Psychological and Emotional Abuse ~ How Self Doubt Grows


A Lesson in Psychology

Do you ever wonder how we arrive at a place where we don’t trust ourselves? Why do we doubt ourselves? Why do we think that someone else must know better than we do, what is best for us even when we are grown up? And before we get to that place what happens that causes children to so easily accept that they deserve to be treated badly?

This is a story that I hear every day in the lives of others who struggle for freedom and wholeness. This is just one example of how I learned to doubt myself. I guess you could say that I was encouraged to doubt myself from a very young age by the way that I was raised.

I was a very quiet, compliant and sweet kid. I never caused trouble or got into trouble. But for some reason I was completely ready to believe that I was indeed a problem and I carried this belief with me into adulthood and into every relationship I ever had.  When I was in grade 5, which would have been when I was 10 years old, I had a teacher who hated me. I don’t remember thinking that she hated me back then, I was too busy trying to please her.

This teacher humiliated me in front of the whole class. She regularly threatened to cut my long braids off if I so much as touched them. When my homework was correct, she told the class that my father must have done it. She said that she didn’t know why I was so slow. I disgusted her! She said a lot of horrible devaluing things that damaged my self esteem and I was deathly afraid of her. She seemed to just spit her venom out at me.

When I told my parents, I was told that I must be exaggerating; that I should respect my teacher. They accused me of lying! There was no protection OR validation to be found from my parents. I didn’t try very hard to get them to listen to me. They had been telling me for years that I was overly dramatic and that I liked to talk to hear myself talk, so I knew that I was wasting my time. Furthermore, I was willing to accept that it must be my fault. Somehow I had done something to make this teacher hate me. I was causing her stress somehow. I believed it.

I was taught to respect my elders by being told that I was lying, that I was exaggerating, that I was dramatic. Worse yet, these statements were made by my parents in smiling gentle tones so I could be told that I misunderstood those reprimands.  Respect came to mean that everyone else is right; I am wrong. I believed that I was less valuable then others because I was not heard. I was dismissed. There was no equality. I didn’t even get a say. These things defined me, they became about who I was; a liar, dramatic, an attention seeker.

I got very sick that year. I suppose the stress affected me physically, but there were some things about my illness that caused the paediatrician to gently pry into my emotional life. He asked my parents to leave the room and I remember that he talked to me; he wanted to know about me and he listened to me and it came out about my teacher. I don’t remember all the details, but it resulted in him ordering them to take me out of the class that I was in. He said that if they didn’t, or if the school would not co-operate he would get a lawyer. The teacher was what psychology degree students would classify as emotionally and psychologically abusing me.

 I felt guilty that he stuck up for me. I felt unworthy. Deep down I was pretty sure that I was the one that was causing the problem and that now I’d caused my parents embarrassment; they would have to go to the school and get me out of that class. This was a horrific time for me and my dissociation took a different turn that year. I can still remember the internal fight, I constantly questioned myself about whether or not I had made the whole thing up and then in the same breath consoled myself with the fact that my parents told me the teacher confessed everything in a meeting.  

I learned to doubt myself way before this teacher abuse thing. I had learned to doubt when I was being abused and where the blame lay by the actions, reactions and teachings of the adults in my life.

Darlene Ouimet        

62 response to "Psychological and Emotional Abuse ~ How Self Doubt Grows"

  1. By: Melinda Posted: 7th June

    In my case, there were two things that made me a target of certain teachers…my learning disability and my race.

    I liked some of my teachers and did well in their classes but there were also some who treated me similar to how your teacher treated you. I had a teacher in elementary school who bruised my face because I did poorly in math. We were alone in the room after the other kids went out to play and she grabbed my face and said some hurtful things. I don’t recall my mother ever confronting her about this.

    Another teacher angrily called up my mom when I was about 12 or 13, saying that “Melinda thinks she’s better than everybody else”.
    I was stunned and hurt by this accusation. I liked this teacher very much.
    I respected her and worked hard in her class. So to have her call my mother saying these terrible (and untrue) things devastated me. I think that in this particular case, it had something to do with my race and skin color.
    I am biracial (mixed black and white) with very light skin. This teacher had dark skin and I guess she resented me for being lighter; there is a history of this in the Black community.
    There is a stereotype that if you are a light-skinned girl, you are conceited.
    I’m far from being conceited but certain people projected that onto me and treated me badly because of their perceptions.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 8th June

      Hi Melinda
      Yes, and no matter what their ‘reason’ was, the damage was done to you.
      Thanks for sharing, hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Carlos Posted: 13th March

    As I used to be a “people pleaser” in a matter of speaking, whenever I feel the need to do something right for me, I automatically start creeping into that part of me where I ask questions like: “Why am I doing this? They are going to get pissed again.”

