The Wow Beauty ‘My Beauty Journey’ is about people empowering others to ‘own their beauty’ by sharing their journey. Here’s Lisa Cybaniak who founded ‘Life Like You Mean It’ to help women build a life of value and worth after abuse after being abused herself as a child.

From the age of 2-12, I was told every day by my now ex-step-father that I was stupid, ugly, useless, worthless, nobody would ever love me, and I would never amount to anything. He even gave me the nickname ‘Gonzo’ after the muppet with the extremely large nose. I don’t remember being called anything else throughout that entire 10-year period.

Although we left that ‘home’ when I was 12, puberty was already setting in. I had begun breast development a year earlier, and I started my period just 2 weeks shy of my twelfth birthday. The body that I was made to feel shame about as a child was changing.

I was not excited for this change, because it wasn’t just psychological abuse I endured for those 10-years. When I was 9, I awoke in the night to find him kneeling beside my bed, flashlight pointed at my groin and my pyjama bottoms around my ankles. I have no idea if this was the first time, or just the first time I awoke.

I was a sexual being, and a punching bag, both physically and emotionally. Despite leaving him, my changing body, and how it naturally attracted the attention of the boys around me, instilled this notion that I was only good for one thing – sex.

I tried to wear the cool fashion styles, without showing off my body. I tried showing off my body and being proud of how I looked. Neither worked. Neither instilled a single grain of self-confidence in me.

Not only were the fleeting glances of boys, and men, reinforcing this notion that I was only good for one thing, but my experiences were reinforcing the negative mantra I had on replay in my mind: I’m stupid, ugly, useless, worthless, nobody will ever love me, and I’ll never amount to anything. I was continuing the mantra that he started all those years early; every single day and it was eating me alive.

Anytime anything good happened, I would convince myself that it wouldn’t last long, because I was too stupid and ugly. Anytime anything bad happened, I knew it was because I was stupid and ugly.

Although it had been years since I heard him utter those words, never mind ‘Gonzo’, that’s who I saw every time I looked in the mirror.

It caused me to want to destroy my body so I would stop being seen as a sexual object.

It caused me to want to destroy myself so the pain would end.

Until one day, in my very early twenties, it hit me. I was choosing this. While I had absolutely no control over what happened to me then, making me a classic victim, I was keeping myself in this victim mentality by choosing to react to my life in this way.

I was free. I was free from the abuse, suffering, pain, and judgement he bestowed upon me, but I wasn’t free from myself.

In that moment, I realised that if I ever wanted to truly be free of him, I had to let go of my own victimisation. I had to own my life and my decision to continue his psychological abuse.

Immediately I worked on changing that mantra. I started to look very seriously at each of the thoughts and find the evidence either for or against each.

  1. I’m ugly. Nope. As I looked in the mirror, of course, I saw lots of things I’d like to change about myself, but I knew I wasn’t ugly. Let’s take my ‘Gonzo’ nickname. I didn’t have a large nose at all. It was normal size. Check!
  2. I’m stupid. Hell no. I managed to graduate from secondary school with a decent grade point average, without even trying. I was so busy with after school and other activities that homework was at the bottom of my list. I also went to College, and did really well with all kinds of subjects I had never even glanced at before. And at the time of this self-reflection, I was putting myself through private school to become a Registered Massage Therapist (in Canada, that is the equivalent of a Physiotherapist in the UK), and I had a 92% grade point average. Double check!
  3. I’m useless. This one took a little more soul searching. I didn’t think I had done anything in my life, up to that point, that made me useful. However, I was training to help people through massage therapy, so that had great use. And the fact that I wanted to help others showed what a caring person I was. Triple check!
  4. I’m worthless. This one was much simpler, with all the work I had done on the others. Of course I had worth. I started to really look around at the people in my life to see how I may have positively affected their lives. It wasn’t just about thinking, ‘Would it even matter if I was gone?’, but ‘Would it matter if I had never been?’ The answer was an astounding ‘YES!’ I realised that just how others had a tremendous impact on my life, I too had impacted others. And by choosing a profession that helped others, I had no doubt that I would positively impact many, many more people during my life. Quadruple check!

As soon as I really started to see my impact, acknowledge my usefulness, my intelligence, and my beauty, I saw my value as clear as day, and I laughed.

I laughed at all the turmoil I had put myself through, thinking and feeling so out of control, when the truth was, I had all the control.

Acknowledging and accepting my control changed everything. It allowed me to fall in love with myself. It gave me my power back.

I don’t always look in the mirror and think I’m beautiful. I still have my moments, at 44, when I have low self-confidence. The difference is, now I have the wherewithal to honour my strength. I remind myself that I found my strength within my greatest weakness, and they are the same – me.

I’m the one who survived 10-years of child abuse.

I’m the one who insisted on continuing the psychological abuse on myself for another decade.

But I’m also the one who pulled myself out of that dark hole.

Sure, I might have cellulite on my ageing thighs, but I’m a survivor turned warrior!

To all the teenaged females out there that doubt themselves, know this: While you feel you have no power and no control over your life, the truth is, you’re the only one who does. With great power comes great responsibility. Look in that mirror and find your strengths. They ARE there. Are you willing to see them?

– Lisa Cybaniak

Lisa is the founder of ‘Life Like You Mean It‘, a website dedicated to breaking the stigma of being abused by breaking her silence. She specialises in helping women build a life of value and worth after abuse.