Self-esteem is a person's identification of positive aspects of themselves that they like and appreciate. It is based on self-perception, the beliefs and feelings that a person has about himself. If a person has healthy self-esteem, he or she feels self-confident and capable and competent to do the things that life requires. Self-esteem affects attitudes, motivation for behavior, and behaviors. It affects the person's ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors and have positive social relationships.
Children develop self-esteem early in life. When they feel good about themselves, they are able to face challenges and do well. They develop a sense of mastery. However, when sexual abuse
occurs, the child victim
and powerless, unable to have any level of mastery in this situation. Children naturally think that they are at fault for events that occur in their lives. When children experience sexual abuse, they blame themselves, thinking they did something wrong. Their self-esteem is damaged by that perception.
Negative emotions related to the sexual abuse (e.g., depression, fear, confusion, shame) also have a negative impact on self-esteem. Negative emotions result in relationship difficulties, loneliness, behavioral problems
, and other long-term consequences
of sexual abuse, and interfere with the child's sense of self-worth and value.
One of the earliest and most essential aspects of child development is developing a sense of self. How a child is treated in early childhood influences the development of this self-awareness, and sexual abuse interferes with this developmental process.
Without a sense of self, the child grows into an adult who:
- Is unable to self-soothe and self-regulate emotions
- Is unable to separate self from others
- Looks to others for identity
- Is unable to establish and maintain personal boundaries
- Is suggestible and gullible
- Is unable to protect himself from harm
- Has increased likelihood of abuse and violence in adulthood
Other factors of sexual abuse that affect the child's self-esteem:
- Fear of being hurt - ongoing fear of perpetrator and bodily injury from abuse
- Guilt and self-blame regarding sexual abuse
- Shame - now perceiving self as "bad"
- Disclosure and the responsibility for the consequences occurring to family and perpetrator
Self-esteem is lowered by the following negative effects of sexual abuse:
Child sexual abuse survivors need a lot of love and encouragement in believing that they are okay and good, as well as recognition for achieving small goals.