Self esteem and Aspergers

Self esteem issues are very common in people on the autistic spectrum, from what I have noticed. Indeed, self esteem issues occur with most learning, neurological and physical disabilities-basically anything that society sees as odd or different. In this post, I hope to explain the issues that low self esteem causes in people with Aspergers in particular.

The primary reason that most people with Aspergers, including myself, have self esteem issues, is due to bullying and people not being willing to make allowances for our social mistakes. Personally I have never met anyone with Aspergers who did not experience bullying in their school years and often beyond. Being socially awkward identifies us as targets in the playground. The fact that a lot of people with Aspergers are also physically clumsy doesn’t help matters at all. I always found that certain aspects of my Aspergers made me more sensitive to childhood bullies than other people. One example is the fact that I am a very literal thinker. Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t understand that people would say spiteful and malicious things that they knew to be untrue just to hurt somebody’s feelings. I always assumed that people were just being honest and genuinely thought that I was ugly or a freak. If you are told something enough times, you internalise it and it becomes part of your self image. Many children with Aspergers are miserable in their school years-they are often isolated and excluded from playground games. If the only reaction your peers have towards you is to walk away, how are you supposed to develop a healthy self image of yourself as someone who is nice to be around? Of course, having these sorts of self esteem issues lead, in turn, to low self confidence, particularly in social situations where you feel that others will be judging you and looking for your flaws so that they can take great pleasure in pointing them out and ridiculing you for them. This compounds our social awkwardness and thus the vicious circle continues. At almost 27, I am still suffering from the effects of experiences I had before anyone even knew that my difficulties had a name, I still have days when I think the world would be a better place without me in it although, thankfully, these days are now few and far between. I always say that, until you have looked in the mirror and genuinely despised the person staring back at you, you will struggle to understand just how pervasive and destructive low self esteem can be. This is something that not a lot of people realise I struggle with as I tend to keep it to myself in my off line life,

Also a lot of people with Aspergers have a high level of self awareness and I count myself in this group. Whilst, in ways, this is a positive attribute to have, as it has enabled me to find a number of coping strategies to minimise the negative impact that Aspergers can have on my life, it also means that I am my own harshest critic. I am fully aware of how I come across to other people and of the weaknesses that I have and this means that I can often have a tendency to be incredibly harsh with myself if I don’t reach what I see as “typical” social standards. I see my friends socialising and envy the ease with which they can do so. Over the years, this has led me to become rather despondent and, although my social skills have improved immensely since my diagnosis, with the help of social skills sessions and patient friends and relatives, I still berate myself at times for the fact that I still have weak social skills. I try to remember at these times that Aspergers is a social and communication disorder and therefore it is amazing that I have made the progress that I have within the context of my diagnosis but this doesn’t always help and I just have to wait for the low mood to pass.

The final main reason for low self esteem in those of us on the spectrum is perhaps the most damaging one-it is the fact that there are people out there who wish to take away the essence of our beings and “cure” us. I wrote about this in detail in my “Cure Debate” post so I won’t go over it again too much but suffice to say that, if you are aware that every little quirk and habit you have is scrutinised and labelled as an autistic trait and thus something to be “dealt with” and, in some cases, punished by the use of aversive therapies, you don’t exactly feel good about the way that you are. If you spend your whole life aware that people disapprove of the way you are and think it would be better if so much of your life simply vanished, you’re not exactly going to feel like you have a right to be happy and to be proud of the achievements you have made. I know that a lot of people involved in the cure debate will argue that they want a cure primarily for classic autism rather than Aspergers but my point remains that it is still damaging to someone’s self esteem to want to change so much of their personality. As I mentioned before, I support attempts to make the lives of people on the spectrum more enjoyable by minimising the negative impacts of autism on their lives but this is completely different to the idea of curing them for the reasons that I have mentioned in my post on that debate.

Now we come to the devastating point of all this-the impact that having such a poor self image can have on peoples lives. A very high number of people with Aspergers have mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as described on the National Autistic Society website.

