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Overcoming internalized ableism

How to silence your inner critic

_WELLNESS / INNER ABLEISM

It is a radical thing to love yourself unapologetically. Sometimes my inner critic is way too harsh on my disabled body. Society is constantly throwing unrealistic expectations at us — it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you aren’t enough. My journey to self-love is definitely still a process, but here are five specific steps I took in my life to silence my inner critic and overcome my inner Ableist.*

*CAMBRIDGE ENGLIGH DICTIONARY:
Ableist
Treating people unfairly because they have a disability (= an illness, injury or condition that makes it difficult for them to do things that most other people can do).

1

Be kinder to yourself.
This is such an important first step, but you have to watch the way you talk to yourself. For me, this meant to stop nitpicking the way my disabled body looked in every photo and to not overthink every conversation or mistake. When I find myself thinking negatively, I correct myself. Instead of obsessing over the way my legs looked in a picture I took with my friends, I focus on how much fun I had in that moment when the photo was taken, how happy I was, or even how bomb my outfit looked. My inner ableist tries to discredit me and needs to be silenced. It takes a while to correct the way you think about yourself, but when you find your mind starting to wander to negative comments, you can always bring yourself back with positive affirmations.

“I am enough.”

“My disabled body deserves to be celebrated.”

“My differences are NOT a bad thing.”


2

Find your community.
Finding my community has been one of the most impactful events of my life. Having people I can relate to within the disability community has strengthened my self- confidence and helped me establish my identity as a disabled woman. As a teenager, I wanted to fit in and feel a sense of belonging. There was no amount of straightening my hair or Hollister tee shirts that could hide my wheelchair and make me look like the other kids. My differences made me feel alienated. Attending a very small high school, I was the only person that used a wheelchair or any kind of mobility device in the entire school. I longed to find other people with disabilities. People who would understand access needs, ableism, and having complex medical needs. Through social media, I was able to reach out to the disability community and even find people that have the same rare condition I have. Suddenly, I found people who proudly spoke about their experiences as a disabled person, and I saw disabled bodies that were shaped like mine. It sounds silly, but seeing people who actually look like me validated my existence. I finally found people who I could talk to, who understood the struggles and triumphs of having a disability. Everyone deserves a sense of community and belonging, so if you don’t have that yet, please reach out and find your people. Mine have touched my life and empowered me in ways you wouldn’t believe. Through my community of powerful disabled activists and friends, I feel confident in my identity as a disabled woman.

3

Learn to accept the things you can’t control.
I was born with my disability, but during puberty I developed severe scoliosis. Every year, I would have an x-ray and find my curve had increased. My scoliosis caused no pain or issues at the time, but my preteen self wanted surgery to appear more “normal.” My internalized ableism believed that I needed to be “fixed” in order to feel confident in my body. Unfortunately, due to my other spinal conditions, it would be a series of experimental surgeries and the risks outweighed the benefits. I had to learn to accept that my spine would always be curved, which is much easier said than done. For me, it started with the relief of not having to worry about it anymore, no more x-rays, braces, physical therapy, or talking about the risks of corrective surgery. There was no sense of worrying over something that wasn’t causing harm and wouldn’t change. When I finally found acceptance on the situation, I was able to refocus my energy and feel more positively about my body. There are things about my body that I cannot change. I had to reset my mind and learn to accept my body as it is.

“Find your community.”

4

Stop comparing yourself to others.
I realized most of my negative feelings about myself came from comparing myself to others. I wanted my disabled body to be something it is not and to look and function like a person with a non-disabled body. My inner ableist told me that my disabled body was not enough, that my differences were something I should be ashamed of. The truth is everyone has things they are insecure about, but a disability should not be one of them. My disabled body does look different from my peers, but so what? Everyone is different and everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin. Growing up, I spent too many summers avoiding pool parties because I didn’t like the way my disabled body looked in a swimsuit. I wish the teenage me knew that her disabled body was valid and that her worth did not come from what other people might think.

5

Celebrate your differences.

Disability is an identity and a diverse community of races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, and abilities. My community has history and a culture that deserves to be celebrated. People with disabilities, including myself, should feel proud in our identity and differences. Despite the misconceptions society throws at us, disability will never be a bad thing. Growing up, I wish I knew how amazing being a disabled person is and that pride came from finding my community and challenging the misconceptions. I no longer feel shame around that part of my life and instead can celebrate my disabled body as it is. Even though my journey to self-love has been a long and ongoing process, I can finally say that I love my disability and myself unapologetically.

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