    I told my Dad so many times when I was 14 that I hated karate class and he brushed it off by saying: “You haven’t given it a chance just yet, trust me you’ll like it to.” (Uh Dad just because you are a martial arts enthusiast does not mean that I have to be an extension of that love and passion you have for something I really don’t like at all).

    It’s quite frustrating to know that “being yourself” has a certain limitation within a dysfunctional family. You get told to think and act and care for yourself, but once you do it you are called out as stupid, ungrateful, dramatic etc. Yet when they express themselves to you, you are expected to be their personal therapist and whatever other role they see fit for you.

    Thank goodness I woke up and now comes the hardest of paths I must embark on to be the me that I should have always been. It can only get better from here, I’d like to believe.

  3. By: sahitha Posted: 31st July

    So true! My own mother did the same when I complained or got angry that other people were not treating me fairly. She would argue with me that what they had said was not wrong and I should just accept it.

    Apparently, people were right to say that I wasn’t good looking and she told me off for not accepting the truth. I wonder what truth that was. I sometimes cannot believe this stupid woman is my mother. I am the kind of person who thinks it is rude to say such things to people.

    She, on the other hand, says they were only speaking the truth and I should just shut up and put up with it. Of course, I did just that as a child but not anymore.

  4. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th April

    Hi Doren
    I have been on vacation ~ congrats on being sober!
    Yes, people don’t like change but that is not our problem anymore!
    There is a lot of validation here but the main discussions are in the current posts.
    Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Doren Posted: 27th March

    Hi Darlene,

    I am so sorry that you had this experience. It’s especially painful that you had no validation at home about it, and thus were left on your own emotionally. It’s a real testament to your strength and determination that you are where you are today, and it gives me hope.

    When I last posted I was still drinking, and now I have almost 3 months sober. Now I am starting to push myself and stand up for myself, but I struggle so much more now with self-doubt.

    Last year I was talking to a local bus driver, and we talked a bit about our pasts. One day I communicated something to which he took offence. The next time I saw him he walked by me, said hi like there was no problem, then stared hard at my breast and walked off without a word. It was very obvious and I felt disrespected but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to believe he meant anything bad. About 3 months later I remembered that my Dad did that to me once too, except my Dad leered when he did it. The driver was showing contempt, but it was the same action.

    Months later I apologized to the driver for my offence, but I got no apology in return. He would not speak to me privately again, and I felt like I was letting myself down letting the stare go. So last week I got on the bus and he was the driver. I waited til the bus was emptier and I got up to him and told him he had disrespected me with that stare. Of course he denied it and said I was making a serious accusation and he could make a report. He said he had nothing to apologize for. The last thing I said was “At least I stood up for myself” and he said “It’s a free country”.

    Afterwards I felt SO proud of myself for finally letting him know I caught what he did and it wasn’t ok. It took me 10 months to tell him. But since then, self-doubt has crept in. Tonite at the bus terminal I walked by him and he gave me a quick crappy look and turned away. I keep thinking, I don’t want to hurt this person, I don’t want to hurt anyone, but what about me?

    Why is it hurting so much to stand up for myself? I have been docile and acquiescent my whole life, I’ve let so much shit go by and now that I am speaking my shaky voice I have such doubts.
    But I would tell anyone else, OF COURSE you have doubts since you are making such a change.

    It’s like a battle in my head, one part knows he did it and can still see it in my mind, the other part takes his reactions and denials as “proof” that he didn’t.

    CAN I BE RIGHT? is the overall feeling. Can I really be right? Is my memory real? Maybe it really wasn’t such a big deal? Maybe I am causing someone trouble, being dramatic?

