A sense of self

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.

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  1. “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.”

    So very true. I totally identify with this and can see how it has played a big part in my life.

    Thanks for writing this and submitting it to the carnival 🙂

  2. Mike,

    I’m interested in your journey to your current situation. Have you written about your history of how you got to be the person you are today on your site, if so, do you have a link where your journey began, assuming you identified you were on the road to a different outlook/perspective?

    You’re probably aware of how difficult things are for me, having only just found out about my own abuse, but I’m interested if there are archetypal incidents, thoughts, insights and so forth when the journey begins. I’m sure you understand my meaning even if I’ve not chosen the right words.

    Yet again, I’ve enjoyed and ruminated on your words, you have a knack of deep insight tempered with common sense. At this rate, have you considered a forum to throw thoughts and debates around in?

    As ever, keep it up.



  3. Andy, I really didn’t write often when I was just “starting out” on a healing journey. I think I really struggled to find my voice and talk about what happened to me and how I felt about it for a really long time. Probably the closest thing I have to that on-line are in the essays section:


    Most of those were written before I discovered blogging as an easy way to write on a regular basis.

  4. Mike,

    Just started reading your essays. Didn’t realise you had been writing for so long!

    What struck me, and subsequently triggered me, was the fact that despite all you were going through, you retained a sense of self, or at least that is the impression I get. That’s significant, to me at least. And I have to say, I envy your capacity and ability to keep your identity and value while going through this period of your life. It’s one thing that has obviously shaped you into the person you are today and I don’t know how or what would be the appropriate term to apply here – congratulate you? Applaud you? I don’t know, it’s a show of your inner strength of character, or something equally intangible. Whatever, you still have that same capacity to be fluent and natural in your writing style and getting your point across without resorting to metaphor or analogies – something I can’t quite shake off in my own writing.

    I’m impressed, Mike, simple as that.

  5. Mike: Interesting and thought provoking blog! I saw it on the 4th Edition of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse: http://scarlettdemon.blogspot.com/
    I think “symptoms of a lack of “self” try to compensate for that by depending on others to give it to them” is also known as co-dependence. I had a very co-dependent relationship with my first husband and know how important a healthy sense of self is. Thanks for sharing this very important topic, Hope Forus

  6. Andy, thanks. But I have to temper your comment with a bit of a realistic view of my recovery. One of the reasons that my writing, even back to 1997, display a sense of self, is that before I gained at least a modicum of that sense of self, I had nothing to write. I only found a voice as I found a sense of who I am. I don’t have writings that show the struggle to develop that sense of self simply because I had no voice to write with.

    BTW, I have had a forum on this site before but it never really took off in terms of being busy, and I tended to spend more time trying to keep it from getting hacked, or spammed that I thought was worth any discussions that were going on. It’s still in the back of my mind as a possibility though.

    Hope, yes the term co-dependant is exactly what I was talking about, but I felt like that term was thrown around SO much for a time that it really lost any meaning to people, so I purposely avoided using it. 🙂

    Thanks for your comments!

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