Learning to Love Yourself After Trauma

I have not lost track of my resolution to write more about self-love this year.  It is such a big topic it has turned into a series (with no end in sight yet). Stay tuned for a very special guest blogger post, one survivor turned thriver’s story of how she got to the place of self-love. You can also check out the previous posts in the series here:

Resolving Resolutions: How Will You Begin the New Year?

Shame and Self-Blame After Trauma

Overcoming Negative Self-Talk

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Self-Love and Healing

I’ve already covered why learning to love yourself is an important part of healing after trauma, so how do you go about it? How do you love yourself when you have been abused and betrayed? Children learn to love by being loved. What happens when your parents/caretakers

do not love you?

express love for you in ways that are destructive?

love you conditionally; only if you are/behave in ways they approve of?

love you but do not prevent others from harming you?

People in your life treated you in ways that were not loving. This includes not loving you in a way that put your needs first. As a result you learned to feel unlovable. Continuing with that belief keeps you stuck in that trauma cycle. You need to learn to give to yourself what you did not receive early on. Connection with others helps, maybe especially a therapist because that is where you can understand and work through the relationship issues from the past. The goal of connecting with others now is not to just stop there; you need to learn to internalize their positive view of you. Ultimately, no other person’s care or love can substitute for loving yourself. Until you get there something will continue to feel like it is missing.

Not knowing how to love yourself can set up a pattern of looking for others to fill that love hole, creating unfair expectations and disappointment. Those with dissociative identity disorder (DID or DDNOS) may have small child parts that look for parenting from others. It will be important to learn how to take care of and parent these parts of yourself. Looking outside of you for others to serve this function may result in difficult dynamics in your personal relationships. At worst it can set you up for further victimization.

If you’re a survivor of childhood abuse or come from a dysfunctional family, you may still be waiting for a parent to give you the love and acceptance you never got as a child. But the kind of love you need (or needed as a child) probably isn’t going to come from a parent who abused you or who looked the other way while you were being abused. But it can come from yourself.

Loving yourself, just like loving someone else, isn’t so much a feeling as a choice and series of actions based on that choice. You can decide to learn to love yourself and begin to act accordingly even before you feel very loving. In the 12 step world this is called “fake it til you make it”. This slogan refers to the idea that you can act as if something is true, in this case that you already love yourself, as a way to get there. This is not the same thing as being false or fake to look acceptable in the eyes of others. Too many survivors (or anyone who learned to put others’ needs ahead of their own) have had to live with this kind of false self. Working on loving yourself requires tolerating this dichotomy: you are aware that you do not yet love yourself and that you are choosing to behave as if you do anyway.

If you have a dissociative disorder, like DID or DDNOS, loving yourself means loving the others inside. And loving them means loving yourself. All of you together are you. Even if you are a long way from really getting that you are all part of one person, love directed to any part of yourself benefits all. Faith Allen at Blooming Lotus has a fantastic post (and entire Blog with many examples of self-love and compassion after trauma!) with some practical advice regarding loving other parts of you:

I send lots of internal positive energy toward alter parts. I will say things like, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry,” repeatedly in my head because these are the messages I most needed to hear as a child.

The following are some ideas of how to learn to love yourself. This is of course just a starting point. Take what works for you and build on it.Think of it as practice, as building your loving yourself muscles.

  • Counter your negative self-talk with positive facts. Focus on what’s good about you. If you can’t generate your own ideas consider the input of trusted others. This can be as simple as “I knit well” or “I am good with animals”.
  • Work with positive mantras or affirmations. Say it even if you do not feel it. Identify some of your core self hating messages and counter them.  For example, if a recurring belief for you is “I am unlovable” then make your affirmation something like “I am lovable and capable of loving”. Get the idea?
  • Learn to soothe and comfort yourself.  Develop a list of behaviors that you use to reduce distress or to just plain treat yourself. Keep a list so you can see it and use daily or as needed. Some examples could be: buy yourself flowers, have a special kind of tea in a cup you love, take a hot bath, go for a walk in nature, wear your favorite or most comfortable clothes. Your list will vary and be as individualized as you! Stuck? Work on it in therapy or with a trusted support person. Ask friends what they do to soothe or treat themselves.
  • Keep a daily list of 3 things you like about you.
  • Praise yourself for what you accomplish, little or big.  Add it to your daily list described above.
  • Love your body. Feed it what it wants. Give it physical activity it enjoys. Get enough sleep.
  • Focus on love, compassion, care in general. Is there someone you feel these things for? A child? A family of choice member? A pet? Reflect on how you  experience and demonstrate love to others. Practice doing the same with yourself!

