I was taking a quick look at the deadline for the latest Carnival Against Child Abuse when I noticed that this month’s host has changed the topic a little bit. She wanted to focus on self-injury and sense of self. It quickly occurred to me that much of what we’ve been discussing about relationships, and our expectations of other people’s reactions really is about learning how to develop a healthy sense of self.
It’s long been my belief that having good relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic, or even working relationships, requires a certain amount of “self” to get that way. You really aren’t capable of having a balanced relationship if you don’t have a sense of yourself within that relationship.
That’s why, for example, when I talked about what we expected from others when we shared our stories of abuse, I focused on what we could reasonably expect from other people. As many have pointed out, typically we develop a sense of self as children, but in an abuse survivor’s case, that development has been stunted. Also typically, people who have low self-esteem, a low sense of self worth, and other symptoms of a lack of “self” try to compensate for that by depending on others to give it to them. That’s not a healthy basis for a relationship of any kind.
Like any childhood development problem, abuse victims lag behind other children in this area. There’s no questioning that, but also like other areas in which children can lag behind, with enough work, you can catch up. It’s taken me many years to develop a sense of self, and I don’t believe, even after all that work, that I’ve fully developed that yet. I do know that in the relationships I have now, I’ve managed to maintain my own identity, my own space, my own “self”. Having that allows me the freedom to give to others, and to be vulnerable to others, because I’m no longer living in fear of their responses. My own sense of self is not dependant on their response, it’s coming from within myself. Their response may be quite painful to me, I’m not talking about dissociating yourself emotionally from people around you, quite the contrary, I’m talking about having the freedom to be emotionally involved with the people in your life MORE freely, because you’re not going to lose your “self” in any case.