Written by Sarah Styles – PDA’s QLD Associate Director
How many times do we encounter people who view those different to them through a narrow view? Assumptions are made and perceptions born coloured by their interpretation of their own life’s experiences. Simply put, they see others subjectively.
It is most useful to learn how to view others objectively. That is, we are not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. It can be confronting and quite difficult to accept and to believe truths coming from very different realities to our own, but it is possible.
One situation the disabled community talk about a lot is around able bodied people asking inappropriate questions. The most common questions resemble “What happened to you?” The common response to this question is that it’s no ones business. Often this is because the answer involves private medical information. Information no one else is asked to divulge – especially to quell a stranger’s curiosity. Another reason this question is frowned upon is because living with a disability is all encompassing. Everyday activities like eating are not straight forward. Much planning is required. Since so much time is already given to these tasks, it’s the last thing we want to think about while we are working or enjoying the moment. The third important reason is that we may not be in an emotional place to talk about it. Our limits can be quite narrow some days. We may require every bit of mental focus for our task or simply trying to sit up can drain our energy quickly. And the fourth reason is due to trauma. We have often been ignored, ghosted, not believed or even abused for years. This takes a toll. Many of us have medical PTSD. Many have families who don’t believe them which adds to the impact. They don’t want to be reminded of that trauma nor relive it.
I think it’s important to discuss these trauma responses. Too often they are misinterpreted as anger or rudeness and understandably so. It is possible to tell the difference between a rude or entitled person and a trauma response for those who have been exposed to both. To those who, like me, have lived experience with trauma either as an individual and/or a supportive loved one, we know these responses make interacting with others harder for us and them. It is important we learn to recognise our personal trauma responses, then find tools to assist ourselves when confronted. This does take time.
I urge you to please be kind to yourself by validating your experience and being gentle and understanding of yourself.
The two rules I live by are:
#1: never explain yourself. Adequate Facts can be shared without going that far.
#2: Never take anything personally. Validate and own everything relating to yourself and recognise what does not belong to you. Let that go with the other person as that is their’s alone. I have noticed a difference in my life putting this into practice. For example, during COVID times I got on the lift at a train station. It was a small lift and my powerchair filled it. A woman entered it with me just as the doors were closing. Not only was she not wearing a mask and I was at risk, but she coldly asked an inappropriate question. I was physically doing poorly and didn’t appreciate the situation in the slightest. I felt she was brash and rude, but decided it best I did not make assumptions about her. While neither of us were warm and friendly, we also were not rude. She listened as I educated her of my reality and she did not sneer back like many do. Sneering happens when we take things personally – hence my second rule. I recognise that there are a number of causes for a gruff manner and I learned that judging her would have caused myself stress which I would have projected onto her creating an inflamed interaction. She had clearly experienced life’s harshness in some way herself. While I do use these questions to educate people, when I’m not well enough to do so, I either give a quick to the point answer or I tell them I am not up for a conversation today.
May we all learn what it means to be kind to ourselves and others especially with those who are different.