    The worst thing my parents did was tell me I was sick in the head. It crippled me, and I have to stand here by myself and turn to them and say,

    YOU WERE WRONG Mom and Dad you were wrong, what YOU did was sick

    Bus driver, YOU were wrong, and I am not responsible for your crappy looks

    I have to stand here in my conviction and tell people, the way you’ve treated me is not acceptable, and it is not my problem, and I will not take it all on anymore

    And people don’t like it when you change. A couple of years ago my sister told me in a negative way that I’d changed since seeing my last therapist, that is the whole point of therapy, to change

    I’m not supposed to change, but I how do I get better if I don’t?
    They would rather I be sick and smiling and silent then they be held accountable for anything I take issue with.

    I KNOW I have to do this, but right now it feels so lonely
    And I have to lean on myself for my validation

    Hugs Doren

    • By: Rebecca Posted: 7th August

      Doren, you are so eloquent and what you said made as much sense of my traumas as anything, I ever read on emotional trauma and childhood manipulation. I second guessed everything my sister in law did and said once the abuse was in the open, blamed myself, wondered if I had imagined it (despite her reiteration in a letter telling is that she “thought she was justified” in attacking me (for trying to help her family, for my autism, for denying the sexual abuse etc etc) And it is,as you and Darlene describe, I told myself I had no right to hurt HERthe powerful one and yet while I covered for her her other targets were hurting. You did right. And getting sober (I hope it us still good) is a,sign you are getting free – even if only for a while – all the folk I know who have never got sober ever were the ones still following the dysfunctional family. I eang you to know that however it turns out , you made that break and you deservevthat _validation_ Plus men who look at your breasts? It us do real. He is wrong!

  6. By: Jaimie Posted: 22nd March

    True and I may try to look up more recent discussions.
    -Hugs back to you

  7. By: Jaimie Posted: 22nd March

    Hi Darlene,

    Thank you for the welcome! I’m glad to be here. I am trying to rebuild but I have a feeling it will take quite a while to completely rebuild. I feel so broken inside.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 22nd March

      Hi Jaimie
      Yes it does take a while but it is possible! There is a huge community here, (if you join some of the discussions closer to the current date by using the home button) and there is tons of info about how I did this! There is freedom on the other side!
      Hugs, Darlene

  8. By: Jaimie Posted: 21st March

    Hi Darlene,

    Thank you so much for sharing that story. It takes a lot of strength to share stories of being abused. I’m so sorry that you endured abuse from your teacher. Teachers should be encouragers, and not put downers. I definitely know what its like to be psychologically and emotionally abused. I have also been through that kind of abuse so I know how hard it is. With all the abuse that I have endured, I also feel as though my self-esteem has been damaged but I’m working on rebuilding.

    Love ya,

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 22nd March

      Hi Jaimie
      Welcome to emerging from broken!
      Yay for re-building; that is what this whole site is about!
      Hugs, Darlene

  9. By: Celine Posted: 6th October

    I was bullied by many of my teachers. From kindergarten through 8th grade. I never made it to High school. By then my self esteem was so completely destroyed, not only at home with my parents but also at school with my teachers. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. In kindergarten, I had a hard time with math so I told my mom and she just told me to raise my hand and ask the teacher for help. This horrified me. This meant admitting to the other kids that I was already a failure. But I did it anyway. From that time on, my teacher sent me to the corner telling me that I was slowing down the class. Instead if explaining to me she chose to REMOVE me which taught me I wasn’t worthy enough of her time. In 2nd grade, my teacher screamed and yelled at me thinking by doing this I would understand better. It made me cry. Then she’d accuse me of manipulating her. “Stop crying” she’d say “crying will not get you out of this”. I lived in fear every day. This bullying went on until I finished school. Thanks Darlene for giving me the strength to talk about it.

  10. By: Roxanne Cottell Posted: 15th July

    This story is similar to my own. I went through the same self doubt and still go through it. Thank you for making it concrete in my head that this rampant abuse STILL happens and that more attention needs to be paid to the abuser as much as the victims and survivors of emotional abuse.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th July

      Hi Roxanne
      Welcome to EFB
      Yes and it is really sad. Until the world embraces the truth that all people have equal value, this is not going to stop. The abusers and the abuse need to be exposed for what they are doing and the vicitms and survivors need to acknowledge the damage so that healing can take place and the cycle can be broken.
      Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: SM Posted: 5th June

