Webcast archive: Self-esteem

Today, we discuss the importance of self-esteem for disabled people, and how it can be improved or damaged.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Self-esteem

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • Beneath a person’s wish to die, you’ll often find that the person feels he has lost, or never had any value as a human being.
  • Whether the person was born with a disability or became disabled as an adult, self-esteem can be seriously damaged by the effects of discrimination.
  • Most people with developmental disabilities grow up in families where they are the only disabled person, which can make them feel isolated and different.
  • At the birth of a disabled child, parents may show a wide range of reactions:
    • Some are not upset by the news. They do what’s necessary to obtain services and supports to help their child reach her potential.
    • For some parents, it’s a tragedy.
    • Some parents feel they’ve been robbed of their dreams for their child, and for their lives as parents. Some parents even bring “wrongful life” lawsuits, saying their child never should have been born.
    • Some treat it as a huge burden, and complain to everyone about how much they have sacrificed for their child.
    • There are others who believe the child’s disability is a punishment from God visited upon them and/or their child.
    • Some parents have very low expectations for their child, and are overprotective, stifling the child, impeding his progress and potential
    • Other parents do the minimum possible for the child, leaving him to sink or swim.
  • An isolated child, faced with his parents’ negative feelings about his disability (which cannot be separated from who he is) will have a very hard time having a healthy self-esteem. It’s similar to the experience of gay children, who learn that their parents don’t approve of homosexuality.
  • When an adult develops a disability, several things happen that can damage his self-esteem.
    • If the person already has some underlying emotional problems, they will probably be exacerbated by stress, loss and grief.
    • The person will be confronted by family members, doctors, social workers, friends and a society that believes that disability is a fate worse than death.
    • He will be faced with physical, communication and institutional barriers, and he will find his choices very limited. Even if he can still do his job, he may not be able to get into his workplace.  The disability pension does not provide a liveable income, his home is not accessible, and he won’t appreciate having a different attendant every day, and he won’t want to go to to a nursing home.
    • He’ll notice that he’s suffered a huge loss in social status. He’ll lose friends who can’t deal with his disability.  Other people will treat him differently.
    • The images propagated in the media of disabled people don’t really apply to him. These include:
      • The bad guy: who always has a scar, a limp, a prosthesis, or some other external mark of his moral failing.
      • The victim: small and weak, the victim waits upon the charity of others, can do nothing to help himself, is generous but suffers courageously in silence. He always dies at the end.  This character often appears in films that show assisted suicide and euthanasia in a positive light.
      • The overcomer, or “super cripple”: With energy, spirit and courage, this character takes on obstacles one after another, and succeeds in all he does. If he has a motivation problem, there’s always a non-disabled person around to tell him to stop whining and feeling sorry for himself.  The super cripple is there to inspire the audience, even if all he’s doing is getting out of bed.
      • These characters are always played by non-disabled people, who win Oscars for their roles.
      • Obviously they are not realistic human characters.
    • Reporting that perpetuates these stereotypes.
  • All of this attacks a person’s self esteem. And when a person looks for emotional support, there is a good chance that any psychologist she consults will hold the same prejudices as the rest of society.
  • Fine, so that’s the problem, how do we solve it?
    • Recruit and train more people with disabilities to work as mental health professionals
    • Offer training to non-disabled mental health professionals conducted by people with disabilities.
    • Provide peer support in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. It,s less important that the people share a diagnosis than that they share the experience of loss and discrimination.
    • Improve options for community integration. Redirect funds from nursing homes to home care, according to the independent living model of consumer control.
    • Change the portrayals of disabled people in the media.  We have to take our place in front of and behind the camera.  We should no longer accept that actors without disabilities play roles of disabled people.