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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Self-Esteem and Arthritis Pain Print E-mail

Most people would never think less of anyone because of an illness like arthritis. On the contrary, they might admire the person more if he or she seemed to meet the challenges of arthritis with particular grace and courage. Yet it's not uncommon for those affected people to judge themselves harshly. For them, personal struggles with illness and arthritis pain can be a blow to their self-esteem. If this sounds like you, it's time you learned to treat yourself with as much fairness and respect as you treat other people.

Seeing Yourself through Mud-Colored Glasses

The mental picture you have of yourself is colored by many factors, and arthritis pain is just one of them. At times, it can start to overshadow all the rest.

"Some people feel irrational guilt, as if they must have done something pretty bad to feel this terrible," says Margaret Caudill-Slosberg, M.D., Ph.D., a pain specialist at Dartmouth Medical School and author of Managing Pain Before It Manages You (New York: Guilford Press; 1995). "Others feel as if they should be able to control their own body better."

Many people find it easier to focus on their negative traits rather than their positive ones. To see how this may be affecting your own self-image, Caudill-Slosberg suggests making a list of 10 things you like about yourself. Next, make a list of 10 things you dislike about yourself or would like to change. Then, ask yourself which list was easier to complete. If it was the list of dislikes, you may have a habit of being especially hard on yourself.

Now, focus on the list of likes for a minute. How many are internal qualities (kind, generous, patient), and how many are external (attractive, successful at work, a good parent)?

"Good self-esteem is built on a balance of both," says Caudill-Slosberg. "If you're heavy on the external side, this can cause problems. Traits that are external are more vulnerable to the judgments of others and to losses, including the loss of good health."

Try to rewrite your list, if necessary, to better balance the internal and external traits.

Giving Yourself a Pep Talk

If your self-esteem is sagging, another way to give it a boost is with affirmations; short, positive statements that you repeat to yourself often during the day for inspiration, motivation, or comfort. Affirmations tend to be short and to the point. They can be brief quotes, prayers, or proverbs. They can be simple sayings you create for yourself. The only firm rule is that they be positive statements: "I am a winner," instead of "I'm not a loser." Affirmations also typically are stated in the first person and the present tense. They often take the form "I am ___" or "I can ___." Here are some examples of simple affirmations:

  • "I can cope with my arthritis pain."
  • "I'm a strong person."
  • "I'm feeling calm."
  • "I'm doing the best I can."

By focusing on your positive traits and using affirmations to boost your self-esteem, you can meet the challenges of arthritis.


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