Standing Up For Myself: Reclaiming My Self-Worth

Jan 16th, 2012 | By | Category: All Posts, Steps Toward Healing

by Penny Smith

Sometimes in the healing process it feels like I’m not making much progress. Then something will happen that helps me see just how far I’ve come. That was the case recently during a run-in with some abusive people.

They tried to dump a lot on me—criticisms and false accusations. In the past, I would’ve taken it, absorbed it, begged for forgiveness and ended up feeling even more worthless.

They echoed the voices from my childhood: “You’re no good and never will be. No one truly loves you. No one would believe you if you told. You are just bad.”

Those are just some of the things my abuser told me over and over again when I was a child. Those lies and many others were reinforced by other abusers. They were designed to make me powerless, to keep me under their control, and that’s exactly what they did.

Even after I became an adult, I remained powerless. Those lies were so ingrained in me that I was constantly trying to be “good enough”—trying to prove myself worthy of love, which made me an easy target for more abuse. It didn’t matter what was asked of me, I would do it whether I wanted to or not. I thought if I said “no” I wouldn’t be loved. I was desperate to try to keep people happy so they wouldn’t leave me. I was willing to be the scapegoat and to accept whatever abuse was hurled at me. I had been taught that this was what I deserved and I believed it.

The power that each of us is born with, the power that inherently belongs to every human being, the power to stand up for myself, to say “no”, to believe that I had worth just because I was me, had been robbed from me.

When I finally faced up to my past and began the healing process, I know I didn’t have a very good opinion of myself. Actually, that’s putting it mildly–I hated myself. I still viewed myself through the eyes of my abusers and I desperately wanted to know who I really was.

Through each step of my journey, each little victory, I’ve reclaimed myself little by little. The lies that made me feel worthless and powerless were exposed. As I realized more and more that what I’d been taught by my abusers wasn’t true, I also began to see that I have worth—not because I’ve earned it but simply because I’m me.

The first time I told someone “no”, I was terrified. I felt like I was breaking some kind of law and I kept waiting for the repercussions to come crashing down on me. When nothing happened (other than losing a “friend” who wasn’t truly a friend) I was elated. For the first time in my adult life, I realized that I was allowed to say, “no.” The more I continue to heal, the healthier my view of myself becomes.

With this recent attack, I took back more of my power. They tried to attack my hard-won sense of worth, name called, questioned my parenting skills, berated me as looking for pity because I’m facing my abuse and then they finally got frustrated enough to tell me I’m crazy and have “gone off the deep end.”

I felt like poison was being spewed at me but at the same time, I was surprised how calm and rational I was able to remain. I refused to accept the abuse and told them as much. I was able to stand up for myself in a way that I never could have before I began to heal. I could see that what they were doing to me wasn’t my problem. I didn’t ask for it or deserve it. I was just the current target but, they soon discovered, no longer an easy one. As difficult as it is to realize that some people can no longer be in my life, if they can’t give me the basic respect that I deserve as a human being—they don’t belong there.

I am the first to admit that I still have a long way to go. I have breakthroughs and setbacks.  In times like these I can see that I have made progress and it feels good. I am no longer powerless. I am exposing the lies for what they are and in the process, reclaiming my self-worth. I didn’t deserve to be abused then and I don’t deserve to be abused now. I am worth just as much as anyone else and that knowledge gives me the power to reclaim my life.

Have you ever felt this way? I welcome your thoughts. Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe to the comments so you can continue to partake in the discussion.

Related Posts:
Rebuilding My Boundaries After Abuse
Serving Others Was a Disservice to Me
I Never Believed That I’m Beautiful
My Healing Journey: Stumbling and Getting Back Up

Healing From Sexual Abuse: Celebrating My Victories
My Support System is Led By Me
Is Overcoming Sexual Abuse Really Possible?

Penny Smith is a frequent contributor to Overcoming Sexual Abuse, especially through her heartfelt poetry. Penny uses her creativity in many areas including cake decorating, sketching and floral arrangements. She balances her recovery with being a busy wife and mother of three precious children.