    Thank you for sharing your story. We urgently pulled our kids out of school recently because our son was being emotionally abused by his teacher. Every professional we’ve talked to has agreed. Our son is currently in counseling but refuses to talk about how the situation is making him feel. He is only acting out because of it. He has talked to me, cried to me, but I feel limited in how much I am capable of helping him. I found your site on my journey to find more resources to help him.
    All the best!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 5th June

      Hi SM
      Welcome to EFB! Good for you for taking the steps to help him and for validating your kids by taking action! Your son may not want to talk to a professional yet. Sometimes that just takes awhile. Knowing his parents are behind him will help!
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: SMD Posted: 22nd March

    Hi Darlene,

    Yes, my mom has an “ODD” way of showing her love. I’m going to continue looking at the details of my mom/family memories & current behavior, until I see the truth more clearly….like you say, “Fog Busting”. My process seems to be very detailed & it’s overwhelming at times. I do realize that I need to do this for healing to occur….I’m going to continue repeating things to myself, so it sinks in…..

  13. By: SMD Posted: 21st March

    While reading this post, I realized that my mom shamed me a lot for mistakes I made in childhood. Even as an adult she quilt tripped m e into doing the “right thing”….according to what she expected me to do. It was like I hurt her for saying no to any family functions. My reasons were questioned too. Anyway, I remember an incident that happened when I was about 5 or 6. I tasted something that was dirty and she freaked out. She was hysterical and shamed me for it. She took me into the bathroom & told me she was going to wash my mouth out with soap. The threat in itself scared me & I was sobbing. She didn’t stop there but actually put the soap in my mouth to teach me a lesson.

    Well, it sounds funny now, but then I was shocked & very upset. I’ve heard of parents threatening that, when kids are mouthy or swearing. I made a stupid mistake, but I didn’t deserve to be shamed & humiliated! To add insult to injury, my brother & sister were outside the door laughing. I don’t remember my sister getting the soap for picking gum off the parking lot and eating it. Yuck!….Talk about germy!..My memory is sketchy about my siblings being disciplined. I do remember my dad yelling & spanking and if he wasn’t doing that, he was sullen and emotionally unavailable. His temper was scary and I avoided the spankings, but I was threatened. My dad goated us & he knew I would get worked up. I was emotionally put down & pushed around. I withdrew to protect myself.

    Of course, I was the problem & I was wrong!…I knew they were wrong at a young age, but I was brainwashed and intimidated into compliance and obedience. I was a sweet & gifted child who became broken. I’m rediscovering my gifts in my forties and it is a great feeling…I actually believe in myself & don’t need validation anymore of my art work! It does rub me the wrong way, if I’m showing a family member one of my paintings, and there is no response & they look away…In the past, I would take this as rejection & then doubt my work. I know I’m not a bad artist, whatever that means….So what is their problem? ….could it be jealousy?!
    Thanks for listening

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 22nd March

      Hi SMD
      Thanks for sharing this story; It was reaaly powerful for me to “finally SEE” the dysfunction in this way ~ looking at some of the details and realize “what she did was really wrong!” or “that was really ODD!”
      Thanks for sharing.
      Hugs, Darlene

  14. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th February

    Hi Julia
    Yes, I realized that too. There are two very significant events in my childhood that really helped me to come out of the “fog” and both of those things (this teacher/doctor thing was one of the two) were because I had someone who validated that I had been treated wrong. I had been wronged.
    ~I love your comments here. You are bang on the right track! The key really is in uncovering the “submerged” truth!
    Keep me posted!! You are in a major part of the process!
    Hugs, Darlene

  15. By: Julia Fry Posted: 19th February

    hi Darlene,

    This bit: ” I can still remember the internal fight, I constantly questioned myself about whether or not I had made the whole thing up and then in the same breath consoled myself with the fact that my parents told me the teacher confessed everything in a meeting.” It’s so great that you had that piece of evidence that it was not your fault; without it, it would have been easy to take on the abuse and add it to the rest. That piece of evidence is really important. What happened in me as I read that was a huge surge of recognition at the part about the internal conflict. Some things are just too overwhelming at the time to recognise without really solid evidence. Your words have inspired me to question the cause of my low self esteem. I’ve been doing that a lot lately and I’m really seeing how accommodating I am with certain people, even to the point where I can sense what they want and provide it. I learnt this very early. I realise as well that there is this huge desire in me to please someone I consider to be powerful so that they will like me and protect me. And it’s not true. They won’t. I need to like me and protect me. I notice that I keep fooling myself when I’m with someone dysfunctional – I think I need to be more like them. It’s like a veil drops over my eyes. I wonder what I get by doing this. Even “bad” habits have a grain of something desired in them otherwise they’d be obsolete. I think I get a sentimental familiarity; perhaps it’s a way of lodging myself back in denial for a while. And I get to re-enact and change the script.

