At all ages, good body control enhances the self-concept in two ways. First, it fosters the development of self-confidence, which is expressed in a calm assurance, poise, and a willingness to try new things in the belief that they can be mastered. In time, self-confidence become generalized and spreads to situations where motor control is not involved. Second and more important, good body control encourage a feeling of security in social situations. This frees the person to turn his attention away from self and toward other, thus enabling him to make good social adjustments. He does not have to worry about how his body will function in social situations, whether he will be clumsy and do embarrassing things. The role of motor not control in the development of the self-concept has been stressed.
The psychological damage of awkwardness comes from different experiences at different ages. A young child must depend on others to do things for him he would like to do for himself. This dependency is a source of constant irritation and frustration.
The older child who is unable to keep up with his age-mates is embarrassed and ashamed. As such upsetting experiences accumulate, he develops a generalized feeling of inadequacy and inferiority, and his self-concept is damaged by feelings of shame. In time, he is likely to develop an inferiority complex.
Children who fall below their age-mates in play skills experience social rejection or voluntarily withdraw from the play group to avoid the embarrassment that comes from being considered awkward and clumsy. They are thus not only deprived of opportunities to improve their body control but also confirmed in their belief that they are inferior.
Not realizing that rapid physical growth can disrupt patterns of coordination established when the body was smaller, the young adolescent will wonder if something is wrong with him when he spills or breaks things, trips over rugs, and stumbles over his own feet. Ridicule and criticism from others add to his embarrassment and increase his feelings of inadequacy.
Temporary loss of body control during periods of rapid growth has a far less damaging effect on personality than permanent loss of control. However, if temporary awkwardness goes on too long, as in the slow mature at puberty, if can lead to a habitual concept of oneself as an awkward person even after the awkwardness has passed.
Decline in body control is one of the chief causes of the unfavorable self-concept that characterizes many elderly people. Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority arise when they compare themselves with younger people of with their own younger selves, and so they tend to shun motor activities and become dependent on others. As in young children, dependency in old age leads to frustration and unhappiness.
Since loss of motor control increases with advancing age, the damaging effect of awkwardness on the self-concept intensifies. Most elderly people are ashamed of their awkwardness, especially in situations where they must be with younger people who are likely to be critical of them or overprotective.
Left-handedness is often detrimental to good personal and social adjustment. Since manual dexterity affects the person’s educational and vocational success, it influences his self-concept. When the cultural group tends to favor the use of the right and to regard the left-handed person as “different,” the left-handed person’s mirror image, or social self-concept, is certain to be unfavorable.