Self-esteem plays an important role in the health and wellness of women with disabilities.
Self-esteem involves one's sense of worthiness, adequacy, and self-respect. According to the feminist perspective, women's self-esteem may be based on participating in mutual relationships, caring for others, a sense that they can influence and be influenced by others, and the perception that they are really visible to others.
It is not disability per se, but rather the contextual, social, physical and emotional dimensions of the impact of disability that may influence the self-esteem of women with disabilities.
However, one study suggested that older women with less disability have higher self-esteem compared to younger women with more severe disability. Some studies suggest that certain factors have been found to diminish self-esteem, including experiences with pain, fatigue, dependency on others, the development of secondary conditions, or losses, such as employment and health insurance.
Other studies fail to show consistent associations of self-esteem with either severity or duration of disability. A qualitative study of women with physical disabilities suggested that negative messages such as being a burden to the family or positive expectations regarding a woman's potential can profoundly influenced the women's self-esteem.
"If you truly believe you are a woman of value, you gain tremendous strength to forge your way through the most stubborn of barriers," responded Margaret A. Nosek, founder and executive director of the Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, when asked for the main lesson learned from their national study on women with physical disabilities. Findings from that study suggest that:
- Compared to women without disabilities, women with disabilities tend to experience problems related to low self-esteem such as depression, social isolation, and abuse.
- Although many women with disabilities have positive self-esteem, overall, their self-esteem, still tends to be lower than that of non-disabled women.
- Older respondents with less disability, a more positive school environment, less over-protection, and more affection in the home tended to have better self-esteem.
- Level of education was not significantly related to self-esteem in the women with disabilities.
Several measures of self-esteem have been used in research studies. One that has been used frequently is the Rosenberg self-esteem scale.
Some programs have been developed to enhance the self-esteem of women with disabilities. One study involving 102 women with disabilities from centers for independent living suggested that a six-session weekly self-esteem program may increase self-esteem and self-efficacy, and reduce depression for the women who participate.