Childhood Abuse and Self-Image

A woman stands facing a mirror.

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Guest post by Ronni Benson, RN, BSN

Self-confidence and a healthy, positive relationship with our body image are major components of the human experience. Being confident within yourself and your image promotes engagement with others (i.e. friends, coworkers, family, romantic relationships). Poor self-image and confidence have the opposite effect on our perception of the world as well as ourselves within the community. Those with low self-confidence tend to avoid social situations and avoid pushing themselves towards the unknown. This can inhibit the formation or strengthening of relationships, prevent growth within a company, and lead to a more subjectively poor mental health state.

When abuse occurs during childhood, there is an increased risk for body image disturbances and as well as a risk of developing low self-esteem due to violations in boundaries (Bodicker et. al., 2021, as cited in Knafo, 2016). Boundaries are learned in childhood and when abuse occurs, the child feels as though they have no control. To combat this, children may seek out external sources to gain control over their being, such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive behaviors (Bodicker et. al., as cited in Vartanian et al., 2018). This theory is referred to as the identity disruption model and it emphasizes how vulnerable children are to external influencers when they are subjected to abuse and/or neglect. Even more alarming is the correlation between childhood abuse and the incidence of physical and psychological issues that arise within these children as they grow into adults. PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, obesity, cancer, stroke, asthma, addictions, and sexual functioning impairments (Lippard & Nemeroff, 2020).

Education and prevention are the two solutions to this matter. Ensuring those who are afflicted understand that the experiences they’ve had as children could be the culprit for current symptoms is crucial in identifying how to treat it. Looking for symptoms of abuse such as physical markings coupled with excuses of how they happened, dirty, shy, outbursts, emaciated (extremely thin), and hypersexual behavior can alert those that a child may need help. Stopping the cycle of abuse for these children and ensuring the healthy development of boundaries and self-esteem is imperative to a child’s growth into an adult. Strong boundaries and self-confidence in childhood can prevent physical afflictions and mental health burdens in teens and adults. 

For more information regarding warning signs for children experiencing abuse and neglect and who to notify, visit:

Faces of Hope (
Signs & Symptoms | Child Abuse | Stanford Medicine
Reporting Neglect, Abuse, or Abandonment | Idaho Department of Health and Welfare


Bödicker C, Reinckens J, Höfler M, Hoyer J.
Lippard, E., & Nemeroff, C.