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  1. Penny,

    What a great and inspirational blog. I love how said that you are worth just as much as anyone else and that knowledge gives you power to reclaim your life. That is so true and empowering!!! Love it.

    Thank you so much. Patty

  2. Hi Penny,
    you have so much given me so much strenth from what you’ve writting about your abuse I
    have suffred from childhood abuse too but I am too ashamed to put my words to blog . but i am trying to valadidate myself threw my books and its so painful but at the same time a releace. your words are mine words and my pain too . you are so strong your my hero for having currage to write about it .thank you for writting
    sorry about my spelling i am dyxlic and i find when i rember my passed abuse my spelling goes .

  3. I said ‘no’ to someone for the very first time as an adult over Christmas.

    The person concerned was a fellow traveller on a coach tour I was on. I’d been to the pub with her and someone else the night before and had an unexpected great time. She saw me in the hotel bar + beckoned me over to go the following night. I felt obligated to comply. I felt I had to go because I went the night before but I didn’t want to go. My impulse was to go running over to her like a little puppy dog. I knew I had to resist that impulse with every fibre of my being. I knew if I complied to her wishes regardless of what I felt I’d gotten nowhere and would feel even worse about myself than if I stood up for myself.

    I heard myself say ‘no, I’m not coming, I’m too tired tonight.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and waited for the world to crash around my ears. She just said “whatever” and turned away. I though she was mad at me. I felt proud of saying ‘no’ but at the same time felt terrible about it. It was a strange combination of feeling awful and feeling proud. And I was terrified as to what the consequences would be. After 2 nights and 1 day of avoiding her because I was so terrified it turned out she wasn’t mad at me at all. It was a huge learning experience. I know I have a LONG long way to go before I can say ‘no’ to someone without feeling very bad and totally terrified.

  4. Penny,
    Standing up for myself was impossible because of the lies I believed about myself, too. Then I felt even worse about myself for “letting” people walk all over me. I felt like even more of a pathetic loser. But that was just more lies. Now that I know the truth about myself, I’m able to stand up for myself too and it feels amazing–like I’m standing up for my inner child that never had anyone to defend her.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s so inspiring and encouraging!

  5. Patti,

    Thank you for your encouraging words. It is a wonderful thing to find out we are not who they said we were.



    I’m sorry for what you’ve been through but I’m so glad that you have started on this journey. Healing books are so very helpful. We all heal at our own pace and in our own way and we gain strength by sharing this journey together.

    Hugs, Penny

  6. Fi,

    Good for you for making that step to stand up for yourself! It’s so hard for us to realize that we have the right to say “No” just like anyone else. It does get easier and each time we stand up for ourselves, we get a little stronger. Thank you for sharing.



    It is truly all a vicious cycle until we get to the bottom of the lies and expose them for what they are. I for one am happy to break the power that my abusers held over me. For the first time in my life, someone is sticking up for me–and it’s me! Thank you for being the inspiration that you are.


  7. It is so difficult for me to say the word “no” but reading your story helps me to realize that one CAN say no and don’t have to worry about losing everything. When I went through abuse, I was always told that I could never “question their authority”. I am an adult now, and I can say no if it is within reason. I hope to one day be like you and have the courage to say NO when I need to more often.

  8. Katherine,

    It’s still not easy for me to say it but it gets a little easier every time. It also helps to realize that it is my right, one of the many that abuse robbed from me. By taking back that right and standing up for myself, I reclaimed my self-worth. Thanx for the comment.


  9. After reading your article I can relate so much to what you are saying I too have surrounded myself for as long as I can remember with people, friends and relationships that have been abusive, I never saw it before until I fell into a deep depression about 2 years ago but with the help of therapy I have begun to realise that because of the lack of nurture as a child I was always searching for someone to love me the way my parents should of loved me, I was always the one that people ridiculed and I took it, I surrounded myself with very negative people who had great pleasure in running me down and keeping me in a place where I thought I was no good at anything criticising everything from what I wear to my parenting and I took it every time, but now I have an understanding about why people do this and why I have excepted it so now I’m on the journey to change this and am getting rid of the “friends” that still want to keep me at this level its hard but I’m getting there. I am learning to love myself and nurture the child within which is working. My circle of influence is changing too and trying to meet more positive people who except me for what I am and encourage and support. It has been a long and hard 2 years and I still have many difficulties to overcome but step by step life is improving.
    It is a good article and has helped me realise that i’m not the only one going through this with the lack of support that I have I’m always on the look out for inspirational articles from people who are experiencing similar problems. I hope all works out for you and that you continue on your journey and thanks for making me realise that other people do try and keep others in a negative place I thought it was only me that people did it too and had felt that I must have done something so wrong for people to hate me so much, but now i realise that Its not me Its them with the problem.

