Internalized Ableism, Others, and Reassurances

Honestly, I’ve not given all that much thought to internalized ableism. I’ve read about it, yes. I’ve even written a little bit about it, but it has never topped my list of “things I need to personally work on.”

Until now.

It has, rather abruptly, come to my attention that I have internalized way more untrue awfulness about myself than I’d previously realized.

This realization has been a long time coming, really. The beginnings of really realizing, though, happened last week. Wednesday, to be specific, while I was talking with my therapist.

My therapist is a fucking hoot, y’all. They are just super cool and listen and have asked good questions about being Autistic and my experiences in the world. They haven’t really worked much with Autistic people in the past, it’s not their “specialty” or anything so it’s been kind of like having a blank canvas to point towards good resources and such.

And the visits have actually been helpful so far. I was skeptical about it at first, but talking through some of the recent things in my life has been good.

So, back to last Wednesday. I happened to mention in passing, right near the very end of my appointment, that I felt horrifically guilty for something or other.

Therapist, staring at me, “Why would you feel guilty about that? You didn’t even choose that!”

Me: “Um, why wouldn’t I? I feel guilty about a whole lot of things!”

Therapist: “It isn’t great to feel guilty about everything. You need to work on this. Write stuff down for next time!”

And then we ran out of time.

At least two days and several meltdowns later, I realized that it’s not so much specific things I feel guilty about. I feel guilty about pretty much my entire existence. I am hella ableist towards myself almost all the time. Which is stunning to me because I didn’t even know I was disabled until I was well into adulthood and even with all the reading I’ve done, I didn’t really think that I had all that much internalized ableism.

So what gives? How on earth did I internalize all this stuff, all this ableism, when I didn’t even know??? Why didn’t I notice once I started getting more involved in disability issues?

There are a lot of reasons, but I think the most general reason is that I was treated poorly by others before I had the Autistic label. Lilo, a cool person I follow on twitter (you should check their twitter out too!) pointed out several things recently that were said in a thread about Autistic adults and preferred terminology (Autistic person vs person with autism).

These were awful things and I deeply, deeply related to the feeling of each mentioned, as well as other similar twitter threads these last few days unpacking more ableism directed towards Autistic adults by allistics (non-autistics) in the “autism community.”

I realized, in reading those twitter threads, that I show utter ableism towards myself. Seeing myself as broken, diseased, worthless… somehow I got these ideas and they became the normal way I talk to myself about myself.

These things are deeply embedded in my self-talk and in my self-perception too.

When everyone in your life eventually treats you like you’re toxic once they get to know you much at all, it becomes really easy to start believing that you are.

It’s harder to believe that I was misunderstood or that my intentions, ill-fated as they sometimes are, were at least good on the surface. I almost never remember that sometimes I react unexpectedly enough to situations that it throws other people off and it’s not my toxicity, but simply that people need time to even begin parsing out what the fuck happened because none of my reaction made sense outside of my own head.

In the past I’ve sort of automatically called on my friends to reaffirm my self-worth, but that’s not okay. That’s not a substitute and that’s not fair for them to be expected to cover for my feelings of worthlessness.

They don’t always have the energy or spoons for reassurances. We are all disabled and lack words on a fairly regular basis! Unless I can manage to somehow make a friend who’s much more neurotypical than my usual crowd then I need to buck up and figure out why I hate myself so much, so often, and begin to work on liking myself.

I should not feel guilty for existing. I am worth something even if I don’t do anything right. I am worth something just because I’m human and I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m worth something in order to be worthy!

Also, it’s okay for me to make mistakes. Making mistakes does not reflect on my inherent value and the true test is how I respond to those mistakes and try to make them right and do better in the future.

15 thoughts on “Internalized Ableism, Others, and Reassurances

  1. Thank you very much for this post, I can relate so much to every thing you just wrote. Thank you also because I make me understand that I am not alone struggling with those things. we are going to make it, it’s going to be better. Greetings from France!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re welcome and thank you so much for your comment! I’ve felt very alone with all of this the last week and a half or so and it’s helpful for me also to know I’m not alone with the struggling.

      I hope things get better for you soon! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Those pretty much describe my core beliefs about myself. They slip out sometimes in my outside voice when my filters don’t catch them as things “NOT TO BE SAID”. One came out recently as “what I want doesn’t matter”. I think it was interpreted as about the specific situation. And I recognized from the reaction that most people would mean that as sort of a complaint or have some angst behind it. I was more or less providing a “neutral” (I mistakenly thought) answer that didn’t require thought while I absorbed some information and tried to orient and work out what I needed to do. It was just a statement of fact for me, mostly devoid of feeling. It’s not that I place myself and what I want last. It’s that I rarely even consider what I might want. As I’m balancing needs of everyone and appropriate actions, I never even place myself on the board. That’s been true my whole life.

    I fundamentally see myself as broken, unlovable, and no real use to anyone. And if anyone sees that truth, they will naturally and reasonably want nothing to do with me. I desperately want connections with others and am terrified at their rejection and abandonment when I inevitably fail to be a working human being for them and they see through every image I’ve managed to build.

