The Therapist’s Corner: Self-Esteem on the Spectrum

One area I learned a great deal about through Greg’s sharing his experiences with me is the way self- esteem is affected when one is on the Spectrum.   I need to say up front that struggles with self esteem are extremely common for people whether they are on the Spectrum or neurotypical.  The foundation of self-esteem begins in early childhood and small children are very vulnerable to taking on beliefs about themselves that will determine whether they feel good about themselves or not when they grow up.   

Young children are by their nature self-centered, that is to say that everything they experience is processed as being about themselves.    If a child is in an environment where some of their basic needs aren’t met, they are incapable of thinking that they are deserving and worthy of getting their needs met, and the problem is with their circumstances– instead the child will conclude that it is their fault and if they were different (smarter, ‘better’ somehow) they would receive those things.    For children on the spectrum, this is often connected to their sense of being ‘different’, and since this is something that the child can’t change, a permanent sense of low self esteem can be an understandable outcome.

Low self-esteem can lead to other mental health issues like depression, difficulties with relationships, employment, and difficulties with taking up for oneself which can lead to being taken advantage of by others.  Socially, low self-esteem can often result in becoming withdrawn and isolated.  Being around others, whether in social or work environments, is much more stressful when you suffer with low self-esteem and can further contribute to isolation and loneliness.  

Since two of the most basic human needs are to love and be loved and to have a place to belong, low self-esteem can make getting these needs met difficult if not seemingly impossible.  For this reason, getting help to deal with low self-esteem can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life.   Finding a therapist who understands the special ways in which being on the Spectrum affects self- esteem can be the first step to feeling better about oneself and seeing positive change both in your relationship with yourself and others.

In the next installment of The Therapist’s Corner we’ll look at some specific ways to move to better self-esteem.