Back when I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I noticed that my own self-esteem dropped. The person I was in a relationship with at the time didn’t help that, but then again, it wasn’t really up to her to help it. The disability I had from my illness was also very intense at the time. I missed a lot of work, I couldn’t go on long walks, I felt a lot of pain, and that all definitely hurt my self-esteem and self-worth. And that’s where my story ends…
Just kidding, if you’re reading this then you know that is not where my story ends! Actually, it’s where it begins. I was reading something a few weeks ago about self-esteem and chronic illness, just a brief paragraph, and it got me interested in doing a little more research on the topic, because, well, I noticed a correlation between my own self-esteem and self-worth and disability in my illness. I can’t be the only one, right? First of all, let’s define self-esteem and self-worth so we are all on the same page.
Self-esteem: our individual universal positive and/or negative feelings about ourselves.
Self-worth: basically another word for self-esteem.
In general, self-esteem effects our quality of life, which includes our overall life satisfaction as well as how much positive and negative affect (emotion) we experience.
When we are looking at chronic illness, there are some important considerations. First, how we evaluate and view our own bodies is important, often because of the changes our bodies go through because of illness (and/or medications we have to take). Having a perception of body-self unity and positive thoughts about our illness can improve self-esteem (we’ll get to how to do this in a minute). Second, acceptance of disability is related to self-esteem in people who have disabilities (chronic illness is a disability). Acceptance doesn’t just include accepting the diagnosis, but acceptance all that comes with it (pain, lifestyle changes, loss, etc.). The better we are at accepting… the more we are able to do? (Well, yes, but that would actually be another post, so back to the main topic)…
People tend to use different coping strategies when dealing with illness. Though none of these strategies should be categorized as “positive” or “negative” I prefer to think of them as “toward moves” (helping me live a good life) or “away moves” (taking me away from the good life). Away moves would include things like catastrophizing, which has been linked to pain-related disability (yes, it makes your pain worse), higher levels of depression, and overall lower health and well-being. Other away moves include avoidance strategies, like using drugs or alcohol to cope, denial of illness, or staying in bed all day everyday. If you do these things, understand that no one is judging. These are probably natural coping strategies for you as they are for many, many people. However, if we want to improve self-esteem (and thereby improve quality of life with our illness) we want to look at toward moves.
These toward moves coping strategies include hope (goal-directed energy plus planning to meet goals), humour (reframing distress), psychological appraisals (meaning of the stressor, ability to cope, and emotion-focused coping, such as seeking support), and approach behaviours such as seeking social support and positively reframing the situation (yes, the research supports mindset). These are all associated with better well-being, better mental health, and better illness outcomes. This all comes from the cognitive adaptation to chronic illness theory, which in addition to self-esteem, looks at making meaning of illness, and regaining mastery.
I think it’s important to assess which coping strategies you are using, and make changes if needed. If our self-esteem improves, and therefore our disability decreases, then our quality of life is also better. Sounds good to me! To finish my beginning story, I did a lot of personal development work, that led me to starting this blog, and along the way my self-esteem and self-worth drastically improved again, and my levels of disability have shrunk and shrunk and shrunk. My illness may not be cured, but my quality of life is so much better. This experience is also known as posttraumatic growth, which happens when positive change results from adversity, giving the individual better mental health.
New season of the podcast (totally revamped show!) coming June 28. Check out the trailer here.
Keep making the most of it!