I’d like to end with a quote I love from Pema Chodron:

Compassionate action has to start with ourselves. It is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and never give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and never give up on them.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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18 Responses to Learning to Love Yourself After Trauma

  1. Jeanette says:

    The timing of this couldn’t have been better, there is so much here I can identify with!

    One thing in particular I was dealing with today is a tendency I have of accepting labels of disrespect as if it somehow my destiny to be stuck with them. I realized (with the gentle help of my therapist) that I don’t have a respectful view of myself and therefore don’t allow myself to feel the offense when I am disrespected by others. I have to learn to love myself by respecting myself and expecting that same level of respect from those around me.

    I can also relate to the need to show love to parts of me that never knew love. It is a struggle when going through the process, to identify those feelings of resentment toward parts that were abused and try to reverse this. To learn to have compassion for the abused selves/self and caring for these parts as they should have been cared for. Very difficult/painful to get in touch with all of this, but very necessary for healing to take place.

    Thanks for another great post!
    Jeanette

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  6. What a smart and helpful post! Thanks for all of these insights and ideas. I finally got this post included in THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE that I just published. Thanks for participating and thanks for agreeing to host the carnival next month. You’re going to be a great host and I’m looking forward to it!

  7. What a great post on how to learn to love yourself. To me, the bottom line in starting to heal lies in loving yourself. Building your self-esteem comes from loving yourself. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  13. Nadia says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this.. it was something I needed to hear. Many times, I have been the victim but blocking out that I have also been on the other side of it. Meaning… I didn’t truly understand how to love because I wasn’t loved as a child and when I was, the love came from many different ppl who weren’t always a stable part of my life. I moved around a lot. I think much of my self hate comes Friday m the abuse I did to myself for some years. Also not knowing how to cope with adulthood in therigh ways because I was never taught any good morals and values. It is important to instill these things and to act out of kindness to children because it will affect who they become. I feel so much guilt and shame of my entire life. I made horrible decisions and I am paying for them today. Im trying to learn how to overcome these feelings of self hatred because it is eating me up inside. Its like I dont have a soft spot for myself which inadvertly turns me into someone I dont like. I wish I loved me again… Its affecting my whole life… I dont work. I dont get out amongst society anymore. I dont have any friends. I just feel like a very shameful person… feeling like I dont even deserve to helpothers because of everything I did to myself… feeling pretty worthless… People tell me that I am a terrible person. I feel like a terrible person.

    • Jana says:

      Dear Nadia, maybe Brene Brown talk on Vulnerable Is Not Weak could also give you some good energy http://www.goodlifeproject.com/brene-brown-vulnerable/
      I hope so! <3

    • Anonymous says:

      Things in the past did hurt but if there is one person you know who really cares for maybe you can realize they were there when you weren’t. There are times we don’t know what wr do or say to others when we feel they are bringing things to our attention maybe with out getting affended maybe just think and view what they are willing to do because they fo love and care for you. Let your wall down and learn to trust them without thinking that they are judging you

  14. Sarah Dickinson says:

    This post was not only insightful & informative, but touching & surprisingly relatable. Thank you for this post.

  15. I needed to read this today. I have recently learned about the concept of talking vs. processing trauma. I have recently experienced a trigger and it has started a whirlwind in me where I recognized that I have to finally process my trauma and not speak about it as if it happened to someone else. My blog is detailing the process I am going through and I am working closely with my psychiatrist. I am writing my trauma out in small segments so that I can identify the emotions and perceptions I experienced. Not just a broad sweep of the experience. Last night the actually processing began and I am overwhelmed with emotions and am crying. Crying is an activity I avoid as it takes all my energy out of me and leaves me with a horrendous headache. I don’t avoid crying because I think it is an indicator or weakness it is just the physical toll it has on me. However, it is impossible for me to face this trauma and not cry. Prior to my decision to finally process this trauma I began developing a self care routine and have been using it even at times when all i want to do is collapse from exhaustion. I am fully committed to processing this as I dont I want to be able to recognize the what my feelings are telling me and be able to make better choices in the future not based on the fears I developed over the years.

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