Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Ableism 101: Internalised Ableism

For the final instalment of the Ableism 101 series, I bring you the type of ableism where all the previously covered forms come to roost.  Internalised Ableism.

Quick Recap

Over the past few weeks I've discussed three different forms of ableism, general individual ableism, systemic ableism, and benevolent ableism.  These by no means cover the full extent of the concept but gives a general overall picture of the issues.

General Individual Ableism

Where individuals say or do things that belittle, exclude, harm and/or offend a disabled person or people.  A good recent example was a column in the New Zealand Herald by a prominent NZ radio DJ, which was criticised and challenged by Sarah Wilson in her blog post here (note: there's no need to find the original column and add to the page views, Sarah provides the hideous offending comments in her post).

Systemic Ableism

The ingrained ableism within our social structures that hold disabled people back from full participation in society on a ongoing basis, including accessibility, accommodations or lack thereof, education, employment and pay, and media representation.

Benevolent Ableism

A form of ableism where people take control or try to help PWDs without considering their wants or needs and limiting their agency.

Disabled people face different combinations and variations of these every. single. day.  Often negligible on their own, these all act as microaggressions which build up to have a big impact often unseen.  

Negative Self-Perception and Perception of Other Disabled People

a 100% accurate depiction of my brain when it comes to
internalised ableism

It's hard for those who don't live with disability or see ableism to understand the effects that the near constant onslaught of messages from these ableisms can have on your self-esteem, self-perception and the way you see the world.  The ableist messages you receive from birth can make a conflicting mess of thoughts and emotions that can only be described as a clusterfuck which is an ongoing challenge to unpack and untangle.

For a long time, I refused to accept myself as disabled and like much of society, saw disability as an entirely negative thing - an affliction that for some unknown reason I got dealt with.  I was even reluctant to spend time with other PWDs for fear of being 'typecast'.  I'm not normal, I'm a challenge and a burden, I don't fit in and I have to fundamentally change myself to fit in, are all messages that ran through the back of my mind all the time, and still do, though I know better now and am more equipped to fight against it (at least on the days I'm strong enough).  

Body Image and Beauty Standards

I especially struggled with messages of beauty versus the reality of my visibly disabled body.  Body image issues are common and a big deal for people, especially impressionable teenagers.  The pressure to fit near impossible beauty ideals and standards from the beauty industry and media in order to be considered desirable are things a lot of people, especially women struggle with.  But add a visible disability and the issue magnifies.  You get a lot more attention, but not the flattering or appreciative kind.  It's pretty messed up when you find yourself mildly jealous of friends getting cat-called!  Growing up, I never saw anyone like me.  Not in real life, and certainly not in any media I consumed.  The closest was in my favourite book 'See Ya Simon' by David Hill, about the best friend of a boy with Muscular Dystrophy.  As my body got more and more twisted up I hated it more and more.  

Relationships and Sex

This naturally extends to relationships and sex.  My feelings on this are very much summed up in this Huffington Post article.  I've gone through pretty much all my life feeling completely undesirable and unattractive.  While friends were hung up on finding their soulmates, I figured I'd be lucky if I got a date.  The horrible thing is, what Andrew mentions about dating PWDs is true for me as well.  While I wouldn't have turned a disabled person down if I liked them, The internalised ableist voice in my head also hated the thought that people would say that that was as good as I could get.  I realise how messed up that is now, but that is how internalised ableism works.  You hate yourself for your disability and you discriminate against others for their disabilities, until you wake up to it.  Even then it's a long, difficult and ongoing process to undo those life-long messages.  Josh made an apt statement in their blog post on internalised ableism: "no matter how disgusting and untrue ableist beliefs may be, over time they become a part of us."  But these negative messages go beyond hang-ups on looks and appearances.

The B Word

The fear of being a burden and other distaste for all things disability that comes with internalised ableism including not feeling good enough, being broken, etc., can lead to a lot of internal pressure and expectation to meet or even exceed the able-bodied standard.  This can come at great expense of physical health through pushing to or beyond capacity, and can devastate self esteem even further in the often inevitable case of failure to meet the standards that simply do not fit with our unique bodies and/or conditions.  Fear of illegitimacy 'am I just being melodramatic' and self-doubt, particularly for those with invisible disabilities are also common.  I also deal with the constant feeling that I need to apologise for needing any help or merely existing.

Basically, internalised ableism sucks because it lives with and within you.  And while we may well be aware of how ridiculous and false these messages and ideas are, it's an arduous task to undo the years of cognitive programming and processing to turn into health self belief and self worth, and it's never a complete job.  

And that concludes the Ableism 101 series.  I'm not sure yet what I'll be covering next Tuesday, but I hope you've learnt something.  If you have any questions or comments please comment below.  You can also follow my social media pages and please share around.  :)

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  1. This is really great stuff. I've made a few attempts myself to classify types of Ableism, but my views keep shifting. I look forward to reading the other installments in your series.

  2. Thank you :) Yes this is by no means a complete list of all the possible types but it's a good starter. I will be leaving the series for now and move on to other issues and topics, but I may pick it up again as I come up with other types.

  3. Internalized abelism; it takes a high degree of self-reflection to identify our own, internalised prejudice

    1. It sure does. I have to say that this post was definitely one of the more difficult to write posts I've done.

  4. Thanks for a great series.

    1. No no, Thank YOU! For reading and for engaging and making me think! :)