Experiencing trauma can feel like it's taking everything from you. Your sense of safety, your ability to cope, your will to continue. It can also negatively affect the way you see yourself as a person. When we experience something traumatic, our brains try to logically make sense of an unsensible event. We do this by trying to regain control by blaming ourselves, our abilities, our responsibility, and our vulnerability. You might even believe that you deserve or caused your trauma, ignoring that it's entirely at the hands of someone else.
While having control may feel like a sense of security, it does not always deliver the safety you are looking for. Instead, this control can lead to a desire for perfection, excessive expectations, even self-hatred. And thinking that if only you were smarter, stronger, more assertive, a better person hurts may make sense at the time, but it does a lot of damage to the relationship you have with yourself.
Using CBT To Improve Self-Esteem:
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is a modality that helps clients connect thoughts to emotions and behaviors, while also empowering people to have control over their own thoughts. Restructuring our thoughts allows trauma survivors to challenge the negative messages that they attribute to themselves after the experience. When you find yourself craving control and resorting to self-hate, try curiosity instead. Therapist Aid has a great resource to help you visualize and 'put your thoughts on trial.'
Using this exercise, let's practice. Say that the thought is 'I am responsible for my sexual assault.' What is the defense, the evidence that this thought is true? Maybe it's: I drank too much, I didn't say no, I wore too tight clothes. Now let's try the evidence against, the prosecution: My clothes don't define my right to be sexually assaulted or not, my assailant knew I was too drunk to consent, even if I said no they could have continued or hurt me, no one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted no matter what, etc. etc. The judge's verdict, in this case, would side with the prosecution, that this thought is NOT true because the evidence outweighs the defense.
See how this works? Now you try. What thought could you put on trial?
Dillman, S.M. (2020). How Trauma Impacts Your Sense of Self Part 1. GoodTherapy.org. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/identity-trauma/
Therapist Aid. Cognitive Restructuring: Thoughts on Trial. Retrieved from https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/putting-thoughts-on-trial