I get to know more and more of my self-worth, it sort of helps me
to identify myself, thinking I am a woman created by God and I am
so precious and I am so loved and I have so much beauty inside of
me. I should let it come out. I should not hide it."
Journey to Self-Acceptance
may not believe this, but I don't consider myself disabled."
29, has an undergraduate degree, serves on an advisory board, and
lives in her own apartment. Also, she has cerebral palsy, uses a
wheelchair, sits only with support, is nonverbal, and has very limited
use of her hands.
success and sense of accomplishment are due in part to her high
self-esteem and self-confidence. A streak of stubbornness and supportive
parents haven't hurt either.
who has had a disability since birth, agrees, adding, "I believe
that almost a hundred percent of disability is a state of mind.
I don't think that I'm disabled. I can do anything I want." She
has used her self-confidence to move forward with her professional
career and to pursue an active social life.
is a vital component in how we face the challenges of life. It is
not difficult to understand why a woman's self-esteem may suffer
when she has a disability. Women with disabilities are routinely
denied acceptance in areas from transportation and schooling to
employment. In the media, people with disabilities are often portrayed
as victims or brave fighters who triumph. In a world that cherishes
youth, beauty, vitality, good health, and self-reliance, people
with disabilities have to battle constantly for the fundamental
human rights simply to be who they really are.
a positive self-image and building self-esteem is a process. Sometimes,
the first step is to give yourself permission to like yourself.
By developing self-compassion, self-acceptance and self-love, you
empower yourself to accomplish your goals and improve your relationships
in a place now where I can say I have a disability and it's okay,"
said Pam. For her, it was children who brought her to this realization.
She worked with preschoolers for 12 years, a healing time for her
in coming to terms with her own disability. The kids she worked
with on a daily basis helped her become more comfortable with her
disability and build her self-esteem.
loves to tell the story about a four-year-old who asked why she
wore one big shoe (a shoe with a lift) and one regular shoe. The
little girl was very impressed and said, "Just think, Pam, if you
had two short legs you could wear two big shoes!"
Pam, her increased self-esteem over the years has enabled her to
start trying more things. She's learning that she can find ways
to do things like water skiing, wall climbing, and snow skiing that
she didn't think she could do before.
your parents, friends and society react to your disability has a
great impact on your self-perception and self-esteem. According
to Caroline, "My parents have never said there's something I couldn't
do. When I went to camp, I found out that many of the campers felt
limited at what they could do because they grew up being told they
couldn't do things."
echoed these sentiments. "I was raised with the idea that I can
do anything I want to do. My parents supported and encouraged me
in all I did. My disability is a fact in my life - it doesn't determine
who I am. Having the disability determines how I go through the
world, not what I do."
to the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities in Houston,
TX, "Parents who encouraged their teen-age daughter to go out and
meet people, who gave her the expectation that she could marry someday
if she wished, who equipped her with the information and social
skills she needed to attract dates, and most importantly, who made
her feel valued and attractive, set the stage for having positive
can a person with a disability effectively fight society's negative
messages, build self-esteem, and reject conscious and unconscious
feelings of unworthiness? Clearly, it is a difficult and challenging
task. But it is also a rewarding experience that can form the basis
for more positive interactions in every aspect of social and romantic
advice offered by Edmund Hopper and William Allen in Sex Education
for Physically Handicapped Youth, a self-help book for teens with
disabilities, can be a good starting point for people of any age:
"Self-esteem can be a 'Catch-22' situation - you need confidence
to build confidence. You can choose to have a proud, positive self-concept
or a weak, distorted opinion of yourself. To have a strong self-image
is not to deny that you have a disabling condition. It's just to
understand that the disabled parts of your body are only part of
your whole body machine that makes you the very special human being
that you are."
care of yourself
way to boost your self-esteem is to take care of yourself. Your
positive self-image will grow when you show yourself respect and
love. Take a warm, fragrant bath. Get a back rub from a friend.
Try a new, flattering haircut. Exercise and eat a healthy diet.
way to build self-esteem is to exercise it. When people don't seem
to know how to act around you, make the first move; smile and say
"Hello." Strike up conversations. Maintain eye contact. Your confident
attitude will not only make you feel more comfortable with yourself,
but also it will benefit those around you.
tips for creating the positive you:
- Get to know
your assets and strengths. Find a picture of yourself that you
like and display it.
- Share information
with others about the things you like about yourself.
- Risk social
rejection at least once a week by initiating meaningful contact
with one new person.
- When talking
with friends and co-workers, keep the conversation upbeat, rather
than negative. Affirm, don't complain.
- Let others
know what you like and admire about them. o Keep your emotional
neediness in check. Don't alienate people by clinging or manipulating.
- Become more
active in ways that are stimulating or energizing. Try an activity
that interests you - a hobby, an exercise, or a community program.
- Get current
information about sexuality and get in touch with your own sexuality.
to the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, "As women
with disabilities, we must begin to challenge the perceptions of
body beautiful, and ignore the notion of the body perfect. Disability
challenges all notions of perfection and beauty as defined by popular,
dominant culture. We must reclaim what has been traditionally viewed
as negative and accentuate the reality that 'different' carries
with it exciting and creative opportunities for change. As we begin
the process of reclaiming and embracing our differences, let's celebrate
our range of sizes, shapes, and abilities."
Sally McCormick, Woodward Communications and Pam Dickens, NC Office
on Disability and Health]
note: This article and the related article
on intimacy include excerpts from:
Center for Research on Women with Disabilities
R Us," an article at Disability Cool http://reocities.com/HotSprings/7319/sex.htm
to Intimacy," an article by Jean Dobbs, executive editor of
New Mobility magazine, Horsham, PA 215-675-9133
Road to Intimacy