  10. Thank you, Penny. This was a very good blog and I can relate. I am going through the same renaisssance and it is amazing, I only wished it had happened so much sooner. All those ridiculous lies we were conditioned with, it does make me angry, set my life up for repeat cycles of the twisted version I thought love was. Finally, done with that, this information on identifying symptoms and traits is out there and so is help. My own demise started at the source of my narccisistic mother and the repurcutions of this is grave, a list of mal-adjusted relating to all things a mile long. Good luck in your journey to healing, it is incredible to know the truth and we aren’t what they told us!

  11. Julia,

    I did the same thing, allowing all the abusive people in my life. It was all I knew and therefore ‘normal’ to me. Only as I’ve begun to heal have I realized just how abnormal it really is to allow people to treat me that way. I’m glad you’ve come to that realization, as well. We don’t deserve to be used and abused. You are definitely not the only one dealing with this. Thank you for the encouragement. I wish you all the best.


  12. Sylvana,

    Yes, I get angry with all of it as well. It is so unfair that we were taught these lies as the truth about ourselves. Now we have all the work of exposing those lies, finding the truth and reclaiming our lives. It is so worth it though! I feel like I wasn’t truly living until I began to heal. I’m loving finding out who I really am. Good luck to you, as well and thank you for the comment.


  13. It didn’t matter that I told the guy who works on Wall Street no, b/c he didn’t CARE. He tried to take what he wanted anyway and then, of course, lied about it. And it was his word against mine, so he thought nobody would believe me over him b/c of his almighty status.
    So he was totally surprised when my friend, a guy who also has ‘worldly status,’ believed me and told him to leave.
    I always meet people who don’t CARE how much or how long I say no, they try to take it anyway.
    I don’t know if that’s because I was in New York City at the time, but that’s how it’s been for me.
    I’ve never been with an abusive Partner, b/c I refuse to live with anyone and leave at even the SLIGHTest sign of abusive attitudes.
    I got that way, b/c I work on the life squad. I saw people lose their life over choosing to stay with abusive partners. That’s a real motivator NOT to live with an abusive person, b/c I’m more afraid of death than I am of of feeling worthless.

  14. Penny this is so inspirational…. ugh i feel like catching all those people and putting them all on a different planet (if only we could) anyway this is so empowering.. im so glad you have your power back! because you’re so right about the people who can’t respect you as a human being they don’t belong near you… i feel the same and i’m glad you have the courage and strength to not sink to their level and understand how worthy and good (those are just understatements we deserve so much more) you are!



  15. Vicki,

    I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences with people not taking “no” for an answer. Good for you for refusing to live with abusive people. Hugs.


  16. Caca,

    Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found the article inspirational. You’re right, we are worthy of respect. The more we find our voices, the less the abuse can flourish. Take care on your journey.


  17. But the guy who believed my story without questioning it gave me hope I’d never felt before.
    I was with another guy who thought that way, but he was a really peaceful person and disliked creating waves with bullies. Besides that, he wasn’t knowledgable about self-defense.
    He gave me hope anyway, b/c he believed me when I told him I was raped by two guys, and he still believed me even after the judge had to find them ‘not guilty due to insufficient evidence to place their guilt beyond doubt.’

  18. penny ,
    the\is paragraph hits me , feel I relate to every word in it .
    The power that each of us is born with, the power that inherently belongs to every human being, the power to stand up for myself, to say “no”, to believe that I had worth just because I was me, had been robbed from me.

