Physical defects affect personality directly by placing limitations on what person can do and thus restricting the areas within which he can develop a positive and realistic self-concept. Indirectly, the personality is affect by the way defects influence the attitudes and treatment of significant people. In general, physical handicaps requiring the use of crutches leg braces, or wheelchairs are viewed more favorably and more sympathetically than obesity or facial deformities.
Direct effects of physical defects normally occur earlier than indirect effects. Even young children are aware of their inability to do things their playmates do, and if they know this is due to a physical handicap, they feel resentful and frustrated. Only if a defect does not prevent them from what their playmates do does if fail to have a direct effect on the self-concept.
Awareness of social attitudes toward defects is delayed because adults try not to let children know how they feel about defects and because the defects are unimportant in the peer group’s activities. Facial scars or broken teeth, for example, will go unnoticed unless they are very conspicuous. Even then, most children accept such defects in their playmates without judgmental comments or questions. Only after they reach the looks- conscious age of adolescence when the social group “virtually equates physical beauty with social survival, is disfigurement often short of tragic”.
Numerous students have been made of the direct and indirect effects of obesity on personality. Directly obesity is a handicap in social relationship because the obese person is unable to keep up with his contemporaries. Indirectly, awareness of unfavorable social attitudes towards obesity makes the person feel inferior and socially scorned. As time goes on, Atkinson and Ringuette have pointed out, massively obese individuals become more disturbed, perhaps because of both increasing self-dissatisfaction and cumulative adverse responses from others.
Whether direct or indirect, the harmful effects of physical defects are far-reaching. The person who suffers from a physical defect, regardless of how minor it is, is faced with the normal adjustment problems of his age as well as the specifics problems arising from the defect. He is extremely vulnerable to feeling of threat and to other sources of emotional instability.
Parental over protectiveness of a child with a physical defect may interfere with his adjustment to school and his participation in extracurricular activities, causing him to be immature for his age and increasing his feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.
Physical defects that keep children from acquiring play skills deprive them of social contacts and make the children feel scorned or martyrdom, often intensified by the belief that they are rejected by their parents and siblings as well as thus age-mates. With limited social contacts, children have few opportunities to develop their social sensitivity, and this further hampers their ability to make good social adjustments. As a result, they are forced to spend much of their play time alone: they develop few interests have fits of boredom, and are envious of those who are socially accepted. Under such conditions, many physically handicapped children live in a fantasy world and become introverted and egocentric.
The damaging effects of physical defects begun in childhood increase with age and lead to poor personal and social adjustments in adult life-in work marriage, and social life. A follow-up study of graduates from a school for crippled children showed that as adults, they were socially very inactive, even though they had been socially active in their school days. This social inactivity in adult life was due, in part to difficulties in getting around and, in part, to feelings of being unwanted. This led to personal dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and tendency to be introverted and egocentric.