What do you feel when you hear the word abuse? An abusive, sadistic, narcissistic person who loves to torment others. But what do you feel when you hear the word self abuse? Are you an abusive, sadistic, narcissistic person who loves to torment yourself? No, right?
While we can easily spot the signs of abuse in someone else, it is often difficult for us to recognize the same signs when we abuse our own selves. We think it is normal to keep telling ourselves that we are no good. We believe it is okay to constantly compare ourselves with others. We feel it absolutely okay to let our insecurities, fears, anxieties, self-doubts and lack of confidence dominate our lives. Only it is NOT! Abusing yourself is as wrong and unethical as abusing others.
And this is why it is important that you identify the signs of self abuse and replace such toxic habits with self-love, self-empathy and self-compassion.
Related: What Is Self Love Deficit Disorder?
Do you abuse yourself?
“You will never be successful no matter how hard you try.”
“No one will ever love you. You will die alone.”
“Just look at yourself. You disgust me.”
“Why do you even try? You are so embarrassing.”
“Think positively? You’re a loser. No amount of positive thinking is going to change that!”
“You know what everyone says about you? They hate you. And so do I.”
Sounds like abuse, doesn’t it? Well, if you’ve ever wondered “what is self abuse?”, then this is exactly what self abuse sounds like too. When someone else says these things to us, we are quick to brand it as abuse. Yet when we say these things to ourselves, we consider them as potential truths. We give excessive power to our inner critic and let our negative self-talk hurt our emotions and torture our mind. Not only this fills us up with doubt, shame and guilt, and prevents us from reaching our full potential, it also severely affects our mental health in the long run.
Self abuse is unnecessary self-punishment
While self-abuse may involve self-harm, self-injury and self-destructive behavior, emotional self abuse can make deeper and lasting emotional wounds that can haunt you for your entire life. It is closely associated with self-abasement where you keep putting yourself down, belittling yourself or behaving extremely humbly out of poor self-esteem, fear, guilt, shame, insecurities & a lack of self-respect and self-confidence.
Bullying yourself is in fact more damaging than being bullied by others because you are telling yourself that you are no good. When you have self-confidence and a healthy self-esteem, you can easily overcome insults from others. But negative self-talk eats you from the inside. It breaks your mind, it breaks your heart, and worst of all, it breaks your spirit.
Self-criticism and self-doubt is natural. We all experience it to some extent. But when you start believing in the lies you tell yourself, that’s when the problem begins. Emotionally abusing yourself hurts your inner child and pushes down your dreams, aspirations, motivations and passions in the dark abyss of self-doubt. You withdraw from everything, you isolate yourself, you kill your confidence and you run and hide. But from whom? From yourself. From all the lies you’ve been telling yourself.
And that is why it is extremely important that you learn to identify the signs of self abuse so that you can identify the lies your inner critic feeds you to keep you down. So that you can recognize that thoughts are just that – thoughts. They are not your reality. You don’t have to believe all these lies you tell yourself.
Recognizing how you talk to yourself can change your entire life.
7 Signs of self abuse
Self-abuse can be very similar to yet drastically different from being abused by someone else. However, it can be rather challenging to realize that we are abusing ourselves. Identifying the red flags of mental, emotional or physical self abuse can help you take a step forward towards recovery and building a better life for yourself.
Here are some of the most common signs that you abuse yourself-
“Maybe I shouldn’t share this idea with my manager. What if he thinks I am really stupid? Better to just stay shut.”
“There is no point in dating anymore. No one can ever like me for who I am. I will get rejected again.”
“I don’t think I can get this job. There are so many other candidates for this interview. All of them look way more qualified than me.”
Doubting yourself is okay as long as it motivates you to try harder and keep your guards up. But when your self-doubt makes you feel crippled and leads to self-sabotage, it turns into self-abuse. It makes you worried, anxious and stressed about being unable to accomplish a task and stops you from trying your best. Driven by feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and lack of confidence, this type of damaging mentality makes you question your own identity, abilities and strengths. It also prevents you from being confident about succeeding in life.
Anxiety can often lead to intrusive and obsessive thoughts which can make you falsely believe that you can’t live up to your own or others’ expectations. This can adversely affect your mentality, performance and efficiency. These intrusive thoughts result in overthinking which steals your joy, happiness and control over your own life. Self-doubt forms the core of self abuse.
2. Unrealistic expectations
“I have to lose 40 pounds in the next 2 weeks. It’s now or never.”
“I can completely change myself for him. Once he sees the new me, he will fall in love with me.”
“I can’t screw up this project else I will never get that promotion.”
