What Hidden Disabilities Can Teach Us About Empathy

Recently, I visited a spinal cord injury facility here in New Zealand and saw a flyer on the wall for what’s called the “Disability Iceberg”.

It’s quite amazing as it provides a visual representation of the varying ways we may typically “see” people with disabilities.

In this case it’s referencing a Quadriplegic, Paraplegic, and Walking SCI Person, like myself!

Visible disabilities you’ll notice with a Quadriplegic include:

  • May use a power chair
  • Reduced/no hand function
  • May use a ventilator

Visible disabilities you’ll notice with a Paraplegic include:

  • Uses a manual wheelchair

And visible disabilities you’ll notice with a Walking SCI Person include:

  • May have a limp

However, the INVISIBLE difficulties you see for all of them are the same:

  • Pain (Constant, Intermittent, Occasional)
  • Muscle spasms & tension
  • Fatigue & difficulty concentrating
  • Increase effort in daily life
  • Bowel/bladder issues
  • Skin (pressure areas/sores/sensation loss)
  • Psychological (ie. depression)
  • Nutrition
  • Psycho-social
  • Accessibility & Inclusion in society

To this day, minus difficulty concentrating and depression, I still experience ALL those invisible symptoms as a Walking SCI Person on a DAILY basis, only nobody usually knows that’s what I am struggling with beneath the surface.

For me, through living with my disability and through my mental health journey, I feel like having lived with such hidden challenges has helped make me become more empathetic towards other people, because we rarely truly know what hidden challenges someone else is dealing with.

When we think about what is required to develop a confident and empowered mindset, empathy towards ourselves and others is one of those key factors to help us not become so frustrated that we get upset, angry, or down on ourselves or others when something doesn’t seem right.

For example, according to the Canadian Survey on Disabilities, the top 10 disability types are seeing, hearing, mobility, flexibility, dexterity, pain-related, learning, developmental, mental-health related, and memory.

On the surface, any one of us can appear to be “normal” in the sense that we do not have any visible challenges, yet the last time I asked one of my audiences during a keynote, 99% of the room raised their hand that either they, or someone they know, currently experiences one of these top 10 challenges.

What this can do for us is practice greater self-awareness towards others when we see someone who may appear to be struggling and we are not sure why.

This can also help us be more empathetic towards ourselves when we think about what now constitutes having a disability. It doesn’t always mean that you need to be in a wheelchair or have another significant ailment to create challenges for you in your life.

Today I challenge you to consider what “hidden disability” you may be living with, how might you be able to be more empathetic towards how hard you are on yourself, and especially towards others in considering that beneath the surface we may not always see the weight people are carrying.

We all have our own internal battles we are working to overcome. Some just might be more visible than others.

I haven’t shared with you yet, but I just launched some new material on my homepage incorporating models into the work that I do. Expect to see more of this type of blog content going forward as I slowly release The Hero Mindset Blueprint and lean into a new way of teaching.

If you have any thoughts or feedback, I would love to hear from you!

By employing empathy towards yourself and others is just one more example of how small things make a big difference to help you become a hero in your own story.


Whenever you are ready here are the best ways, I can help you:

Connect with me on LinkedIn – This is where I post my best content to help you shift your mindset to drive results and embrace change. Click here

Hire me as a speaker for your next event – Watch my keynote demo reel on The Hero Mindset to see me in action. Click here

Work with me privately – If you would like to work with me and my team privately to help strengthen your commitment towards the change you are experiencing, increase your mental resilience, and perform with relentless stamina, just send me a message here and let me know the important details about your business and we’ll take care of the rest.

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