What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem results from viewing yourself positively within the context of your surroundings. How well you get along with peers and family members and how you judge yourself in comparison with others shapes your self-esteem. Whether at home, school, or the workplace, how well you understand and respond to ever-changing interpersonal demands also shapes your self-esteem.
It is precisely this area – the area of interpersonal relationships – in which individuals with a learning disability (LD) may have the greatest difficulty. And this can foster feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. With help and support, however, individuals with LD can build the self-esteem they need to achieve success in any arena.
Why Is Self-Esteem Important?
Whether or not you have LD, self-esteem is a powerful predictor of success. Positive self-esteem may be as important to success in school and on the job as the mastery of individual skills. Learning disabilities, however, often pose big hurdles to positive self-esteem. In turn, they contribute to a hard-to-break cycle of self-doubt, frustration, and failure.
Struggling daily with the challenges posed by a learning disability can erode enthusiasm and confidence. Knowing one's assets and liabilities and feeling good about yourself can be invaluable. It helps with negotiating the sometimes-tumultuous path to success in school, the workplace, at home, and in the community at large.
How Does Social Competence Affect Self-Esteem?
Building social competence is an important step in becoming a self-reliant and confident person. Socially competent people know how to easily move from person to person, or group to group, seemingly relaxed and at ease, regardless of whether they are talking or listening. They also know how to:
- Initiate and maintain positive relationships with peers and others
- Interpret social situations, judging how to interact
- Interact without drawing negative attention to themselves
- Sustain attention on the speaker
- Contribute to conversations
- Control their impulses to draw attention to themselves, even in well-intended ways.
Once again, it is these traits that often pose the greatest challenges to individuals with LD. Family members and peers can help individuals with LD develop positive self-esteem with empathy, respectful communication, attentiveness, acceptance, and positive reinforcement.
What Contributes to Low Self-Esteem in People with LD?
Not all people with LD have problems with social competence and self-esteem, but many do. Individuals with LD are especially vulnerable to attacks on their feelings of self-worth. Unfortunately, individuals with LD are also commonly confronted with low expectations from others. They are frequently, though not intentionally, the target of spoken and unspoken messages of disappointment from peers, parents, and supervisors, for example. Others' low expectations may influence the expectations individuals with LD have of themselves, thereby serving to erode self-esteem.
Here are ways poor social competence may show up in people with LD:
Poor communication style and social awareness
- May appear to be overly egocentric and disinterested in the opinions of other speakers (when nothing could be father from the truth)
- Has difficulty judging when it is his or her turn to participate in a conversation
- May misinterpret others' feelings
- Is unaware of when his or her behaviors are bothersome or annoying
- May have problems with visual-spatial planning and self-regulation, resulting in difficulties in judgment: they may misjudge how close to stand to someone during conversation, how to assume and maintain a relaxed posture or when it might be appropriate to touch.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. © 1999-2009 National Center for Learning Disabilities, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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