Expectations give us hope and make us optimistic. Unreasonable expectations lead to disappointment. Just like when we are abused by others, self abuse can also put the burden of unrealistic expectations on us which can cause some serious damage on our mental and emotional health. When you demand more from yourself that simply may not be possible given the current situation, you set yourself up for failure. You demand that you earn more money, get a promotion or a better job, get in shape, be more efficient, get an ideal partner or be a better partner to your spouse, be wiser, less aggressive and reactive, be smarter and more confident – more, more, MORE!
While all these expectations may motivate you to work harder, in the long run it will lead to burnout, disengagement, failure and shame. And all this will make you feel that you are not good enough and your inner critic will start screaming at you – “I told you so!”
“I am such an idiot. I can’t do anything right.”
“I look so ugly in this dress. No wonder everyone was staring at me.”
“Why do I have to eat so much? I look like a fat pig.”
Do you use offensive, demeaning and insulting names and labels to define yourself? Name-calling is the process of using unkind nicknames & other types of verbal abuse and harassment used to bully others, mostly in elementary school. Then why are you still doing it to yourself as an adult? Attaching derogatory labels to yourself can have severe negative effects on your well-being, studies have revealed.
Using insulting nicknames to define yourself is a sign of poor self-esteem and self abuse. It shows that you believe you are lesser than others and putting yourself down makes you feel safe. “It is better to insult myself before others start insulting me.” But it is a soul-crushing and spirit-killing habit that you need to get rid of immediately.
4. Negative self-talk
“I can’t do this. I just don’t have the ability to pull this off.”
“Patricia is so confident all the time. I can never be as good as she is.”
“Everyone is going to laugh at me at the gym. I should have just stayed home.”
All of us are our own worst critics. Self-criticism is very common and most of us have experienced it at different times, regardless of how happy or successful we may be. But people who abuse themselves are highly prone to negative self-talk and it is often so damaging that it leads to judgment, blame, doubt and intense fear. When our inner dialogue becomes overly abusive and negative, it refrains us from believing in ourselves and reaching our potential. It keeps us from setting goals and achieving them, lowers our confidence and stops us from making positive changes.
When we compare ourselves to others or tell ourselves that we are not good enough, we isolate ourselves from all the love you have for ourselves. Self-doubt can fill our mind and heart with fear, making us feel that we are missing something important that others have. But such negative self-talk is often born out of anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem. The only way to overcome such toxic behavior and mental self abuse is by being aware of what we tell ourselves and stopping it in its tracks.
5. Inability to accept self
“Why do I have to be so shy all the time? Why can’t I just be more extroverted and outgoing like others?”
“I knew I would screw this up. I knew it. I was not ready for this. I will never be ready. I just don’t have it in me.”
“My boss probably gave me that promotion last month out of pity. Rebecca is so much smarter and hard working than me.”
Do you have a hard time believing in yourself? When we are unable to accept ourselves just the way we are, we tend to focus more on our flaws, imperfections and weaknesses rather than our strengths. We put more emphasis on what others think about us as we don’t believe our own opinion of ourselves. This is primarily caused by our lack of confidence, anxieties, fears and insecurities. We believe that we are not capable enough to make the right decisions for ourselves as we constantly refuse to believe and accept ourselves.
We are afraid of self-acceptance as we think it will make us glorify our flaws and imperfections and we will never be able to become better. Inability to trust ourselves is closely associated with our unrealistic expectations and perfectionist attitude and this is what stops us from trusting ourselves. But we need to realize that a lack of trust is one of the most common signs of abuse in any relationship, even in the one with yourself. No doubt it is one of the basic indications of self abuse.
“I have to write this email properly even if I need to stay up all night.”
“I need to dress perfectly for this date. I need to wear the right clothes so that I look thinner.”
“Eating healthy is not really a good idea. I can never stick to a diet and will surely fail. No point in trying it.”
One of the subtlest signs of self abuse in adults is being a perfectionist. When you constantly expect the best from yourself, you will push yourself to your limits all the time. While it is important to get out of your comfort zone, extreme behavior that pushes you to your physical, mental and emotional extremes can be downright abusive. Becoming a workaholic to nab that promotion or going on a strict fasting or dieting routine to get the perfect physique are every day signs of self abuse that we gladly ignore. This drive for being perfect in what we do can result in serious mental illnesses like anxiety, chronic stress, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or eating disorders.
