You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to write a post about this. Before this blog even started. Back when I had a personal blog which was pretty gross and just full of 15-year-old me’s thoughts. But to find the words, to not just use the post to slam the people, one person in particular, who tried to explain my own conditions to me. To try and make a judgement of what I’m going through, despite being an abled person, or at least more able than me. They were ablesplaining.
For those who may be a bit confused what ‘ablesplaining’ means, ‘splaining’ is a contraction of ‘explaining’ and is a term which often sprouts up in the social justice sphere. ‘Splaining’ is an “explanation” used in a very patronizing way. The ‘splainer may feel passionate about an opinion and belief that outways the actual lived experience and chooses to inform everyone of this “fact”.
So, when I say “ablesplaining” it basically means that someone who is abled (or more abled than the person who has the lived experience they are discussing) is trying to put forward alleged facts about a condition, despite not actually experiencing it for themselves.
The amount of times people have tried to ablesplain my condition to me over the past 11 years is actually shocking, but there’s one particular incident which I can vividly remember and still, even after five years, gets to me.
I’ll set the scene. I was friends with a few people older than me. We ended up falling out for reasons I don’t need to get into, but this girl – Carrie – (fictitious name to save her identity) decided to attack me through text at around 3am one night. Bare in mind, Carrie was a university student and I was just 16 years old and in a very hard time of my life with my conditions of bipolar, anxiety and depression. I was also going through a very hard family issue, which I didn’t hide. Carrie was texting me about how much of an awful person I was.
“You make James go everywhere with you, he has a life, too, you know. If I want James to walk home with me rather than put you on the train station, then he should be allowed to. You are 16 for fuck’s sake.”
“Carrie, you know why I need someone to walk with me places instead of leaving me on my own.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit excuse, Jazz.”
“It’s not an excuse, Carrie, for God’s sake. I’m on medication, I’m seeing a psychiatrist on a weekly basis, I can’t even go to school to finish my GCSE’s, so don’t you dare say it’s an excuse.”
“You have no right in taking shit out on me or James or the others. Control yourself, for fuck’s sake.”
“Carrie. I’m not telling you again.”
“I have friends who have bi polar and not one of them acts like you. And you don’t even have the proper condition, so don’t give me that as a fucking excuse, you’re just a psycho. That is not bi polar.”
I don’t think I need to add anymore of the conversation to show you how she was ablesplaining to me. She tried to explain how my condition works because of people she knows who has the condition. She felt that because she knew people who have been diagnosed with my condition, she had the right to explain to me about my condition.
I still get rather angry over that incident over how nasty, rude and arrogant Carrie came across as. How belittling it was of her and how hurt I felt – and still feel.
If someone has a condition, you have no right to explain to them how it works. What is and isn’t true. Because more often than not, people experience their conditions differently to others. It can be very damaging to people who have lived the experience and I can personally admit that it has done a lot of damage to me. Especially the incident with Carrie. Of course, there’s a lot more to the incident of what was said, but I’ve just given an extract for an example.
Examples of ablesplaining could be:
- “But you were walking yesterday, you should be able to walk today.”
- “Well my cousin has bipolar and he doesn’t have the same issues you do, so clearly you don’t have it.”
- “You’re too young to have arthritis.”
- “You don’t look disabled?”
- “Ableism doesn’t exist.”
- “Positive thinking. Just do that, it works for everything!”
- “You’re outside! You must be feeling better, then.”
- “Just lose weight, you won’t be disabled anymore.”
- “You just let your disability define you.”
- “You’re just a hypochondriac.”
‘Splainers for some reason feel as though they need to stick their bib into these kinds of issues when they may not be specifically welcomed or wanted to do so. Usually, the ‘splainer doesn’t share the experience of the person they are ‘splaining to, or may be in denial about the shared experience.
‘Splainers not only passionately believe that someone’s lived experience is wrong, but feel as though the person they are ‘splaining to need to be corrected and that there’s right and wrong answers when it comes to a person’s life.
“I’m being discriminated against.” “No you’re not!”
“Lighten up, it’s just humour.”
According to the ‘splainer, their belief outweighs your experience. “What I think is more important than your provided information from your lived experience.”
It can be hurtful, upsetting, irritating and just nasty for people to ‘splain. I’m only touching on ablesplaining today, because this is a repeatedly experienced issue I constantly have to be part of, but it’s a dangerous and horrible incident across many different issues, including ‘mansplaining’, ‘whitesplaining’ and ‘straightsplaining’. If you’re interested in finding out more, Geek Feminism and Merriam Webster have some great posts.
I hope this post has opened your eyes a little to ablesplaining and hopefully makes you more aware about it and maybe seeing it around you.
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Jazz is a Disney, tea and pop culture enthusiast with a passion for blogging. Also a proud introvert.
I was internally nodding throughout reading all of this! I hate it when people expect that because things are ok one day that the next will be perfectly fine too!
COMPLETELY understand where you’re coming from with this. I have such bad anxiety after an accident and I’m often treated like this xxx
I completely understand you on this and can relate as well x
I see what you mean and I have experienced it before.
I get this ALL THE TIME!
‘You were fine yesterday, why can’t you do x today?’
‘Oh I feel like that sometimes’ When I explained about being in pain, depressed etc
‘I am exhausted too, I know how you feel’ Because they had a night out, but I feel like this constantly.
Then along comes ‘Have you tried this, that and the other’
‘Why don’t you eat more, sleep more’
‘If you took x, you would feel better’
And the worst… ‘Try exercising’
Having chronic illnesses suck, many don’t understand.
I’ve never experienced this, but it sounds awful. I’m sorry you’ve had to put up with this!
Totally understand where you are coming from. I have been left with invisisble illness’s after surgery and so fed up explaining myself to people all the time. Big hugs to you hun xx
My ex was a huge ablesplainer – trying to tell me constantly why I was how I was and what I was going through. It was a nightmare. Great post. Kaz x
I’ve never experienced anxiety – I can only imagine what it’s like to go through! Great post x
What a fantastic post! Totally agree with all you were saying. ‘splainers are a nightmare!
I can imagine this to be quite frustrating. Each person deals and goes through things differently and most importantly, you don’t understand what someone is going through unless you’re going through it yourself! I always try to think and understand things from a different perspective – I hope that one day Carrie will understand!
I’m not familiar with your condition at all and really wound’t want to take sides, but I’m pretty that most people (not all) that made those comments to you have done so, because they care about you and tried to help you feel better.
Well, if you read what happened between Carrie and I, that definitely is not the case. Most ablesplainers’ intentions are to try and prove that they know more about the condition than the person who is actually suffering. If they are trying to help, they need to understand it’s quite intimidating and damaging for the people suffering.
As someone whose husband had more than 2 chronic illnesses, there is always someone who knows more than he does and always has the answer to every ache and pain! Part of me thinks it is just human nature to sometimes try and emphasise.
That was a good post, I never experience this but it sounds awful. Splainers sounds like a nightmare to me.
“you’re being a hypochondriac” and “just think positive” have been told to me so many times while I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression. I can’t even get into how it makes me feel now and how it made me feel then. If it was that easy, wouldn’t we all do it? Do you think I chose to feel this way or have these thoughts? Please. Just don’t.