As a member of several Facebook groups for people with Aspergers and an online community for people on the spectrum, I have also come to know that there is a worryingly high number of people in the Aspergers community whose childhood memories are so distressing that they fit the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is also a depressing fact that people on the autistic spectrum are more likely to commit suicide than those who are not on the spectrum. Indeed, some reports have cited that, in children, those with autism are up to 28 times more likely to take their own life than those without autism as discussed on this blog by Lynne Soraya.

These are the people who go through life feeling rejected at every turn, who are turned down from jobs and are then made to feel bad about themselves for having to rely on financial assistance from the State when, if they were given a chance to prove themselves in the first place, they would be able to hold down a job, who spend their days despising who they are and wishing for a tiny bit of relief from their racing thoughts and who take their feelings out on themselves in a variety of ways. These are the people who society often views as “outcasts” but, ironically, the reason why such “outcasts” exist is because society is so fixated on the “typical” that it shuts out those who it deems not to meet its arbitrary standards.

Next time you see someone with Aspergers or autism, please remember how they may be feeling inside and have compassion for them. We struggle daily to get by in a world which often seems to revel in making us feel like failures and sometimes just a small amount of kindness can make our day so much better.


20 Responses to Self esteem and Aspergers

  1. Beverly Marsh says:

    Loving your blog Stephanie – it’s very well written and informative. Saw The Curious Incident last night – excellent! Having read the book and your blog I have a much better understanding of Aspergers.

  2. Pingback: Treatments for People/Kids with Aspergers | aspasnwers

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  4. Jenny says:

    Maybe it shouldn’t even be seen as a disorder, period. That this sort of thinking backs up predatory BS whereby people think they have a right to be abusive to somebody.

  5. Robert Dean says:

    i am diagnosed with aspergers. didn’t realize till i was 31. my life has always sucked and wished i was somebody else.

  6. shana says:

    really found your blog very interesting describe me , i recently want to get diagnosis for aspergers at the of 19 because i always had problems making friends also struggle in social situation, and i am also special needs(learning learning difficulties) just waiting to get my result back , i am hoping for a positive outcome.

  7. Pingback: Aspergers, Self-Esteem and God | The Clockwork Pastor

  8. james says:

    im 29years old was diagnosed aspergers, ive struggled all my life and struggle alot now, i struggle seeking help i need forcing most the time so at moment even tho im diagnosed im getting no help at all, i struggle with house work i live alone and if i have no company i get in bad states with anxiety i dont no how il ever live a normal life wish i could show my pain to people but i come across im ok, but inside im not so frustrating!!!!!!!

    • sjmarsh2013 says:

      Hi James. I understand what you mean-I get into very anxious states a lot of the time and think completely illogically and irrationally about life at those times. Have you joined any local support groups for adults with Aspergers? Those can often be very helpful.

      • james says:

        hi yeh its realy strange when we go through that uncomfy stage we turn into diffrent people then back to normal, no not been to any support groups but im planning to find one as i think it would help being around people with same problems as im confused alot the time to what parts of me is aspergers and whats me from my personality i tend to blame most my bad sides on aspergers but i dont think everything is aspergers, 🙂

  9. Sara says:

    Thanks for the article. Someone 8 years my junior told me today that they’d noticed I have low self esteem – probably due to me trying too hard socially at school – and it made all these dormant thoughts reappear. I really needed to hear that I’m not alone in thinking like this sometimes, so, thank you. 🙂

  10. Justin says:

    I always feel like I’m not a true self. It really sucks ( by the way you made some outstanding points). I’m on a teenager, but I also experience alor of anxiety and I feel like every thing about me is being characterized into something. Like for one, my fear of disease. I feel like it’s just part of my “disorder”. I used to get bullied in grade school quite a bit, and still get ignored all the time, ( like 95 to 98% of the time) but I’ve learned to understand that everyone is different. People always have really confusing facial expressions and I just have kinda threw it in the bag. If people can’t handle me, then fine, go away from me. I can’t keep trying to sugar coat myself . Take the truth for what it is and stop making me say sorry every time I have a comment. Like almost every time I have advice for others I feel the need to apologize, and I just don’t get it. I also don’t get grudges, or why people get so butt hurt over small things. ( I’m used to having people say mean stuff to me) l don’t say this to people because I know they’ll just give me another dirty look or not let me explain myself, but I feel like most people are just plain stupid. I want to reach out for them, but they just won’t accept it or even try to comprehend it. It also seems like everyone is always mad at me. But your article helped me a lot. Thank you.