Pursuing self-development is always appreciable, but demanding perfection from yourself to get better results every time is nothing short of self abuse. We believe the harder we try, the better we will get. But in this process, we undervalue the importance of rest, relaxation and recovery. This is a clear indication of a lack of self-love as we believe we can be happy and be proud of ourselves only when we reach our goal. As a result we are left unsatisfied and unhappy all the time as we keep chasing one goal after the other. What you need to do urgently is realize the difference between the pursuit of excellence and perfectionism.
“Until I get this project done I can’t go out on the weekends and waste more time. No more weekend plans.”
“I shouldn’t have eaten that cake last night. Now I need to fast all day and workout at least 2 hours to make up for it.”
“I am really bad at talking to people. I should just stay home and avoid embarrassing myself in front of others.”
Do you feel you need to punish yourself after you have screwed something up? Unconscious guilt can make us seek painful situations and suffering in order to neutralize such emotions. While self-harm is an extreme form of self-punishment, it commonly manifests itself as –
- Negative self-talk
- Mentally lecturing yourself
- Exercising excessively
- Extreme fasting or skipping meals
- Forcing yourself to experience difficult emotions like guilt after making a mistake
- Withholding rewards etc
Self-punishment is undoubtedly a form of mental and emotional abuse on yourself that can have severe physical and psychological effects. It is mainly a coping mechanism that allows us to deal with difficult emotions like sadness, anger, shame, guilt etc. When we cannot deal with such emotions in a healthy way, we lash out at ourselves instead of at others. Punishing ourselves makes us feel better by reducing our emotional pain as we believe we don’t deserve forgiveness or happiness. This is one of the most debilitating forms of self abuse even if we may feel that we are ‘teaching’ ourselves to become better.
Why do we abuse ourselves?
Self abuse can originate from a wide range of complicated factors. Some of the most common causes of self abuse include –
- Being neglected, abandoned or abused by parents or caregivers as a child
- Being in an emotionally abusive romantic relationship or friendship in the past
- Seeking perfection and having self-esteem issues
- Suffering from underlying mental illnesses like Generalized anxiety disorder or Major depressive disorder
Several other factors, such as personality disorders, can also lead to self abuse tendencies.
How to stop self abuse
Emotionally abusing yourself is never fun. It makes you feel horrible from the inside and you are the sole reason for the way you feel. But you can choose to break out of this cycle of abuse by welcoming empathy, compassion and love for yourself.
Here are a few ways to avoid being a victim of self abuse and bring your power back –
- Identify the reasons for your self abuse and what fears, weaknesses, insecurities it addresses.
- Cultivate self-love, pay attention to your emotions and take efforts to meet your needs.
- Be more patient, kind, empathetic, compassionate and gentle with yourself. Tell yourself it’s okay to have flaws and imperfections.
- Avoid toxic and abusive relationships and people who don’t respect, value or appreciate you.
- Congratulate yourself for even the smallest achievements and praise yourself every single day.
- Practice positive affirmations and tell yourself that you are strong, independent, capable and worthy. Affirming yourself every day can boost your confidence and self-esteem.
- Control your tendency to overthink about everything and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness meditation to manage your anxiety.
- Do things that you enjoy, treat yourself upon achieving small goals and make yourself feel special by doing something nice for yourself.
- Learn to be more assertive and start saying “no” when you don’t feel like doing or agreeing to something.
- Consult a therapist or a counselor and seek professional help to identify any underlying mental health conditions you may have.
Replace self abuse with self love
The first step to overcoming self abuse and inviting self love is saying “no” to others and saying “yes” to yourself. Pleasing others and putting yourself down will not make you happier in life. Instead of running away from your anxieties and insecurities, identify them, sit with them and address them – that’s how you can truly resolve your fears and start accepting yourself for who you are.
You deserve freedom, love and happiness, not abuse. Focus on your mental, emotional and physical needs, show yourself some much deserved love and put your energy into self development instead of abusing yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Is isolation a form of self abuse?
Yes, social isolation is a form of self abuse. When you restrict yourself from going out, meeting or talking to loved ones, you are controlling your behaviors and punishing yourself.
Why sadness leads to self abuse?
Some people are not capable enough to deal with difficult emotions like sadness, depression or hopelessness. Self abuse acts as a coping mechanism that helps to reduce their emotional pain.
How to stop verbally abusing yourself?
Control your unreasonable expectations of yourself, accept yourself as you are, embrace your imperfections, practice positive affirmations and learn to love yourself. Being more kind, gentle and compassionate with yourself will help you overcome verbally abusing yourself.
Is self harm and self abuse same?
Self-harm is a form of physical self abuse where someone deliberately hurts their own bodies to cope with emotional pain. Self abuse, however, is not limited to physical abuse as one can abuse themselves mentally and emotionally as well.