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Internalized Ableism

This article is a .

For a YouTube series on ableism including a video on internalized ableism, please see this playlist (about 45 mins runtime total). There's a couple issues with the series, but the scope and how well thought-out it is overall is good.

What it is not

It's not something one ought to use in a shaming way to defend oneself or push onto others in a gatekeeping or shaming manner. The videos above make it obvious that the term "internalized ableism" has been coopted as an attack in some communities. It is not something between bodies. It's something within one's own mind/body, and it's a barrier to self-acceptance that needs to be overcome.

What it is

Internalized ableism is what happens when we have not fully accepted and embraced our limitations, when we withhold our own need for accommodations or access and fail to advocate for ourselves, when we judge ourselves against the abilities of others and find ourselves wanting, when we think we deserve to be treated poorly because we are ourselves disabled, thus we are less-than, when we feel ashamed of our disabilities, etc. It's an internal process, not an external process against others.

So internalized ableism can have myriad issues within plural systems of course, because we have a lot more going on internally than a singular person experiencing internalized ableism.

Sometimes many members of one's system can be ableist towards each other or your& shared life. Sometimes it's just a few. But this can become a system trust issues that undermines functionality, energy, and can push your system beyond its limits, so can be addressed as a trust issue.

Some forms of plurality are disabling, and many folk who are plural have other disabilities & neurodivergence issues that indicate that reasonable accommodations and modifications of life expectations would normally be in order.

We are experiencing internalized ableism when we:

  • have not yet fully absorbed our disabilities and adjusted our expectations of ourselves.
  • put "able" expectations on ourselves.
  • blow off our disabilities.
  • have unreasonable expectations about our ability in spite of "known" issues.
  • add on "extra" expectations to "compensate" for (apologize for, make up for, add padding for) our disabilities.
  • push ourselves to "overcome" things that are obvious disabilities.
  • push ourselves to behave "normally" or to do "normal" or "able" things at our own expense (such as neglecting our own needs or self-care).
  • have unreasonable expectations about what we can or "should" be doing. Double note: any "shoulds" also add internalized shaming to the issue.
  • perpetuate stigma about our own disability through our own behavior.
  • are ashamed of our disability being "found out".
  • are ashamed about experiencing stigma for having a disability.
  • feel less worthy, valuable, important, sexy, desirable, because of our own disabilities.
  • feel like a burden, a non-productive member of society, like we ought to be marginalized or "forgotten" because we are disabled.
  • having imposter syndrome about needing help or assistance (I'm not "really" disabled so I don't need these accommodations).
  • comparing yourself to other disabled people in a "more" or "less" disabled than way.
  • comparing your abilities to able people and always feeling like you can/should/ought to push harder to match them.
  • internalizing stigma, oppression, ridicule, things you've heard others say about people with disabilites, movie messages, myths, stereotypes, etc. (becoming self-oppression).

Examples of internalized abliesm include, but are not limited to:

  • me never ever thinking that other disabled folk "should" push, or skip self-care, but somehow thinking I can
  • being embarrassed that we forget past events even though we have "beyond normal forgetting" due to DID amnesias & dissociation
  • being ashamed we can't tell people apart or remember their name even though we already are aware we experience face blindness due to autism
  • thinking we can "just" do better or if only we XYZ then we won't have to struggle with the thing.
  • Not getting the full-body physical therapy (PT) exercise that is recommended for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome (hypermobile subtype) i.e. hEDS — but still thinking that I can push myself without slowly building up good tone, and then wondering why I've strained a muscle, torn a ligament, or ended up with a frozen shoulder, etc.
  • Someone with college accommodations who didn't hand in request forms for separate test location & extra time accommodations when tests were coming up because "I'll be OK" (but then flunking out of college).
  • Someone who pushes themselves, and ends up hurting themselves.
  • A person that has only enough spoons to do work and collapses outside work hours — because they "gave everything at the office" including (but not limited to) the energy or executive function needed for eating/cooking/cleaning/laundry/bathing/etc.

Internalized ableism can also get tied up with shame cycles — so shame + internalized ableism can cause people to become perfectionists, terrified that they might miss a deadline, or do sub-par work and get "found out" and thought of as less-than — even though they may be fully aware they have a disability, and likely should request some type of accommodation (extra time, assistance, different expectations, changes in work hours, remote work or hybrid work, etc.).


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