  19. Martha,

    It’s so true isn’t it. So many basic rights that we should have were taken from us and now we have to go through all the work of reclaiming those rights. I was taught that I was bad, ugly, worthless, etc. and even though I now know those were lies, I still struggle with those things. I think it’s something that people that haven’t been abused have a hard time understanding.

    We do have the right to say “no” and the more we exercise that right, the easier it becomes. Thank you for the comment.


  20. I would have to say We beling in the same grouyp. i was treated poorly in my life up until 3 years ago. At that tiem I began to put a stop to the crap. I still deal with certain moments from new people or old people, but they learn that after a short period of time I am not goign to stand for it.

  21. Jen,

    Good for you for standing up for yourself. We are worth it!!

  22. Thanks Penny

  23. I am so thankful to you for your honesty. For many years I would feel like I had so many setbacks. It was hard for me not to doubt myself. I hope you continue to stay strong. You are a good example. Don’t let them get to you.

  24. Irene,

    Thank you for the comment. I too have a lot of ups and downs and setbacks. It’s never easy, but looking back at where I started from…I can say it’s worth it. Thank you so much for your encouragement. Wishing you all the best.


  25. Penny, I give you a lot of credit for being willing to share this. I myself for a long time didn’t want to admit I felt worthless, but I did a lot of the time. I too also felt at times I wasn’t making much progress. However, now I know I don’t need my dad anymore. I’m not even sure if I will ever talk to him again. I also know that I have to separate my need to be loved from the need to desperately seek approval.

  26. Julie Anne, Thank you so much for your comment. It’s a freeing thing when we realize that the only ones we can change are ourselves and that we don’t need anyone’s approval to be who we are.

  27. Hey Penny. I saw this story and it really hit me right now. I was in a recovery home that the mental abuse is rampant. I became cook, house mother, shopper and basically took care of 16 people for no wages. They old me to and I did. When I went to move out of the house, I ended up in a physical altercation which they thought would keep me in the house because it showed “how much anger I still had”. I have been on my own but going to house meetings and still was the scapegoat for the house. I finally took my power back 3 months ago and I can’t believe the joy that is felt when they call you crazy and you are not the screaming one but they are. Keep up the good work and thanks for validating me. Cam Callihoo. I have a like in for facebook and really dont use my email but use my facebook inbox. The email is my husbands.

  28. Cam,

    Thank you for reading and for your comment. I’m sorry you had to go through such a horrible situation but I’m glad that you found your way out and have reclaimed your power. Stay strong…it is so worth it. 🙂

  29. Your story is inspiring. After “waking up” from a stroke that I had 7yrs ago. I discovered that alot of the people in my life walked all over me when I was at my lowest. The worst offender, my mother. There is no excuse for her behavior. Doctors told me I should have died and would have had I been older. I was 40 when I had the stroke. Luckily God had already sent someone with such kindness, to take care of me. My husband, i call him saint j. He makes me want to be a better person. He is not perfect by any means but he is perfect for me. Pre-stroke I was a different person. Very strong and independent. The stroke left me weak physically and emotionally I also had alot of memory loss and couldn’t speak effectively. It took so long for me to finish a sentence people finished them for me. I have progressively gotten better with all the leftover effects. I still have ephasia which is very annoying. I remember who I am and I am nice but dont mess with me. I used to say, dont call the b… she will appear. It is good to remember my life and how I got here. It is not pleasant to recall all the dramatizing I have had to endure. The most hurtful people in my life have been my mother daughter her fiance and so called best girlfriend. I had already eliminated bbf and she snuck back in when I didn’t remember. Taken care of that. She said “I get scared I scream. That’s who I am. Love it leave it” I left! I am not even going to attempt to elaborate. Not worth my time or yours. The others bad behavior is mind blowing! But guess what, they will have to answer for their actions and their mouth. They have tried to blame me but I absolutely KNOW it is them. Feels good to be awake. Reading your story helped me realize, no more dramatizing me. Not 100% back to my old self. For which they should be very thankful I am going to take the high road. And say NO, how dare you!
    Thanks for posting your story ????

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