Loss of Self-Esteem

An individual's self-esteem is based on his beliefs regarding his worth, competence, and value. It is composed of attitudes towards his positive or negative characteristics, and influences his thoughts, feelings, motivation, goals, attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. Individuals with high self-esteem tend to be confident, value and trust themselves, and are resilient. They are better able to meet challenges, disappointments, and failures.
When a person grows up in a safe environment, is valued, and experiences love and respect, he feels safe in the world and trusts himself and others. When events occur that impact the person's view of world so that he sees it as unsafe and unpredictable and perceives himself as powerless or helpless, self-esteem is damaged. 

Child sexual abuse harms both the victim's self-esteem and the mother's. The mother may judge herself as unable to protect her child and failure in her role as mother. She may have trusted someone who was untrustworthy and now experiences self-doubt in her ability to rightly evaluate others. According to Ovaris (1991), her self-esteem will be affected by: 
  • Her belief regarding current alternatives.
  • Her perception regarding her relationship with the victim.
  • Her perception regarding her relationship with the abuser.
  • Her fears regarding future losses.
  • Her sense of the overall meaning of the current situation in her life and in her child's life.
  • Her attitude and response to legal, social service, and counseling interventions.

Mothers may appear devastated by the disclosure of sexual abuse. They may initially appear emotional, weak, and/or unstable. They may demonstrate confusion, ambivalence , rage, grief, depression, and inability to make decisions or manage aspects of their lives.  These are symptoms of the grief response to trauma. The crisis of sexual abuse may appear to devastate the self-esteem of mothers. Based on emotions and behaviors demonstrated by mothers, outside professionals or agencies may judge mothers as unable to provide safe parenting for child victims. At a time when mothers are negatively evaluating themselves, system representatives are often criticizing and judging them. 

Mothers may experience a temporary loss of self-esteem due to the sense of incompetence following disclosure. This is directly related to grief and the sense of powerlessness regarding the inability to protect victims. Other demands on the mother's time and attention are unfamiliar and can continue to undermine her confidence and sense of competence. Law enforcement, attorneyscourt procedures, and social service agencies may seem strange and frightening to mothers. They may feel judged or fear being judged. As child victims demonstrate symptoms related to the sexual abuse or as other children act out in response to the family crisis, mothers may feel more and more unsure of themselves and their abilities.    

Mothers need information, resources, support, and intervention. With understanding and help, mothers can bounce back, regain self-esteem, and make effective decisions for the safety and stability of victims and families. 


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