    Reassurance doesn’t even do anything for me to dispel it. Obviously, the people saying that haven’t *really* seen me. I just have them fooled for now.

    My therapists describe back to me a deeply empathetic, caring human being who speaks and acts with a lot of compassion, has an insightful mind, and is deeply loyal and strong for those who need him. But I don’t recognize the person they see much at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes! This is all so very relatable for me too.

      This most recent time I preemptively rejected reassurances, convinced that they would either make me weaker (gotta build up my own self-image, right?) or be nonexistent anyhow. It took me a good many days to be able to even look for responses to anything I’d written or sent because I was so certain nobody cared.

      Now I know that people cared a week ago, but I’m not sure they care any longer.

      It’s a hard place to be. I’m sorry you have had such similar experiences to mine.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes!!!

            Every time people have seen the parts of me that I’ve so carefully hidden away my whole life, I lose friends. Every time. Except Counterpart has always stayed, although I tend to hide from him too when things hit me like this.

            I’m so tired right now. But I’m feeling less discouraged so there’s that. I know that at least two of my close friends still care. The third I’m trying to trust still cares — I trust the friend, but maybe they weren’t aware of the depths of my fucked-up-ed-ness when they assured me they’d still care about me no matter what, you know?

            Everyone else is having a rough time right now too so I’m hoping that’s what it is for friend 3. I mean, not that I hope they’re having a rough time, but that it’s their own stuff and NOT mine that’s occupying them. Other people have limitations too.

            It’s the communicating with others that I’m struggling with the most right now. And the headache that started off and on probably a month ago and hasn’t let up very much at all for the last two weeks.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I lose friends when I let them see more of myself. I also lose friends when I don’t. My therapist thinks that no matter how well I listen, how I respond to the troubles in life they experiencing, over time people begin to realize, consciously or unconsciously, that they have shared a lot with me and though I’ve talked about myself and my life I haven’t shared the same sorts of struggles. I especially *never* talk about my struggles with people I love. However elaborately I word it, most of the time all I’ll share about myself is that I’m “fine” in some sense or another. And that feels unequal and unbalanced to them. It’s also the case that I overestimate friendship and that even when I don’t each one is still more important to me than it is to the other. I never have very many even vaguely close relationships. So each one I ever think I have is always precious to me in a way that I don’t believe is true of others.

              My partner has always stayed. She’s the only one. But yes, I always hide and mask with her as well. When I’ve tried to even loosely and tangentially refer to that truth, I think she views it as a threat, that somehow she may not know to whom she is married or I’ve been “lying”.

              I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I’m trying to a thread a needle with everyone, but the eye is completely closed. The “depth of my fucked-up-ed-ness” is a phrase I like. It feels more like what I’m trying to express than simply broken.

              Good luck with your friend. I always work to assume the best for months and months until something happens or so much time has passed that I can’t maintain the pretense and belief anymore.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting post, and thanks for sharing this. I recognise some if it in myself, but only some. I have a lot of guilt – basically everything is my fault, whether I actively did something wrong or neglected to do something. Therefore I go through life with a perpetual fear of making mistakes, choosing the wrong action or forgetting to do something important. I never put that down to internalised ableism though. I don’t see myself as disabled (this is a personal statement about my individual experience, not a statement on whether autism is a disability or not). I don’t see myself as broken, worthless or diseased. I do however have a lot of anxiety about not coming up to scratch and falling short of expectations. And as Scott above commented “what I want doesn’t matter” – that’s true for me as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was definitely a “what I want doesn’t matter” feeling that was the final straw this time around. That wasn’t even what my friends were trying to communicate to me, they just wanted to talk about possibly changing the plans from the ones I’d offered, but that feeling took hold and brought about a whole lot of awfulness for me and maybe them too (I don’t know, they haven’t communicated much with me since then, can’t blame them).

      Perfectionism can definitely be an issue too. It’s a struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s some familiar self-talk. But I don’t see how it would be logical to experience fumbling through a life full of misses and fails and expect not to arrive at such conclusions.

    I recently accidentally deleted a post that ended with the pondering: “What would happen if I actually acted like I accepted myself? What would that look like?”

    … I still can’t come up with a visual for an answer..

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is so very true! I recently read a post that included the line: “anxiety is a very typical response to growing up believing you’re wrong.” And that was comforting because it’s not a bad response. It’s an understandable response. It’s quite logical, as you point out!

      I want to accept myself, but I also struggle to understand what that might look like. It seems as though I’ve mostly gone through life accepting only small parts of myself and relegating all the rest to banishment. I should probably write a post about that. The amount of learning about myself these last couple weeks has been dizzying (which, considering how much I’ve learned about myself this YEAR… it accelerated recently and I didn’t think that was possible) and has given me a perpetual headache too, but writing about it might help.

      A link to the post I referenced above:

      I hope you’re able to figure out what self-acceptance would look like for you ❤ I hope the same for myself and everyone else who's been able to relate to my post.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. That is a HUGE realization you made. Lots of people go their whole lives with internalized ableism without realizing they have such feelings. You, however, have realized that, and that’s really important. Kudos to you.

    Liked by 2 people

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