We seem to place people in boxes, which immediately affect the way we interact with them. Another way of looking at boxing people up is passing judgment onto them. Rich, poor, black, white, north, south, handicap, retarded, lazy, go getter….. We seem to create these boxes to make sense of the world, with each box possessing it’s own set of characteristics. Many of us place people into boxes within the first few minutes of meeting them. How are they dressed? How do they talk and walk? Clean cut or shaggy? Tattoos? Piercings? Body language? Do they look approachable or snooty? These questions run through our minds and we begin formulating opinions. These are the boxes we place others in, but what about the boxes we put ourselves into? Just in thinking out loud how accurate are these boxes……?
I notice myself not only placing people in boxes but also passing judgment upon others by a different standard. I’m watching them look at me as I wonder what are they thinking? Do they notice I walk differently or my movements are more stiff and rigid? When I speak my speech is slightly slurred do they think I’m drunk or mentally slow? I’m judging whether they are likely to be kind or throw me into a disability box treating me as if I’m nothing. It’s a horrible habit and having a more open mind would help my interactions. I’m affected by cerebral palsy just enough to cause some fear in me and maybe in others, meaning social interactions can be a roller coaster.
The roller coaster begins with the box I create for myself. The fear of being judged by others leads to shyness. I enjoy people but you wouldn’t guess that as I walk through life with my head down. Looking around might reinforce the judgment I place on myself. I will notice someone watching me and predict from a facial expression the person thinks I’m abnormal. They continue watching to figure out what is going on with my movements. Why do I move differently? My judgments cause my self-conscious feelings to exacerbate. The anxiety I have of being in public begins to flare more than normal. The fear of being approached and asked about CP levels itself, as I contemplate if being asked would be a preferred alternative to being stared at. It all builds up in my head but the cognitive stream could be false. People might look at me for all kinds of reasons having nothing to do with cerebral palsy. Maybe they like the way I’m dressed or think they recognize me, a female may think I’m good looking. But I’m too caught up in the disabled box I create for myself to consider their intentions as positive.
So how does the reality of these boxes interact with self-perceptions? I can’t change the way we view one another or totally reverse the way I look around at others. People judge because they have a low self-image, which makes sense but doesn’t stop the fear of being judged or the box we create for ourselves resulting from the judgment. The trouble lies in believing these judgments have merit. There are things I’m less capable of, many pertaining to physical rather than mental ability. The issue starts when people seemingly conclude I’m mentally less capable simply because I’m physically less capable. Some people become ready if not eager to point out their perceived cognitive superiority to pair with their physical superiority. Often times I fall victim to allowing this by playing the game of being less intelligence, fulfilling their perception of overall dominance and for myself gaining acceptance. It’s far from helpful for my self-image, but being accepted while disabled is no walk in the park.
Trying to be something I’m not is impossible. I can’t hide my physical disability even though I’ve spent much of life making an attempt. It feels irrational to think I can walk around without people noticing my limitations. Accepting that cerebral palsy places me in a box of physical challenge is tough. There are things in life I’m incapable of no matter how I try, because of this some will place me in a box of total incapability. It’s up to me to realize I don’t fit perfectly into a handicap box and to remind myself those around me don’t fit perfectly into a box either. Whatever boxes society creates for us are just a theory and not a reality.