  11. William Read says:

    I relate to all of this. I am 59 years old and have very low self esteem because of what autism does to me. I have no friends per se mostly because I can’t participate in typical people activities. I am very clumsy and uncoordinated and therefore can’t dance or do music (no sense of rhythm) or play any sport involving a ball. I am not interested in eating or drinking so I am not interested in doing those activities which I know are popular with some people. I am physically active but do this on my own because I am not good enough to do it in a group setting. I tried cross fit but was too unathletic to do it. My mental abilities are not good and I find activities involving these things difficult. I guess the problem is that people find things they are good at and do those. Since I am not good at anything, I feel left out. The comment about school being so distressing that it amounts to having PTSD probably happened to me because I can’t get that experience out of my mind. Thank you for your insights.

  12. Simba says:

    I have HFA or Aspergers’ and I tried to kill myself yet never gotten to hospital. I think people who have HFA or Aspergers’ ,the ones who are trying to pass for society, I think its not nice to laugh at someone who’s head is on the table and depressed… one that has aspergers’ in my class (we were 5 all in total) just laughed at me for feeling so depressed… And I can even say why I was depressed at the time… the teachers in the class and him… they probably took my ONLY friend in that school, whom also had HFA 😦 They couldnt understand me…. and to think for one second that they’re there to help you accept you as YOU? Not a chance! I actualy felt like as if the teachers tried to normalize everyone… and I didnt like it at all…. they all made an issue when I had a friend. ONE FUCKING FRIEND!!! Now, I tried to kill myself a few weeks ago… tried numoruse time two years ago… and last year I would cry in the toilets cubicle and hurt myself… Broke my phone two years ago…. all cause everyone sayin “its your fault!” “You’ll be in big trouble if you come late!” “Because of YOU the class is starting late!” And so on and on…. Im even in a social group for people who are different hfa aspergers adhd social anxiety learning dissabilities and so on…. even they cannot understand me and wonder and think to myself how life would be better without me 😦 have a good day

    • sjmarsh2013 says:

      Hi Simba. I am sorry that you have experienced such cruelty and bullying. Depression can be so nasty. Please don’t hurt yourself-you are a worthwhile person and life would be worse off without you in it. I genuinely believe that. You have been through a lot but you can get through this, I promise you.

  13. Marianna says:

    Hi thanks so much for sharing. I think I have Aspergers, but unfortunately my psychiatrist said because i have bipolar I can’t have autism. I think that’s not true, but oh well. I really wish people knew though, so that they would stop calling me “sensitive”. It makes me feel judged and i don’t know how to explain why I am. I just am…And I start to think everyone is judgmental but that may be my black and white thinking.

    • sjmarsh2013 says:

      Hello Marianna. I would disagree that one cannot have both bipolar disorder and Aspergers. I have met several people with both and bipolar disorder is also a very common misdiagnosis for Aspergers in females. I wish you luck in finding someone who can diagnose you xx

  14. Mike says:

    I was diagnosed with ADD at a young age and an introvert. Went to doctors for that for years and had all of the signs of AS but never opened up to doctors so they never noticed. By never opened up I mean I would just sit there silent until the time ran out. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that a doc suggested I might have it, I responded by refusing to go back to that doc because I didn’t want to be labeled with another thing that would get me bullied more or stand out. 10 or so years pass before I start thinking maybe that doctor was right, and today I’m convinced I have AS but afraid to get diagnosed. I’m afraid that all of my opinions on the world and schooling will become invalid because of a diagnosis. On the other hand, I suppose I could grab the microphone upon graduation and declare I completed the degree with honors without any assistance for my AS and call them all lazy pieces of shit by comparison if they got Cs… I imagine that would be satisfying

  15. Pingback: Autism is not psychopathy, and autistic people are not psychopaths [Mental Health Monday] – the silent wave

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