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Rebuilding Self-Esteem

Running shorts
Finishing a half marathon in running shorts I questioned after an unhealthy relationship.

As we heal from an unhealthy or abusive relationship, we experience a variety of emotions, including self-doubt. The range of feelings is normal.


Recently, I wrote a post about wrestling with questioning myself about the length of my shorts. I’ve worn shorts for years and never questioned if they were inappropriate. And until I dated Russ, it never crossed my mind that someone would try to put their hands up the back of my shorts.


As I found myself questioning if I somehow invited Russ’s actions, I realized it’s natural, and in many cases healthy, to assess a situation, project, etc. to see what worked, and what didn’t, then decide if anything needs to be done differently. I do this all the time at work. And each week I try to look at what needs to be done outside of work, what I’d like to do, etc. Then I decide on the right balance, so I don’t overextend myself. Sometimes it doesn’t work the way I hoped, but I learn from it and plan differently the next time.


I also make assessments when getting dressed. For example, I consider what is appropriate to wear to work or a business function, what I wear out to dinner with friends, or do something casual, etc. Occasionally, the situation is different than I anticipated and I may be overdressed or dressed too casually for a given event. I make a mental note and adjust the next time.


After dating Russ, it was natural to reflect on what I wore around him. But it took me a long time to recognize what was actually happening in those situations.


Denial plays a big role in abusive relationships. At the beginning of the relationship, you probably notice many good qualities about the other person. As the abuse starts, you may feel uncomfortable. But abuse is usually subtle so warning signs are often overlooked.


Abusers also use many tactics including, dismissing the other person’s values, blaming the other person, guilt-tripping them, etc. Over the course of the relationship, the victim’s self-esteem is lowered and begins to doubt themself.


In my case, Russ made many unwanted sexual advances through his actions and “jokes” or statements. The first time he put his hands up my shorts, I pulled his hands away and said something about it. I saw great traits in other areas, so I tried to tell myself the advances were “a normal part of dating”. But the truth is, I told him many times and in many ways that I wasn’t comfortable. His typical response was he was just so attracted to me he couldn’t help himself. He was using flattery to invalidate my feelings and values and push me past my comfort level.


All the tactics Russ used affected me and after the relationship was over, as I was triggered, I doubted myself and asked, “Did I do something to cause this?” I ruminated on what I could have said or done differently.


I questioned myself, instead of looking at his motives and actions.


Then I realized I’ve worn shorts my whole life, around hundreds of people, and never felt unsafe. But after Russ’s actions, I felt like I needed to buy longer options. It wasn’t the shorts I was wearing – it was Russ’s actions that made me feel unsafe and doubt myself. 


The truth is, it doesn’t matter what length my shorts are. The clothes you wear do not give a person permission to touch you. From their own experiences or things they’re exposed to (movies, television, friends, family, etc.) they may make assumptions about us based on our clothing, and then act upon those assumptions. But again, the clothes we wear do not give someone else permission to touch us in any way.


It took me many months, and talking with trusted friends, to realize what I've shared here. As we heal, It's important to have someone to talk to, who can help work through questions of self-doubt, identify what is helping your recovery and what may be holding you back. There are several other tips on healing in this blog.


Stay tuned for our blogs over the next two weeks as we discuss empathy and compassion.





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