Trauma and Self-Esteem: A Look into Life with a Parent in Prison

“I like my hands because they allow me to be an artist.” 

I smile in appreciation. I, along with my fellow counseling team, had asked the pupils to fill out a worksheet, detailing all of the features and characteristics the pupils liked about themselves. We continued to walk around the room, excited to hear more: legs that allow pupils to play football, brains that facilitate thinking and learning, and hearts that create so much love.

On July 4th, the Programming Team chose to focus on self-esteem and self-confidence building for classes P4-P7 at the Wells of Hope Junior School. This decision came from a trend teachers at the Junior School began noticing — lowered amounts of self-esteem, confidence, and self-belief among the pupils. Mind, a mental health charity based in the United Kingdom, provides an explanation of self-esteem: “self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves.” While having a healthy self-esteem can provide numerous benefits, low self-esteem can cause numerous detriments, including, but not limited to, anxiety, stress, loneliness, increased likelihood of depression, problems in both friendships and romantic relationships, impaired academic and job performance, and an increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse. 

Why, however, are the children at Wells of Hope facing such barriers? One answer – arguably the most common denominator – is trauma. Trauma, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a “disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” In simpler terms, a child may experience a form of trauma, or an emotional/mental response, when being subject to severe amounts of stress, beyond his or her ability to cope. In the case of children under the care of Wells of Hope Ministries, many of them are healing from a form of trauma, whether it be from witnessing the arrest of a parent, being subjected to poor conditions following the arrest, or facing ostracism from one’s community. The World Health Organization, when conducting a World Mental Health survey, found that at least a third of the 125,000 people surveyed in 26 different countries had experienced trauma. These numbers only include reported instances — actual numbers are most likely, much higher.   

When looking at the relationship between trauma and self-esteem, often, as described on, “it is common to believe that if you had been smarter, faster, fought harder, yelled louder, or simply been a better person, then the trauma would not have occurred.” Even though these beliefs are not true, they whittle away at an individual’s self-esteem, causing harsh opinions of one’s self. Therefore, trauma and self-esteem work in a cyclical nature, as experiencing trauma leads to low amounts of self-esteem, and the thoughts caused by having a low self-esteem make it harder for the individual to heal from the trauma. 

Many children at Wells of Hope Ministries fall into this cycle, but, through consistent and routine counseling, Wells of Hope Ministries aims to help children heal from their trauma and build their self-esteem so they can begin believing in themselves. We believe in these children’s’ resilience and ability to enact positive change in their respective communities. We want to give these students tools to overcome the hardship they previously faced in order to create long-term, sustainable change because, at the end of the day, these children deserve the world.

Written by Anooshka Gupta, intern from the University of Michigan, USA

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