In many cases, self-esteem and domestic violence go hand in hand. Low self-esteem can be brought on by a variety of factors and can be a serious issue for women (and men) who are victims of domestic violence.
Contrary to what many believe, domestic violence is not just about physical violence. It can also include sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and stalking. Basically, domestic violence offenders always feel the need to be in control of their victims. The less in control an offender feels, the more they want to hurt others.
If victims of domestic violence have low self-esteem, it can cause them to stay in an abusive relationship. This can lead to serious injuries and even death. Maria Phelps, a survivor of brutal domestic violence and the blogger behind A Movement Against Domestic Violence, notes:
Self-esteem alone cannot combat domestic violence. A woman with high self-esteem can be affected by domestic violence, but I feel that the woman with better self-image will be more empowered to leave a relationship where there is abuse, and that is the important thing to focus on.
Women with low self-esteem feel that they cannot do better than the situation they are in, which makes them far less likely to leave than a woman who has high self-esteem and can stand up for herself. Domestic violence offenders tend to prey on women who have low self-esteem, realizing that the victim will want and need them no matter what they do.
Because of the connection between self-esteem and domestic violence, it is critical to teach children about self esteem. According to Overcoming.co.uk, a website that focuses on mental health issues, “Crucial experiences that help to form our beliefs about ourselves often (although not always) occur early in life.” It is, therefore, essential that children are introduced to the concept of self-esteem at an early age. In order to help prevent domestic violence in future generations, children need to understand if what they are feeling is healthy and learn positive ways to feel better about themselves.
Alexis A. Moore, founder of Survivors In Action, observes:
Women don’t leave because of fear and self-esteem. Most women, if we ask them to say the truth, are fearful of going out on their own. It’s a self-esteem issue primarily that is compounded by fear that they can’t make it alone without their batterer.
Offenders are very aware of this and use it to their advantage. If an abuser feels that his partner is becoming more empowered to leave, he’ll turn on the charm to convince the victim that he actually does love her, then take something away from her to control and dominate her. That something could be the victim’s right to money or privacy or any number of other rights. He may tell the victim that she’s nothing compared to him, causing the victim to feel vulnerable and afraid. Even if a victim seems like she has nothing else to lose, an offender can still find something to control and that usually has a significant impact on the victim’s self-esteem, causing her to stay with her abuser for just that little bit longer.
Women dealing with domestic violence need to remember that they are not alone. Friends and family members of victims should provide ongoing reminders that they can get out of the situation and lead a normal life. Victims need support to feel empowered to live a life free of violence.
Phelps, who was battered for years by her husband — a teacher and a martial arts black belt — knows how hard it is to leave. Yet she has one response to domestic violence victims who ask what they should do:
The only answer to this question is to run. It is never the right choice to stay in a relationship where there is abuse involved. A victim of domestic violence should form a safety plan and get out of the situation at the first chance they can.
Every victim of domestic violence needs to remember that it doesn’t matter how small and vulnerable your attacker makes you feel. You are worth more and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity…just like everyone else.