Life with a disability. Something I wouldn’t change even if I was given the choice. I have said it time and time again, my disability (if we really have to call it that) has been the birth place of numerous insights and reflections for me. It has opened the doors to a sense of personal liberation that has come as a result of the embrace of the imperfection that is this body I live in. It consistently pushes me to examine my priorities, and dig deep within myself to figure out who I am and who I want to be.
That’s the thing about living outside of the realm of “normal”- you often get put into a box built of labels and assumptions. It’s safe that way, because the labels and assumptions give other people a road map. It gives them a vague understanding of the rules of interaction- what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do. Or at least, that’s the intention of the labels and assumptions- they are supposed to be helpful, and keep everything in the realm of the non-offensive.
For the sake of familiarity, let me ask you, what kind of images, words and associations do the words “disabled” and “disability” conjure up for you?
If you immediately thought of things like weak, incapable, to be pitied, unhappy, flawed, helpless, powerless, no social life, victim, unfair, unsuccessful, no prospect of living close to the realm of “normality” etc., let me assure you that you are not alone. Many of us have been conditioned to think this way. It’s almost natural, and to some degree it is a faultless act. It almost seems harmless, except it’s not.
Labels and their associated assumptions can have severely detrimental impacts on one’s fundamental sense of self, for these labels often become internalized, and subsequently impact one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours. For example, if a person with a disability is implicitly and repeatedly told they are incapable, through the nature of the interactions they have with those around them, it is likely that they will begin to think thoughts like “I can’t do it, so there’s no point in trying,” “I’m going to fail,” “I am powerless,” “I am a victim of my circumstances,” “There is something wrong with me,” “I’ll never be successful” and so forth. Consequently, that person may begin to experience feelings of helplessness, doubt, hopelessness, shame, defeat, inferiority, and frustration, which then directly impact their willingness to take action. As such, that person will likely begin to act in alignment with their thoughts and feelings by rarely or never taking risks or trying new things, isolating themselves, and so on, thereby never allowing themselves the opportunity to accumulate experiences to counter their thoughts and feelings. And so, a self-fulfilling prophecy ensues.
And here’s the thing, I used the example of disability here because I know it- I have seen this pattern play out within myself and with others. But, even for those of us who are not living outside of the realm of “normal” these patterns still manifest. We all carry beliefs that have resulted from the interactions we have had with others and the assumptions they have placed upon us, either knowingly or unknowingly. And, if we’re not careful, these beliefs can begin to rule us, robbing us of our sense of freedom, and rendering us fearful. Fearful of expressing our authentic selves. And so, we become confined to a prison of our own creation.
So, the question becomes, how can we get back to freedom?
- Examine your thoughts.
Write down the thoughts that tend to dominate your mind. Ask yourself, when did these thoughts originate? From whom did they originate?
- Recognize that these thoughts aren’t facts.
As difficult as it may be to believe (because we have been attached to them for so long) our thoughts are not facts. They are in fact, changeable.
- Be willing to recognize humanness.
Once you have determined where and from whom your most dominating thoughts originate, ask yourself why you are giving them the power to define you. What makes their word and perception more accurate than yours? After all, they too are just human. Any power they may have is a result of your decision to give them that power. We are all equal.
- Choose to live by your definition of you, for that is freedom.
Your definition of you is just as valid as the definition that others attempt to place upon you. Choose to live in the space of authenticity, remembering that you can choose whether or not you buy into other people’s perceptions of you. For example, just because a person is disabled does not mean they are incapable. Aligning with the assumption of “incapable” is their choice. So I encourage you to ask yourself:
- In the absence of the limiting thoughts which hold me, who do I know myself to be?
Are you compassionate, outgoing, passionate, spontaneous, loving, hilarious, kind, adventurous, quirky, fun, bold, strong, hardworking, witty, etc.?
Choose to make your definition of you the lens through which you see yourself, and welcome freedom.