Don't Be a Victim of Emotional Disability

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Recently, a mother brought her son to me.  This young man was depressed and angry over the numerous disabilities he possessed, primarily resulting from damage to his brain caused by birth complications.  He had been teased all his life by his pees about his "funny walk and talk," and was stared at by everyone.  Despondent and in distress, he couldn't see beyond his multiple disabilities.  "Blinded" by the million things he couldn't do, he didn't envision any future for himself.  "There is no future for me, except to vegetate and be ridiculed," he said.   His choice of words was rather unique.  I thought he possessed a good vocabulary.  I was impressed by his social skills and his insight into himself and other people.  He talked very  philosophically without having gone to any school of philosophy.  
I took out a folder, which I have named as "Handicapped Heroes."   This is the folder in which I save the cuttings from newspapers and magazines, of stories of handicapped men and women, and their accomplishments in spite of their handicaps.  These stories are profiles of courage, determination, struggle, and persistence of people who refused to bow down to their handicaps.  In the two meetings I had with him, we took turns reading stories of individuals disabled through accidents, illnesses, and birth defects and they all had founds areas in which they excelled.  

 At the end of our second meeting, the young man said, "You have given me a name of the ministry I am going to start, it would be called, "Handicapped Heroes."  I don't know if this young man ever started a ministry or not, but I do know that while reading the Handicapped Heroes folder, quite a few of the shackles he was wearing fell off.  A good name for these shackles is "emotional disability."  

 I believe there are three kind of disabilities:  Physical Disability, Mental Disability, and Emotional Disability.  Physical disability and mental disability are caused by circumstances such as, accidental injuries, acute and chronic illnesses, inherited genetic characteristics, etc., which are not entirely in an individual's control.  On the other hand, emotional disability is a self-imposed disability, "I can't do this,"  we say, or worse, "I can't do this and everything else."  We impose these handicaps on ourselves without truly extending ourselves and finding out with absolute certainty whether we are or aren't capable of performing some tasks.  Emotional disability is entirely controlled and caused by an individual.               

 Only we can truly know for ourselves how able or disabled we are.  The psychology of achievement teaches us this:  whether you say, "I can" or, "I can't," you'll be proven right either way.  Who can prove you wrong when you are the judge, the jury, the attorney, and of course, the culprit?  

 For example, it is possible that with the same degree of pain, one person may be totally disabled and another one may discharge all essential chores of everyday life, slowly and painfully, but surely.   One of the greatest therapist of this century, the late Milton Erickson, had such severe pain that at times his muscles would jump out of his joints.  He continued to see patients from morning till evening, every day, sitting in his wheel chair, to his last day.  Pain couldn't ever stop him from his work for which he had an extraordinary passion.  Many therapists came to watch him at work.  They say that in the morning when he began his work with patients, one could discern that he was fighting with excruciating pain.  However, as the day progressed, instead of being tired and exhausted, he appeared to be more relaxed and humorous.  These observers felt that by his sheer will and passion for his work, he had somehow tricked the pain for that day.     

   A physical handicap being the same, some become totally dependent and disabled while others learn to excel in areas in which their handicaps do not interfere.  The latter type of people may only become partially dependent on others.  Emotional disability superimposes itself on the physical disability or mental disability one may have and determines the extent of functional disability and quality of life one will have with a given handicap.  

 Emotional disability stems from emotions such as, excessive anger towards self, others, and the universe, self-pity. depression, exaggerated anxiety, and other negative emotions with regard to one's limitations and handicaps.   

 We all have some handicaps.  Some are visible and some aren't.  We all have some disabilities in some areas, but we focus on things we can do.  To better serve ourselves, let's watch for our emotional handicaps.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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