal-breakers around them.
Ask yourself: Do you have any of the above personality traits? If so, take a moment to list them and give some examples of how this has been a problem in your life.