Low self – esteem in traumatised children


Traumatised children from dysfunctional families quickly learn in early childhood that they are not worthy of attention, or unconditional love. Children of self – absorbed parents are often told that they are no good, are criticised daily, blamed for the treacherous abuse inflicted upon them, and shamed for having needs.

These children often grow up, taking with them, these negative views about themselves. They tend to accept the ill treatment inflicted on them by others, as a reflection of who they are – because this is what they were told in their early childhood years.

Traumatised adult children expect to be abandoned by everybody whom they come into contact with, somewhere in the near future; even by their best friend, or the love of their life. Abuse, rejection and abandonment in later adult life is what they expect to happen, and is what they feel deserving of; because they honestly believe that they will be forever at fault, bad, unworthy, undeserving, and unlovable.

This child lives, breathes, abides by, and often acts out on the lies they were told about themselves well into adulthood. They truely live in a mental prison.

The phrase which takes over the child’s mind and erodes their perception:

‘If my parents say these things about me, than they must be true.’

Phrases like this one have become cemented in their mind, and have destroyed their internal world further. Unfortunately, the traumatised child was lied to about themselves, and will live with these lies until they can no longer handle it, and decide to go and get help.

The faulty self image:

Dysfunctional parents will use intimidating, down – putting body language, behaviour, and verbal abuse to in-still in the child’s mind, feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness and/ incompetence. The child interprets the parent’s negative behaviour towards them as a reflection of who are they, not who their parent is.

These deep seated, intensely ingrained beliefs develop within the child because the parent has taken their anger out on the child; abandoned, abused, neglected, and continually criticised them. In the eyes of the child, a parent wouldn’t be so horrific to them unless they were obviously a bad, terrible child.

Children only know what they are taught: 

If a child is being mistreated to extreme degrees, they will take it on, believe they are deserving of the treatment, and accept it without question. The confidence that was meant to develop within them between the ages of 0-4 was annihilated before it even had a chance to develop. So, instead of challenging the parent’s behaviour, like a confident child would, the traumatised child accepts the adult’s behaviour towards them as a ramification of their own badness, and insignificance.

The child often decides to look deeply within themselves in search of a way to fix the dysfunctional family dynamics, instead of accepting that there is something very wrong with the primary perpetrator, their parent.

If the parent abandons the child, the child will see this as a reflection of their inadequacy. If the parent restricts love, the child will direct the shame from that incident, inward. To them, this damaging behaviour exhibited by the parent is not a reflection of the parent, but a reflection of them. If the traumatised child is criticised daily, than the child accepts their caregivers perception of them – that they are incapable.

Those first few years:

The first years of the child’s life sets the stage for a negative view of self to formulate, and therefore, will affect the child’s entire life.

Once this false view of the child is formed, it holds its weight for the rest of time, and affects every single aspect of the child’s life well into adult-hood, on a daily basis.

‘ If one thinks they are no good, than how can they possibly make sensible decisions, believe in their own decisions, or even have the audacity to make decisions that put themselves first?’

The traumatised child may become an adult that is in need of constant approval, cannot make a decision without running it past someone else, and who has absolutely no self belief.

This negative false view of the child, that was never real in the first place, will affect their level of success, communication skills, ability to be assertive, and ongoing choices and dreams.

When the child enters a recovery programme in adulthood, they will eventually change their view of themselves, and realise that their parents’ were very sick.

Unable to distinguish a trustworthy person from an untrustworthy person:

Children who have been betrayed by the people closest to them often live in a state of chronic anxiety. This chronic anxiety is ignited when the child is around people, because they feel as though they can’t trust anyone. It is a hit and miss for this child, because they often don’t notice the red flags when they arise anyway. Or, if they do see the red flags, they may blame themselves for the red flags, because in their eyes they are the problem in all of their relationships, not the person they’re in the friendship, or relationship with.

Quite often, a traumatised child who is riddled with self- hate, will be happy if some one simply pays them some attention, or behaves nicely towards them. These children also tend to be very accepting of dysfunctional people, and may believe that other people with low self-esteem are a perfect match for them.

As a consequence, they often end up trusting people based on momentary kindness, which can lead to being taken advantage of and manipulated. Traumatised children often end up trusting people who shouldn’t be trusted, and decide not to trust those who can be trusted.

Irrational and distorted self – statements:

Once a child takes on their parents’ perception of themselves, they will treat themselves accordingly, and expect everybody else to treat them with contempt as well.

This child is overly critical of themselves, and easily manipulated into believing someone else’s negative view of them. They will struggle to believe that they are deserving of good things, may reject compliments, and may even reject those who compliment them – because in their mind, it is the people who perceive them in a good light that have the wrong end of the stick, and really should taken a second look to find the evil being, lurking deep within.

From now on this child will expect rejection, and know its on it way.

The effect of recurring mistreatment from others:

When someone mistreats the traumatised child, this child will most likely endure a shame spiral. This shame spiral will be fuelled by irrational negative self-talk, and memories of wrong doings.

When a downright nasty person behaves in ways similar to their original care givers, the traumatised child will see this as a confirmation of their inadequacy, and lack of significance.

In recovery, these abused children become adults who slowly but surely become aware of their distorted beliefs about self. Over time they will learn how to correct them.

Lacking self-confidence:

The traumatised child becomes an adult whom lacks in confidence, and doesn’t believe that they will ever succeed. One step backwards becomes proof that they will never have any success. Some children over achieve because they feel so worthless. These children often believe that if they become successful, than they will be able to prove to the world, and to the people that didn’t love them, that they are ok.

Other children go the other way, and achieve a lot less than what they are capable of.

The over – achiever never believes that they will actually succeed, feels anxious in situations where they could fail in the eyes of others, believes that their successes will never be good enough, and expects everything they’ve ever achieved, to fall apart at some point.

The effect of new surroundings on the traumatised person:

A new workplace, school,  new partner, or a new friendship will trigger anxiety, possible panic attacks, feelings of inadequacy, and a fear of being found out. These adult children don’t how to be, feel as though all eyes are on them, that they could be picked apart again; and due to previous experience, they cannot accept that their environment is a safe place to be in.

Children with low self-esteem carry their low self- esteem with them, well into adult hood – and choose the wrong partners as a result:  

Adult children of abusive parents often walk into, and remain in abusive, unsatisfying relationships. They are frightened of change, scared to be alone, and they don’t believe they are capable of making sound decisions.

While in the process of recovery, these individuals learn to believe in themselves, and to recognise that their success is real and well-earned.


Over reacts to situations:

The traumatised child with low self – esteem is generally filled with negative beliefs about themselves. They often over react to comments or behaviour from others that they view as inappropriate. They can become completely enraged by a simple comment, may feel shattered and depleted because of minor disagreements; and may not be able to handle somebody cancelling plans, or changing their mind about going through with a favour.

These people low in self esteem may instantly react, becoming enraged, filled with sarcasm, or begin to make accusations if they feel slighted, unappreciated, or treated as insignificant.

A lot of the time, paranoia, and low self- esteem attacks inhibit the traumatised person. They often imagine that other people are purposefully mistreating or ignoring them, when they aren’t.

This is what happens when the caregivers’ these children loved and trusted went ahead and destroyed the child’s perception of themselves, which this child now believes is real, and noticeable to everybody else.




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