Each of us need friendships in order to thrive. Yet many people are repulsed by Disability. So how can we be friendly?
Every time we meet someone new, we naturally look for commonality and differences. We monitor others for opportunities for connection or threat. Gestures we view as friendly toward us are potential opportunities for connection. The gestures that trigger our fears we interpret as threats.
Disabilities can remind others of things they fear. We all fear death and spend a lifetime avoiding it. Disability often precedes death in life. Thus when we sense a disability we protect ourselves by responding in a fearful way.
When we see attractive people we view what attracts us as what we seek to become. Those things are the best we see in ourselves. This reminds us of our potential and not what we lost. We do not fear this, but are overjoyed by our awareness of our new possibilities.
Disability is an imperfection that is not hidden from us. Does anyone function constantly at their ideal level? Not even super Stars can avoid a bad day. Yet for those of us who struggle with a disability anytime we need to function in a – disabled – way it would be a bad day.
So how can those of us who battle constantly with a disability be friendly and not feel like frauds?
Studies seeking to explain friendships have found that relationships form among those who have contact with others, find familiarity in the connection, and find those connections to be positive.
So hiding in a cave or corner will not help you make contact and develop friendships.
Next, if your contact with another is unpleasant for them, they will seek to avoid future contact with you and thus friendship. How can we make our contacts with others enjoyable for both of us?
First, we need to keep Disability out of our relationships as best we can. For me, it would mean removing the cap that shades my eyes and protects my head. What obvious signs of Disability do others see when they look at you?
Second, we need to foster opportunities for connection. It can be useful to connect in different ways. Are you attuned to what others are seeking in friendship?
There is a concept in neurology called, “mirror neurons.” The neurons in our brains will “mirror” patterns similar to the neurons of the people we meet. Thus when we are around happy people we feel happy, around sad people we feel sad, and when we are with those who are afraid we feel fear. .
If it is true that Disabilities engender fear then we have created a barrier to friendship even before we first speak or smile. This makes it harder to leave a personal encounter feeling positive. Our anxiety that the encounter will end poorly will reinforce our fears.
What fears get triggered when we meat others?
We all fear rejection. We all want to “reject” Disability. If we see ourselves as disabled then we are rejecting a critical aspect of our lives and thus living in fear.
In what ways has Disability been good to you? Does it give you a reason to shed other things that were not good for you? Does Disability give you new opportunities? Can you see Disability as a gift that you can enjoy? Recall these positive aspects of Disability when it enters your thoughts.
Next, let’s try to connect what we are encountering with what we have experienced. When I was growing up I could never get a word out when trying to talk to popular and pretty girls. Over time I came to view pretty women as sources of rejection and danger to my self-esteem. Could this be why we have so many jokes about “dumb” blonds?
Since we know that all of us are sending out signals of our mood how can we send out positive ones?
Looking someone in the eye and Offering them a warm smile or shaking hands are all ways we signal that we are open to others. These are physical signals. What emotional signals are we also sending?
Most of the time our mental chatter goes all over the place. Both our mental chatter and the emotional chatter our mirror neurons pick up from others sets our mood. The good news is we can control this.
If we look for the positive and unthreatening in others, our minds will begin to chatter about those things instead. When you ask yourself, “what do I like about this person?” Your brain usually comes up with something positive.
If we share our positive feelings with those we meet, they will follow our lead and their minds will become happier.
We all want to be accepted. The smile and handshake helped to meet this need.
If we complement others on their appearance they will feel appreciated. Additionally, they will hear that you see them as attractive.
Also, they are seeking to find others with whom they have common experiences and expectations. This is why most initial conversations begin on topics such as places visited or activities. Most of us have visited or know others who live where the strangers we are speaking to have been.
People also seek to find commonality in social status and life styles. The way we dress and our mannerisms communicate these. While clothes may not make the man, they do project the man. So choose what you wear by giving some thought to what others might also be wearing. If you arrive being the only one dressed in a suit you have just set yourself apart from others.
So, in summary, if you want to be friendly (and thrive)
- Make your disability as small as possible and only part of what others see about you.
- Greet others openly and warmly.
- Seek to find something attractive about them and let them know it.
- Explore the new relationship for common experiences.
- Finally, enjoy the new people you met and the company they offer you.
As All Ways, Seek Joy,