September 20, 2021


Content developed by YWCA Spokane Domestic Violence Action Month Committee.

YWCA Spokane’s From Survive to Thrive Educational Series

Today, we are continuing our journey through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, specifically looking at level 5: Esteem. We focus primarily on some of the ways survivors meet their esteem needs and how their different circumstances can impact their ability to do so.

DV Education Series: | Intersectionality | Physiological | Safety | Love & Belonging | Esteem | Self-Actualization | Thank You

WARNING: A survivor’s story is included in the below video. Some of the content may be distressing. YWCA’s 24hr helpline is available if needed: 326-2255.

What is esteem and why is it important for survivors?

In the Maslow model, a person’s esteem needs can include feeling worthy of respect, feeling appreciated, believing themselves to be confident and capable, and having a sense of empowerment. As we have learned in the previous weeks, it can be very challenging for a person to meet their esteem needs if their other foundational needs have not been met.

The impact of trauma can also be a factor for survivors. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event.” When a person has been through trauma, they may experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares or other sleep disturbances, feelings of shame, low self-worth, or being unlovable, executive dysfunction (difficulty doing everyday tasks), memory issues, depression, dissociation (feeling “checked out” or like we are functioning on autopilot), and even physical symptoms like chronic pain and fatigue. Trauma is a normal response to bad things happening, but when a person continues to have a trauma response for a prolonged period of time after the event or threat is over, they might be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

When a person has been through trauma, they often have to prioritize their functional survival needs (the lower levels of the hierarchy) over their emotional well-being and esteem for a period of time. This process can take different amounts of time for different survivors—both for personal healing reasons and due to systemic barriers they may be facing. Survivors are creative, unique, and resourceful, and there are many ways a person can build their esteem back up after experiencing trauma. Some of these options can include structured things like clinical therapy, but it can also look like engaging in artistic expression, finding a job or hobby they love, wearing an outfit that makes them feel confident, or holistic methods like yoga.

If a survivor does use clinical therapy as part of their healing, there are some therapy modalities that are proven more helpful for people who have been through trauma. Commonly used types of therapy can include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or internal family systems (IFS). For more information on these therapy methods, check out the list of short explanatory videos at the end of today’s email.

Compounded Issues When Addressing Esteem Needs

As with the other levels of the hierarchy, intersectionality also plays a role in meeting esteem needs. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), adults with incomes below the federal poverty level are more likely to experience ‘serious psychological distress’ and are also more likely to be uninsured. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that Black adults are more likely to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, and that only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. NAMI reported similar numbers for Hispanic and Latinx adults receiving needed mental health care, and found in 2018 that 19% of the Hispanic population lacked health insurance coverage.

Reports from Mental Health America (MHA) tell us that Native American and Indigenous populations are also more likely to experience serious psychological distress, and that the rate of deaths due to completed suicides for Indigenous 15-19 year olds is more than double the rates of their white peers. MHA also points out that for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) who experience mental illness, 73.1 percent didn’t receive treatment compared to 56.7 percent of the general population. Survivors of intimate partner domestic violence (IPDV) often live in these intersections. We know that no two survivors are the same, and acknowledging where these barriers might exist helps us provide meaningful support.

Quotes From Tanya, A Survivor Of Intimate Partner Violence

Tanya is a former client of YWCA Spokane who used multiple services including counseling advocacy, clothing and necessities from Our Sister’s Closet, and our clinical therapy support services.

“It is hard, hard as hell, definitely the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, probably harder than leaving, but the reward is more than worth it. You can get out of it. You can have a healthy, happy life. You can have a healthy relationship, even if you think you never will, it does happen. You need to be able to heal your trauma, heal what has happened in your relationship so you can move past it and not keep cycling through…I think that working on yourself and healing that is what makes you strong enough to walk away or stay gone.”

“When you’re stuck in abuse, you beat yourself up so much because you’re beaten down by someone else. I had no idea that I even put myself down, that I made negative comments, it was just normal for me. Working on that makes you realize ‘I don’t deserve this.’ I think the most important thing someone should hear is: ‘you are worth it.’ Because I think that’s what it all boils down to, you don’t feel you’re worth that effort and energy for someone to even help you. So somehow finding your self-worth, even if it’s one thing, even if it’s ‘I’m doing this for my child,’ or whatever it is for that moment until you can love yourself enough to know you’re worth it.”

Meeting Esteem Needs At YWCA Spokane

Survivors who come to YWCA Spokane often use many of our resources to meet these esteem needs. They may speak with a counseling advocate who can provide safety planning and resources as well as a safe and non-judgmental space to tell their story. Our Sister’s Closet provides the opportunity to express themselves and build confidence in how they present themselves to the world. They might attend an expressive art group to build on their creativity and make something beautiful to remind them of how far they’ve come. They may choose to engage in our clinical therapy program to work on long-term healing and future healthy relationships. These are just some of the paths a survivor might take with us, but everyone on our staff is passionate about building up survivors. Clients often report to us that just by knowing our programs are available, they were able to feel more worthy of support and have hope for their future.

We’ve learned today that once a survivor’s more foundational needs have been met, they often find that they need to meet their esteem needs in order to truly move through their trauma. The impact of trauma can be very challenging for a person to navigate on their own, and resources like clinical therapy, holistic methods, and other confidence-builders can make a significant difference in a survivor’s journey to healing. We also learned that the intersections of race and class can have a significant impact on whether someone is able to meet their esteem needs, and that this can create unique barriers for some survivors.

If You Have…

5 Minutes


10 Minutes


30 Minutes

and and
Watch video 1, 2, or 3 
to learn more about commonly used forms of therapy in trauma healing (1.EMDR, 2.CBT, 3.IFS).
and Watch this TED talk 
from a survivor who witnessed IPV as a child. She highlights the impact of verbal and psychological abuse on self-esteem.
and Explore this website
by Mental Health America that explores BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental health.

Daily Reflection

Once you have completed today’s challenge, take a moment to reflect on any insights you experienced. How did the challenge make you feel? What is something you learned? Did you notice anything about yourself after taking the series? Consider sharing this new awareness with a friend or group to help deepen your understanding of the information. Consider tracking your reflections or start an online group with friends to encourage daily sharing with each other about the From Survive to Thrive series topics.

DV Education Series: | Intersectionality | Physiological | Safety | Love & Belonging | Esteem | Self-Actualization | Thank You

By: Rachel Dannen

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