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5 Empowering Tips for Good Self-Esteem When You’re Living with MS

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D. , Dana Cooper, M.D.
November 27, 2023

If you ever feel like life with multiple sclerosis (MS) has taken a toll on your self-esteem, you’re not alone. In fact, in a recent poll of our members, 97% said they felt that their MS affected their self-esteem sometimes, often, or always.

Self-esteem is how positive the concept we hold of ourselves is, including our view of our physical appearance, capabilities, values, and successes. How you perceive other people’s view of these traits can also affect your self-esteem.

Low self-esteem can lead to feelings of worthlessness and even depression, so if you’re feeling like your self-esteem could use a boost, it’s important to find ways to feel good about yourself and what you’re capable of.

The good news? There are steps you can take to help you feel more positive about yourself with MS.

How MS May Affect Self Esteem

MS symptoms themselves, combined with how unpredictable the disease can be, can all lead to issues with self-esteem.

For instance, the unpredictable disease course of MS may lead you to question your own abilities. Thoughts could be things like: Will I be able to work and provide for my family? Will I be able to run around at the park or walk my daughter down the aisle? Am I still going to be accepted? These can affect a person’s self-concept, says Mindy Couture, a social worker and case management manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS Navigator Experience team.

For many people, the reality is that their abilities may be affected. Fatigue, heat sensitivity, or issues with cognition may keep someone from doing things they once did at the pace they once did. A person’s sex life may look different as they cope with symptoms like spasticity or bladder issues. And pain or changes in mobility may affect a person’s level of physical activity, which can also change their appearance.

“People experience that as a limitation, or experience that in a sense of loss,” says Leigh Charvet, Ph.D., director of MS research and professor in the department of neurology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York. This feeling of a diminished experience can affect self-esteem, she notes.

But you and your care team can work together to find ways to accommodate or overcome issues that may lower your self esteem.

How to Boost Self-Esteem with MS

Feeling good about yourself can start with these strategies.

Focus on What You Can Do

“Oftentimes what leads to low self-esteem is focusing so much on what you can no longer do, or the life experiences you may no longer have,” says Couture. Your mindset can have a powerful impact on your outlook.

Maybe mobility issues mean you can’t play tag with your grandchildren anymore. Dwelling on that could understandably cause you to feel down about yourself. Shift your attention, Couture says. Focus on the fact that you can still play board games with them, and that you can have conversations with people that you’re connected to and love. This view toward the positive can help you feel more full of life, even as you acknowledge any loss or grief surrounding your previous capabilities.

If you’re not sure how to shift your mindset, Couture recommends practicing gratitude. Start each morning by thinking of three things that make you happy and writing them down so you can reflect on them in the future. “It’s so simple, but it really is so impactful,” she says.

Connect with Others

Self-esteem issues can cause a person to withdraw, Couture says, which can increase the risk of feeling even less positive about yourself. Try to avoid isolating yourself and you’ll see a positive shift in your view of yourself.

“The two things that I have really seen make a difference are community and connection,” Couture says. “Lean into your community, whether that be your family and friends, or calling the MS Society and joining a support group.” Being a part of the Twill Care MS community can offer a sense of support and belonging that may boost your self-esteem, as well.

Results from a study published in 2020 suggest that social support also boosts overall quality of life with MS, and helps lower MS-related depression and anxiety.

Open Up to Your Doctor

Certain symptoms like sexual problems, bladder issues, or bowel issues may feel embarrassing to discuss. But sharing what you’re going through with your doctor can help you find treatment or brainstorm solutions that may help.

Try not to be shy in front of your doctor. “I always tell my patients, there is nothing I have not heard in this office,” says Sophia Woodson, a neurology nurse practitioner at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

Because MS affects everyone differently, your doctor won’t know exactly what you may need help with unless you open up and talk about it. “Show up for yourself,” says Woodson. “Be proactive in your treatment, because if you’re proactive, you’ll have better outcomes.” In turn, better managing these issues may help you feel more confident.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is an essential tool for anyone’s well‑being. When you have MS, taking time for self-care can help you feel more in control of the uncertainty that comes with the disease.

There’s no right way to practice self-care. “Self-care looks different for everybody, and it looks different every single day,” says Couture. “You really need to tune in and ask, ‘What does my body need?’ And it might be a nap. It might be a bath.” Check in with yourself regularly and give yourself what you need.

Give Yourself Grace

Lastly, give yourself some grace and patience. Remember: You’re facing some real challenges.

“Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that life is harder with MS on board,” Charvet says. “It's an adjustment, it's an extra burden that you're living with… but it's something that you have to live with. So just acknowledge that and be kind to yourself about that.”

Remind yourself that, with a little adaptation, you can still live your life with fulfillment. “Whatever your plans are, we can still get your needs met—we just may have to go about it a different way,” Woodson says. “Where you had a plan A, you might need a plan B, C, and sometimes even D.”

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