Home Mental Health & Well-Being Understanding the Emotional Impact of a Physical Disability

Understanding the Emotional Impact of a Physical Disability

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When most people think about coping with, adapting to, or recovering from a disability, they often consider the physical and financial implications. Although a short or long-term condition can prevent you from working and involve multiple trips to the doctor, physical therapy, surgeries, and other medical treatments, your journey to recovery will also impact you (and your loved ones) emotionally. 

Psychological trauma

The mind-body connection teaches us that when your physical health is compromised, your mental health suffers. Consequently, your efforts to recover or adapt physically become more challenging if you don’t take care of your emotional well-being. Declining emotional health can also exacerbate your condition, increase your risks of developing other medical conditions, evolve into mental illness, and further complicate your cognitive and physical functions. 

A disability is traumatic. Harbouring or sulking in these negative emotions can adversely affect you and those you love. Continue reading to learn more. 


Grief is a series of emotions evoked by a substantial loss. Although it’s common to assume that grief is only experienced when someone you love passes away, that’s not the case. You have lost part of your body or functionality that will alter your way of life for the foreseeable future. Whether or not you’re aware, you will go through various stages ranging from shock and denial to anger and depression. 

Grief isn’t something you can overcome overnight. First, you’re shocked by the diagnosis, which can prompt emotional numbness. Next, you try to deny or even hide your disability and attempt to move forward with life as usual. Then you may experience anger and sadness as reality sets in, and you make the necessary adjustments to accommodate your needs. 

Eventually, you reach an acceptance stage, which may still evoke negative emotions but enables you to move forward and overcome your challenges. 

Reduced self-esteem

How you view yourself will change dramatically with a disability. Your limitations often leave you feeling ill-equipped, unqualified, and worthless. Low self-esteem is especially common when you cannot do things you once enjoyed or uphold your obligations to your family, friends, and employers. 

Social isolation and anxiety

Unfortunately, society often makes it challenging for people with disabilities. Although modern medicine, medical advancements, and technological devices enable individuals with disabilities to live full and happy life, people have a cruel way of making you feel worthless. 

From exposing your disabilities and laughing at your complications to excluding you from events and ceasing communication, it’s a painful experience. Although isolation may seem like the most practical way to avoid the backlash from society, staying to yourself too long can lead to depression.

Chronic stress

Another psychological impact of a disability is chronic stress. As you grieve, your everyday life is going through substantial changes. You may need to file an insurance claim (car, worker’s comp, personal injury, etc.), undergo surgery, attend physical therapy, visit medical specialists, learn how to use medical devices, renovate your residence, and alter your schedules. 

The pressure of rearranging your life is bound to lead to chronic stress, especially when things don’t go according to plan. For instance, a social security denial is aggravating because you need to supplement your income to survive. Similarly, stress is compounded when your condition worsens or doesn’t improve in the predetermined timeframe (provided by your doctor). 

Familial impact

A disability can indirectly affect your family and friends. For starters, they care about you and don’t want to see you hurting. Your loved ones will also undergo a grieving process as they get used to your condition and its changes in your functionality and lifestyle. If your disability requires family and friends to support you (physically, emotionally, or financially), the stress of ensuring they accommodate your needs and the adjustments they must make are overwhelming. 

Coping, living with, and recovering from a physical disability is an involved and tedious process. While focusing on the physical and financial aspects of overcoming this devastating circumstance is typical, you mustn’t neglect your emotional well-being. As a disability undoubtedly has psychological implications, it’s imperative to find healthy ways to cope before your emotions make things worse.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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