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Cognitive Corner-Self Esteem - May 16, 2013

Cognitive Corner-Self Esteem

By: Dave Anders

Therapy Manager at On With Life


What are your beliefs about yourself? What are you good at (and how happy are you about those things)? What are you not-so-good at (and how bad do you feel about those things)? How confident are you in your ability to face your life’s challenges and solve the problems in your life? This balance of skills, beliefs, happiness, confidence, and other associated feelings is the equation that is generally believed by experts in psychology to be the basis for your “self esteem.”

The literature on self esteem and brain injury is sketchy at best. Most measures of self esteem after brain injury are done by self report, and there is still some general disagreement in the medical community about how to accurately measure self esteem. Studies seem to tell us that the cognitive, communication, and physical challenges associated with brain injury cause survivors to have a lower self-image / self esteem…but you probably already knew that from your personal experience…didn’t you?


The more important question is…What can survivors and caregivers do to help rebuild some of the self-esteem that has been lost to brain injury? As usual, there are no quick or easy answers, but hopefully a few of these will help put you on the right path.


  • Do not let others’ opinions limit you. Many survivors have been told by medical professionals that they will never do certain things (walk, talk, work, etc.) and have gone on to prove the professionals wrong. While professionals have your best interests at heart, the bottom line is that we do not understand brain injury well enough to confidently use the word “never.”
  • Learning to be positive is a skill. Your ability to see the glass as half full rather than half empty dictates the attitude you use to attack your recovery. Research tells us that survivors who have a “glass half full” attitude have better recoveries than “glass half empty” survivors. Actively practice positivity!
  • Get out and interact with other human beings. There is a positive relationship between social interaction and self esteem. Start by coming to support group…it’s a safe place to interact with people who understand.
  • Pay attention to your personal appearance. Practice good physical hygiene…you’ll feel better about yourself if you do.
  • Learn to accept the “new you.” Rather than spending your energy beating yourself up for all the things you can’t do, spend it building yourself up for all of the progress you’ve made since your injury.
  • Be persistent. Keep trying…no matter what happens…The day you stop trying is the day the brain injury has won.
  • Learn to do something well…and keep doing it. Whether it’s caring for a pet, finding a new hobby, volunteering, or doing something else, finding an activity that brings you suuccess is a huge part of re-building self esteem.

Brain injury is unbelievably difficult. 15 years of work in the field has taught me that I don’t know whether I would have the strength to endure it. The grace with which survivors and families navigate the recovery process never ceases to amaze me. Do not confuse success with value. While you may have to find new and different ways to succeed, this does not alter the fact that every survivor is a person of value. While brain injury is unbelievably difficult, survivors achieve…survivors endure…and, most importantly, survivors become.