One of the more insidious forms of internalized ableism is when we look at others and beat ourselves up for not being able to do what they are doing. What makes it particularly insidious is that it is easy to miss that we are engaging in internalized ableism. What makes it so insidious is that it’s considered a normal part of society and exacerbated by social media, self-help coaches, advertising, and the list goes on. We are constantly fed messages that we should be like all the high achievers in the world.
An example of how this type of internalized ableism is when I read, hear, and/or see examples of people being highly organized in their life, and the message is pushed that everyone should be like that. My brain just doesn’t work that way. At one point I tried reading and following Seven Habits of Highly Defective People, er, wait, that’s not what it’s called; it’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. From an autistic perspective, however, it’s defective. I intuitively knew this, but still wondered why I couldn’t do things the way that author said we should all be able to do it. Further, over the years I had spent a fortune on planners, visioning guides, and so on, and then didn’t use them through the year. They just don’t work for me. (See The Interesting Secret to Planning and Organizing with ADHD Part 1 for a fun, humorous discussion of planning, planners, ADHD, as well as internalized ableism in stating one isn’t detail oriented.)
When I’m feeling particularly down about where I’m at in life, I revert to this particular type of internalized ableism and messaging. Wondering why I’m not like all these other people, able to do all the things in the way society says they should be done. I know that when I’m at my best, I’m doing things my own way. I’m engaged, I’m interested, and the feedback I receive from colleagues, students, and others I engage with is positive.
What can one do to combat this type of internalized ableism?
One way to manage it is to stay off of social media when having these thoughts. So much of social media is unhealthy and comparing oneself to others happens pretty much automatically. This is, of course, easier said than done. My personal technique is to remove the Facebook App on my mobile device, close any Facebook browser tabs, and just use Messenger and other messaging tools to communicate with friends.
Another way is to use some of the techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Yes, I do make fun of it a lot. It’s a modality that doesn’t work for everyone, and for my ongoing needs, it is inadequate. That said, however, I do use some of the techniques when I need to. This is one of them. I process the thoughts, examine where they’re coming from, feel how my body is reacting, then strive to focus on other thoughts, other activities.
Are these solutions guaranteed to work? No. Each of us is different, what works for each of us is different. Adding to this fun is that what works for someone one week, might not the next. It’s an ongoing challenge of self reflection and examination.
How am I moving forward? Taking the ideas that work for me, keeping my interest, and working to ignore all the messaging that says I should be the way so many self-help books say I should be. I choose to celebrate my differences, to be what the author of that book would consider to be a “defective” person.
Talia Johnson is a multi-faceted woman who is transgender, autistic, Jewish, queer, and more than the sum of her parts. She is an ordained Kohenet priestess, and her work centres on bridging faith and queer communities, educating, counselling, and mentoring. She has done freelance editing for queer and trans representation and is Chair of the Board of Heartspark Press, which is run by and publishes works by trans women and CAMAB non-binary people. Talia is also co-editor of the Nothing Without Us anthology. You can discover more about Talia on her website and find her on Twitter.