Someone you see with a hearing aid, using a cane or a wheelchair, is obviously dealing with a disability. But what about the disabilities we cannot see? These are more commonly known as unseen or invisible disabilities. As the name suggests, an unseen disability is a disability that is not immediately apparent to other people. There is a long list of unseen disabilities such as chronic pain, mental illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This week we will look at why there is a stigma with unseen disabilities and some tips to help you overcome judgments.
Why is there a stigma surrounding unseen disabilities?
We live in a visual society and it is not uncommon for people to make judgments. The difficulty with invisible disabilities is that people with unseen disabilities don’t look like they have one. People are apt to doubt things they can’t see and come to their own conclusions. Some assumptions that outsiders may have are that people with an unseen disability are simply not working hard enough to overcome their disability or that they’re dramatizing symptoms. But this could not be further from the truth. This stigma is not only erroneous, it is harmful.
Stigmas can intensify symptoms and even impact someone’s self-worth. Unseen disabilities come with actual pain and a real struggle. So it is imperative to try to understand and be supportive of people who struggle with an invisible disability.
Tips for overcoming judgments and stigmas
Overcoming judgments of any kind is no simple task, and this is true for people living with an unseen disability. They may have trouble with people believing that a disability is real. They may even think that a disability can easily be managed if they just try hard enough. You may not be able to stop stigmas altogether, but there are some things you can do to manage them.
Below are some tips to help you overcome judgments
Count your blessings: You can bring joy into your life by counting your blessings and finding things to be grateful for. This is a simple yet powerful method because everybody can find something to be grateful for and it can even help you stop focusing on negativity.
Consider giving someone else encouragement: It can be very therapeutic to help someone else who shares your struggle. Being vulnerable with someone that is going through the same thing can help you through your own journey. You might even consider volunteering your time to help someone else cope.
Find a support network: Not everyone may know what you're going through, but when you find someone that does, it can be a rewarding and healing experience. You can do this in several ways, including finding someone to confide in in person or via the internet. You can even help educate the public or share your story to help tear down stigmas. Sites like Quora and Reddit are great channels to share and educate people about things pertaining to your unseen disability.
Remember that you are not alone: According to accessibility.com, up to 20% of Americans have an unseen disability. There are other people who go through the same judgments that you do. Sometimes people are just ignorant and are not intending to be malicious. It takes time to deconstruct social norms and assumptions about unseen disabilities.
Let go of your expectations: If you have high expectations about how people react or handle details of your unseen disability, you're probably going to be disappointed. Try to be patient with people (for your own sake) and remember that sometimes people just don’t know any better.
Explain your experience: When you are in a safe place, with people to whom you can speak candidly, you may choose to explain how and what you feel. For example, you may explain your experience with a flashback if you have PTSD. Explaining the full-body effect might help others you trust and love understand what you are going through. You can even provide additional information or literature to further aid their understanding.
We all know the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” And this is especially true about people with unseen disabilities. Just because someone may not look like they have a disability does not mean they are not struggling, in pain, or suffering. Please keep an open mind and don’t make assumptions solely based on a person’s appearance and what they can or cannot do.
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- “‘But You Don’t Look Sick’ Invisible Disabilities Coping with Criticism” MSU. 21 October 2014
- Aimone, Lydia “Living Under the Stigma of an Invisible Illness” Distorted Perceptions. 17 Nov 2019.
- Fabian, Renee “What is an Invisible Illness (+ How to Explain it to Others)” Talk Space. 5 March 2018.