Abuse and self-esteem are linked in many ways, but the most common connection is that abuse can cause low self-esteem. The actual connection between abuse and self-esteem can manifest in a number of ways, and there is often an intermediate level of causation involved. Unfortunately, resolving the abusive situation does not always return self-esteem to positive levels, as the effects of abuse can be permanent. Depending on the kind of abuse, various therapies may be appropriate to reduce the ties between the abuse and self-esteem.
One of the most common ways in which abuse and self-esteem are related involves children. Abused children typically have low self-esteem and may never have had the opportunity to develop the personal skills required to maintain a positive self-image. Low self-esteem can be a way of identifying abuse, although this quality alone is not sufficient to point to abuse. Unfortunately, abuse and self-esteem can be linked for the rest of the child's life, to the degree that the child will subconsciously seek out abusive situations as an adult due to low self-esteem.
For abused adults, self-esteem can be lower when in an abusive relationship. Physical abuse can cause low self-esteem, but emotional abuse is often much more damaging to a person's personal value. Emotional abuse often occurs over long periods of time, and the victim may not even know that he or she is being abused. The patterns caused by emotional abuse can be much harder to identify and remedy than those caused by physical abuse because they are more subtle.
When abuse has occurred in a person’s life but he or she does not recognize or remember that abuse, the damaging effects can still cause low self-esteem. Patterns that are developed during the period of abuse can continue even if the abuse is not remembered. Therapy is essential to developing the skills to regain normal self-esteem, and seeking therapeutic help for low self-esteem may even reveal a history of abuse or current abusive patterns.
Sometimes this connection between abuse and self-esteem is reversed, and some people claim that people with high self-esteem are less vulnerable to abuse than those who have low self-esteem. This may be true, but the reasons why it is true are often highly complex. For example, abusers tend to prey on people with low self-esteem, but people with low self-esteem also tend to believe that they do not deserve to be in a loving relationship. Combating low self-esteem is important to health and can prevent a person from experiencing abuse at all.