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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Aubin, LCSW

Internalized ableism and self-torment

Autistic therapist online california minnesota arkansas

I have the privilege of spending 5 days a week meeting with autistic people and discussing their life issues. Hands down the number #1 issue I see is internalized ableism that ultimately turns into self-torment. How? Let me break it down.

A lot of autistics seem to go through similar early life experiences. We learn from an early age that our true selves need to be hidden away. This causes us to hide the true impact of our disability and therefore, unrealistic expectations get placed on us (and let’s be honest, unrealistic expectations would’ve been placed on us regardless in most cases…). We then spend our entire lives continuing to hide our distress and challenges and internalize the response that we should just “try harder” or “push through.”

And when we can’t just “push through” because we are disabled and that’s the whole point, we turn to the only thing getting in our way, ourselves. Obviously, we just haven’t been trying hard enough or we haven’t paid enough attention in therapy. This is very clearly our fault. And we proceed to beat ourselves up in various ways.

If we had compassion for ourselves when we were younger, we wouldn’t have been able to beat ourselves up and mask as hard as we did. This was how we survived. But now this self-torment is hurting us more than helping. It’s a hard habit to kick. Society continues to reinforce that it’s ok to push ourselves, surely we’re doing fine because we aren’t showing any signs of distress. Well, that’s because we’ve been trained since birth to hide our distress! That distress never disappeared, it just was redirected internally.

Therapy is a nice place to try to develop a new relationship with ourselves. It’s not easy though, we have been beating ourselves up for years (perhaps decades) and it may be hard to even conceptualize what having self-compassion could be like. It’s like showing a feral abused cat that they could be treated with care. It’ll take trust building and time. Lots of time. I love my role as a therapist because I simply shine the light on what it could be like if they trusted and cared for themselves by showing that I trust and care for them exactly as they are.


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