Dyslexia and Self-esteem
I’ve been pondering this post for several months now, as self-esteem is a topic that I find very personally interesting and relatable. Within this particular entry, I hope to combine a mixture of autobiographical elements and academic research to outline and explain how dyslexia can effect ones level of self-esteem within their daily lives.
Strongly related to self-worth and confidence, self-esteem refers to how one views and perceives themselves. This ‘self-perception’ can be positive or negative, or even a combination of the two, depending on a person’s personality type, individual strengths and weakness and the task or action they are carrying out. For me personally, even prior to my dyslexia diagnosis, I have struggled with low levels of self-esteem. I’ve always been a ‘glass is half empty person’ who tends to worry unnecessarily, over apologise and panic over trivial matters. Exacerbating this, since my diagnosis I have observed and identified examples of how my dyslexia has influenced and sometimes further lowered my self-esteem and confidence in specific situations.
As an exemplar, which I began to discuss in my ‘Negatives of Dyslexia’ post, I often become uber paranoid about making mistakes in front others, particularly when spelling, using unfamiliar technical equipment/programmes and reading public transport maps or timetables. In addition to this, I can withdraw or be unwilling to contribute in social situations or group discussions due to fear of ridicule or misunderstanding verbal instructions of topics of debate. Therefore in this way, dyslexia has, and continues, to have a prominent psychological impact on myself during everyday tasks. Crucially I followed up these observations and have spoken to other fellow dyslexics who too have reported similar feelings of reduced self-esteem. Individuals reported that they disliked others seeing their ‘poor standard’ of written work and were highly reluctant to apply for higher job positions or confide and open up to people due to concerns of rejection or failure. Reflecting and looking back on these comments, I was curious to see if findings from academic studies of dyslexics yielded similar results and added clarity to my argument.
Interestingly a number of published academic studies appear to support my personal observations. Research by Riddick (1999) and Glazzard (2010) surrounding dyslexic children and young adults found that dyslexic individuals had significantly lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety than controls/non-dyslexics. Moreover findings from Glazzard’s (2010) interview study found that having ‘ownership of the dyslexic label’, support from family, friends and teachers and a clear understanding of one’s dyslexia is key to promoting positive self-esteem in dyslexics. Although both these studies are snapshot studies that are not representative and generalisable to all dyslexics and their levels of self-esteem, they provide a good baseline and grassroot level for further investigation.
Following these findings, I was intrigued and keen to discover the reasons why dyslexics appear to suffer with lower levels of self-esteem. From browsing two excellent websites I identified three clear and logical reasons why these deficits in self-esteem may persist. Firstly, SEN (Special Educational Needs) magazine online explains that low self-esteem can be caused by “difficulties in coping with culturally imposed assumptions”. In this way, dyslexic individuals can become upset and disappointed in not being able to complete tasks that others may find easy or easier. Socio-cultural examples of these include learning read, write, drive or spell. Consequently, dyslexics can develop feelings of inadequacy and inferiority as they unconsciously compare their abilities and aptitudes to others. In doing so, an anticipation of failure is generated which reinforces this vicious somewhat psychologically damaging cycle. Secondly, another causation linked to the above, outlined by Learning Difficulties (LD) online, highlights how past errors and mistakes, even if they are small or imagined by the dyslexic individual, can contribute to anxiety alongside low confidence and self-esteem levels. Using myself as an example I often forget how to spell commonplace words, such as vehicle or enough. Especially when asked in front of others, I become nervous, panicky and paranoid about mistaking the spellings of these words because I have got them wrong before. Predictably, this can contribute to these negative emotions and thoughts that I am not trying hard enough.
Thirdly, a factor that can reinforce low self-esteem in dyslexics revolves around ‘slipping the diagnosis net’ and being diagnosed later in one’s life. Although this is not applicable to all diagnosed dyslexics it does make logical sense. Outlined by the SEN magazine online this can be psychologically and socially damaging because that individual has not received the ‘closure’ or confirmation that they have a diagnosable and accepted learning difficulty/neurodiversity. Without the closure process providing a reason for the difficulties a person can experience individuals may grow and develop believing that they are ‘thick or stupid’ in their words compared to others. Additionally a late diagnosis could cause dyslexics to lose a sense of belonging, community feel and identity within the dyslexic population. This is a crucial mode of support that can help people to know that they are not alone in the dyslexic world. Lastly, a late diagnosis for a dyslexic individual could mean that they may have missed vital support and assistance in schools, colleges, other education institutions and their place of work to help them succeed. Notably, this can led to ‘what if questions’, self-doubt and regrets over past events; all of which negatively affect self-esteem and confidence.
Significantly, the research I conducted appears to strongly support my own notion that dyslexia can have a strong negative psychological impact. As can be seen, dyslexia can elicit an array on negative emotions, including anxiety, low confidence/self-esteem and paranoia, which can affect individuals on a day-to-day basis during everyday tasks and activities. Apologises if this post is all a bit depressing and ‘doom and gloom’. But, I really wanted to highlight the impact of dyslexia that is so often overlooked and not considered: the psychological-emotional side. I am hopeful that this has provided some food for thought and helped broaden your knowledge of the world of dyslexia.
Useful links and references
Glazzard, J. (2010). The Impact of Dyslexia on Pupils Self-esteem, Support for Learning, 25(2): 6-69.
LD Online (2019). Social and Emotional Problems Related to Dyslexia. Accessed on the 8th February 2019, at http://www.ldonline.org/article/19296.
Riddick, B, Sterling, C, Farmer, M & Morgan, S. (1999). Self-esteem and Anxiety in the Educational Histories of Adult Dyslexic Students, Dyslexia, 5(4): 227-248.
SEN Magazine (2019). The Emotional Consequences of Dyslexia. Accessed on the 8th February 2019, at https://senmagazine.co.uk/articles/articles/senarticles/what-are-the-emotional-consequences-of-dyslexia.