“We have a need to be accepted and to be loved by others, but we cannot accept and love ourselves. The more self love we have, the less we experience self-abuse. Self-abuse comes from self-rejection, and self-rejection comes from having an image of what it means to be perfect and never measuring up to that ideal." - Don Miguel Ruiz
When I was younger, I remember feeling two very distinct things. The first was the urge to disappear and read a good book. The second was the desire to belong. I’m sure that many people feel the first thing, but almost everyone feels the second. All humans have the innate desire to belong and to be a part of a community.
This desire to belong also came with the urge to conform to an ideal - something that can be worked towards in order to fit a certain expectation. Once that expectation is met, the assumption is that you belong wherever that ideal is being held.
If we look back into the past, at various points in time, we would find that there was always an ideal expectation or standard that humans compared themselves to. This standard was considered ‘perfect’ or the ‘ideal’. Americans even took this standard, and made a phrase out of it - the American Dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.”
There is a standard set for everything - the ideal beauty, the ideal house, the ideal salary, the ideal partner, and the list goes on. All of these ideals boil down to checklists, where if every box was checked off on the list, you’ve officially made it to the ideal ‘whatever it is’.
At all those various points of time in the past, and even now, having a disability is not ideal. No one ever works towards having a disability. That’s not on any checklist anywhere. I’ve never heard anyone say, “you know what, I’m going to work towards being disabled.” I’m probably never going to hear anyone say that.
Let’s bench that for a second, and go back to working towards a certain ideal. The concept that gets reinforced by society is that once you’ve reached a certain ideal…it is then, and only then, that you can say, “I’ve made it. I can be happy now.”
If you’ve ever worked towards a certain goal or ideal, and reached that goal, you likely already know that this isn’t true. We are taught to always strive for more, and that once we’ve reached that ideal state, to always go after the next best thing.
Having ambitions and dreams are great, and if you don’t have any ambitions and dreams, that’s okay too. The point is, if you are working towards something - the goal is not to reach that ‘perfect’ state or ideal, but to be present. Enjoy the journey, and you will enjoy the destination.
Society doesn’t teach that. Society teaches us that, “okay, it’s great that you now reached this ideal, but what’s next? How can you be even better than where you are now?”
There’s only a small window where you get to enjoy your destination, before the next ideal state needs to be reached.
Let’s circle back to what was said earlier, about how having a disability is never going to be ideal. That’s the truth. When I was growing up, I saw what society considered as the ideal. I realized that I didn’t have a hope of reaching that ideal of being the perfect human being. This was disheartening.
I grew up convincing myself that. because of my disability, I wasn’t ‘perfect’. Honestly, this negative self-talk didn’t stop and end with my disability - I said the same thing about my hair, my skin, my voice. I’m sure a lot of people would say the same thing for themselves, regardless if they have a disability or not.
When we don’t have a possibility of reaching a certain ideal, we beat ourselves up over it, or we compare ourselves to others. We think that if we do this one thing right, or dress a certain way, or like certain things, we will finally feel like we belong.
I’ve struggled with this in so many different parts of my life, but when it came to my disability, I accepted that I will never attain the ideal of being a ‘perfect’ and ‘whole’ human being.
I shake my head at myself now, because the one lesson I really learned is that being perfect is an illusion - which is hard for a perfectionist like me to realize. If we always worked towards achieving that ideal perfection set by society, then by the time we get there, there’s another ideal we would have to reach, and the pattern continues.
I’ve realized that the best thing is to step away from the ideal, and to embrace what is going on in the present moment, with what is offered to me. If I want to work towards something, I’d rather do it on my behalf with my ideals, instead of working towards society’s ideals.
I had to realize what was perfect for me at that moment in time with what I had. I embraced what is given to me, and opened myself up to opportunities that I know will make ME happy.
I shedded society’s ideal (or lack thereof) about disabilities. I stepped away from feeling resentful that there are other humans out there that will always hear better than I do, or do not have the fear of not belonging anywhere because of their hearing. I moved towards feeling grateful that the technology for cochlear implants have improved to the point where I can hear sounds better than ever.
Everyone contends with the fear of not belonging, regardless of ability. Everyone feels the pressure to conform to a certain ideal set by society. It’s time to step away from this pressure, and instead reflect on what makes YOU happy, and what you can do to reach YOUR ideal state.