It’s not uncommon for disabilities to be associated with low self-esteem, a low sense of self-worth, and a less integrated view of self. Low self-esteem hinders people with disabilities from achieving their goals, affecting their identities.
Mobility impairment and other physical limitations can create a sense of dependence on others, resulting in frustration, stress, anxiety, and low levels of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is defined as the mental and emotional perception of a person’s worth. It is the person’s understanding, definition, and view of the self. In reference to disability, it is the evaluation of a person with disability’s capacity to perform in society.
As humans, we develop our identities based on our interpretations of how others evaluate us. Self-evaluation is influenced by external feedback and approval from family, friends, teachers, schoolmates, and significant others. With this in mind, the relationships of people with disabilities provide important validation of their worth.
Negative messages such as being a burden to the family or negative perceptions that society equates to physical disabilities such as being ill, pitiful, and incapable can profoundly affect self-esteem. This is one of the biggest hurdles we in the community need to curb through advocacy and awareness – negative connotations with disability. It is essential that we address perceptions and improve awareness, as when we internalise negative personal and social devaluations, our self-worth is compromised, lowering our self-esteem. A dangerous outcome.
Furthermore, parents of people with disabilities have a natural tendency to see their children as vulnerable, activating their need to protect them from the risks of physical and emotional injury in their environment. Overprotection can often bring it’s own kind of detrimental effects… It can create a sense of being incapable, which causes us to lose self-confidence. As a result, motivational levels and a belief in your capabilities decline. We can develop a negative self-image, feelings of inadequacy, shyness, social inhibition, and helplessness. But it need not be this way.
What we’re saying here is that physical disability as it is, does not necessarily influence self-esteem negatively. Rather, the contextual, emotional, social, and physical dimensions of the impact of disability affect self-esteem.
Ultimately, this means that people with disabilities can change their attitude towards themselves by being part of addressing these influences. Moreover, focus on strengths and capabilities, and disregard unhelpful evaluations of other people – although this may seem difficult and takes practice.
Most importantly, there is a huge need for society to change attitudes towards people with disabilities and start recognising their strengths and capabilities, not only to help foster a strong sense of self-esteem, but to create a more inclusive world that doesn’t discriminate or cause undue pain or hardship.