Tag Archives: internalised oppression

Psycho-emotional disablism and internalised oppression (chapter, 2014)

Reeve, D. (2014) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism and internalised oppression’, in J. Swain, S. French, C. Barnes and C. Thomas (eds) Disabling Barriers – Enabling Environments, 3rd Edition, London: Sage, pp. 92-98.

This book chapter provides a useful summary of psycho-emotional disablism and the connection with internalised oppression.

A copy of this book chapter can be downloaded from here.

Psycho-emotional disablism: Implications for clinical psychology (paper, 2010)

Reeve, D. (2010) ‘Psycho-emotional disablism: Implications for clinical psychology’, paper presented at Clinical Psychology seminar, Lancaster University, 1 March.

Paper given to a group of clinical psychology students at Lancaster University.

‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism (paper, 2009)

Reeve, D. (2009) ‘‘Sick or disabled?’: A discussion of the interaction between chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism’, paper presented at Disability and Chronic Illness Workshop, University of the West of England, 30 January.


Working from within a disability studies perspective, this paper uses the extended social relational definition of disablism (rather than disability) whereby:

‘Disablism is a form of social oppression involving the social imposition of restrictions of activity on people with impairments and the socially engendered undermining of their psycho-emotional well-being.’ (Thomas, 2007: 73)

Like the social model of disability traditionally used within disability studies, this definition clearly recognises disabling barriers which operate at the structural/material level, affecting what people can do. However, in addition to the more usual public barriers faced by people with impairments, this definition also explicitly recognises barriers which operate at the psycho-emotional (personal) level. Thus someone may be prevented from doing something because of a flight of stairs (structural disablism) or because of the attitudes/stares of others (psycho-emotional disablism).

Disability studies has been criticised for failing to take account of the lived experience of impairment and in particular, for failing to represent adequately the experiences of people living with chronic illness. Similarly, there have been criticisms of medical sociology for neglecting the effects of disablism when discussing the lived experience of people with chronic illness.

In this paper I will discuss some of the issues which arise when considering the potential role of psycho-emotional disablism in the lives of people with chronic illness. I will draw on the narratives of two women with MS and a man with RSD who took part in my doctoral research, to show the complexity of their lived experiences of chronic illness and psycho-emotional disablism.

I show how psycho-emotional disablism is revealed within their accounts of dealing with health professionals and other people, and how it is exposed by the problematic relationships they have with themselves (internalised oppression) as they move between different subject positions such as being disabled, sick or well. In addition psycho-emotional disablism can happen when one is forced to occupy a particular position by others, for example when applying for disability benefits.

However one cannot simply analyse these examples through the lens of disablism alone – it is also necessary to take account of impairment and impairment effects as well as other facets of identity. This is particularly true in the case of chronic illness such as MS with unpredictable ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days; what are the consequences of being ‘disabled’ one day, but ‘able’ the next? I also show how chronic illness can be exacerbated by the experience of psycho-emotional disablism as well as impacting on how people can resist this ‘inner’ dimension of oppression.

Importantly, although someone might not see themselves as disabled, as the examples I discuss show, this does not mean that psycho-emotional disablism will also be absent from the lives of people with chronic illness.

Therefore, when looking at concepts of chronic illness, it is also necessary to take account of the concept of psycho-emotional disablism and vice versa – they do not exist in isolation but interact with each other in a complex manner.

Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism (PhD thesis, 2008)

Reeve, D. (2008) Negotiating Disability in Everyday Life: The Experience of Psycho-Emotional Disablism, PhD Thesis, Lancaster: Lancaster University.


It has been recognised that disability studies has been excellent at theorising structural disablism which affects what people with impairments can do. However, disabling factors which affect people with impairments at the psycho-emotional level, have been relegated to the domain of personal trouble. Building on the ideas presented in Female Forms by Carol Thomas, this thesis has two strands: an empirical description of the complexity of psycho-emotional disablism and its effects on identity, coupled with an application of the work of Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life) to theorise this experience of psycho-emotional disablism.

At the centre of this qualitative study were ten disabled people who took part in a two-part narrative interview method and talked about their ‘experiences of disability’. The data was analysed in detail and revealed the complex interactions between structural disablism, psycho-emotional disablism, impairment effects as well as ‘disability identity’. I show how psycho-emotional disablism can be divided into two distinct forms: direct psycho-emotional disablism which can happen within interpersonal interactions between disabled people and others and indirect psycho-emotional disablism which can occur as a consequence of the experience of structural disablism. I also consider how the experience of psycho-emotional disablism affects the different ways that people with impairments  identify or not as disabled, and how this has a temporal and spatial aspect as well as being impacted by impairment effects.

Agamben’s work on homo sacer is used to explain the existential insecurity associated with the experience of psycho-emotional disablism. The concept of a ‘zone of indistinction’ is extended to introduce psychic and economic zones as well as the more common spatial zone of indistinction. I demonstrate how these zones can be found in examples of (in)direct psycho-emotional disablism and suggest that the impaired body is an example of bare life.