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My internalised ableism

Oppressed groups are at the receiving end of discrimination by others, by society, but that discrimination can also be internalised by the oppressed person themself. In the case of ableism, internalised ableism (sometimes referred to as disabled self-hatred) happens when a disabled person discriminates against themself – or other disabled people, believing that disability is something to be ashamed of, that disabled persons are deficient and are worth less. It is ‘internalising’ the dominant ableist views of society, even though one is disabled themself.

“Internalized oppression is not the cause of our mistreatment; it is the result of our mistreatment. It would not exist without the real external oppression that forms the social climate in which we exist. Once oppression has been internalized, little force is needed to keep us submissive. We harbour inside ourselves the pain and the memories, the fears and the confusions, the negative self-images and the low expectations, turning them into weapons with which to re-injure ourselves, every day of our lives.”

(Marks, 1999, p. 25; cited in Fiona Kumari Campbell, Internalized Ableism, The Tyranny Within, in: Countours of Ableism 2009).

Some examples of internalised ableism are:

  • believing that you are not deserving love or happiness
  • feeling like a burden
  • believing that you are less worthy due to your disability and acting accordingly
  • feeling that you are unworthy of accomodations or support, or don’t want to take the spot of ‘real disabled people’
  • being reluctant to ask for accomodations, not wanting to make a fuss
  • trying to pass for able-bodied
Person with short dark/grey hair, glasses, wearing blue/white dotted shirt and blue trousers, sitting in black/orange wheelchair, wall with some foliage in the back. Geertrui is holding a postcard reading 'VEGAN' against a background of the rainbow flag.
Geertrui Cazaux at the International Animal Rights Conference (Luxembourg) in 2019 [ID incl].
Photo credit: The Vegan Rainbow Project.

This is a photo of me taken at the International Animal Rights Conference in 2019. Although I had been an occcasional wheelchair user for many years prior to this photo, I had only rarely had my photo taken – and publicized – as such. I not only found it quite confrontational to see myself portrayed in a wheelchair, but also didn’t want the world to see me in a wheelchair, to see me as ‘disabled’.

I now realise that internalised ableism was a major factor of why I was hiding my chronic diseases as much as possible from colleagues, friends and family, for up to 20 years after my diagnoses of two chronic auto-immune diseases. Internalised ableism made me reluctant to use a cane, crutch or wheelchair in public, to the point of reducing my public appearances altogether. Internalised ableism played a part in me wanting to ‘fight’ my chronic diseases, hindering self-acceptance, and maybe also mental and physical healing.

The last couple of years, I have learned more about ableism, institutionalised and day-to-day ableism, how it works, how it affects me, and I’m also trying to deal with my own internalised ableism. This post is part of that ongoing process.

Geertrui Cazaux

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