    You highlighted the mechanism of submerging the truth and that for me is huge, helping me towards unlocking the past I’ve hidden in order to maintain unhealthy relationships. Thank you, Darlene.

  16. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 6th November

    the good news is that you ARE in the process. The process of sorting it out and realizing the truth. It takes time but it is doable! I am so glad that you are finding the courage!
    Hugs, Darlene

  17. By: joy Posted: 1st November


    Reading this makes me cry .. because I have become so use to taking blames and being the cause.. in my own mind that as soon as something doesn’t work out . i am punishing myself endlessly searching for what I did wrong again.. Everything was always my fault and now that I am not in their lives they say they have no troubles. as i was the source of trouble.. when the big disappointment happened . not too long ago with the former .. T . already I was blaming me. .it had to be my fault everything is. that is how I am always thinking. nothing Good that happens .. though is me. nope ..coudnt be. .since I was told nothing good will ever come from me.. so I am constantly in turmoil upset when good things happen. and upset when bad things happen. but i know things will iron out. you give me courage. as you had a lot of the stuff in your life that i am going through and you made it to be really quite wonderful



  18. By: Wendy Mixell Posted: 7th July

    Wow, it is like you are telling my story. I once had a gym teacher who was abusive but when she actually tried to hit me, my best friend grabbed her arm and then it was exposed how she abused not only me but others. I have found as I walk through the healing process that I was a victim so often because I seemed to draw the abusers to me.It was a spiritual(not good) attachment that was like a label tattooed on me only this tattoo has been removed. Being 55 and working aggressively for my healing the last 16 years, I can say I am now a new creation and what or who God intended me to be. Thanks so much and your article about being a nonperson was such an eye opener and have shared with others who have suffered this too. Thank You!!!!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th July

      Hi Wendy
      Welcome to EFB.
      I know exactly what you mean about attracting abusers. I am sure that has to do with how our belief system if formed; we are taught to accept that it has something to do with us and the cycle continues. I agree with you also about being who God intended me to be through this recovery. Isn’t that fantastic!
      Glad you are here.
      Thanks for sharing! Hugs, Darlene

  19. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 27th May

    Hi Pam,
    YES. I too was always taught that I should be someone esle, act some way else. Not be me. I heard that rhyme too… why would anyone tell a child that rhyme??
    When I realized the stuff that you are sharing, everything started to change inside of me… like a glacier melting… and I felt my real self emerging. It is wonderful.
    So glad that you are here!
    Hugs, Darlene

  20. By: Pam Posted: 20th May


    I think my great self doubt stems from the fact that I was always taught that I should be someone else, my dad or my sister. Even if I did wrong, I was told I was like my mom. My identity developed in comparison to others and not who I am. Only in the last five years have I begun to think it is okay just to be me.

    This may be a silly thing but when I read this post, a rhyme that my mother repeated to me often popped into my head: “There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forhead. When she was good, she was very, very good but when she was bad she was HORRID! Like you, I was a pretty compliant kid but I learned that somehow, I was horrid. This is just one way in which my mother communicated to me that I was ‘bad’.

    I couldn’t trust myself because myself was not even good enough to be. How could I trust myself when I was so bad as to be HORRID?

    This went on through adult-hood. The latest downgrade my mother used on me was, “Well, Pam, in a way…, you’re the sweetest person I know.” Just like the rhyme, she never says anything positive about me withouth the punch to keep me in my place.

  21. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th August

    Glad to do it Vivian!
    My father in law thought he owned me.. like he owned everyone else. He hated it when I started to fight back and try to have my own thoughts. My whole family (husband and kids) got set free from that cycle because I stood up and said “enough” and “no more”.
    I am SO much happier now!

  22. By: Vivian Palmer Harvey Posted: 20th August

    My son in law and his family are very sure they are right about everything..I’m not riding that pony any longer!

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