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Murphy- The Damaged Self

Murphy- The Damaged Self - 62 Section 2 The Selfin Social...

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62 Section 2 ... The Selfin Social Context - Illness, Disability, and the Self 8 The Damaged Self Robert F. Murphy Disability undermines taken-for-granted as- pects of self. Robert Murphy finds that his dis- ability diminished the self he had created, the position to which he had risen, the person he had become, arzd the life he Izad accrued. Like most middle-class Americans, iV111rphy had never envisioned himself as disabled. Like at- titudes toward death. he had viewed disability as a misfortune happellillg lO someone else, not to himself. That misforwlle stains alUl strains interaction for both people with dis- abilities and the presumably unimpaired. i'vlur- phy's hopes were symbolized by his defining the wheelchair as only a convenience il1 convales- cence. People with disabililies often view per- manent reliance on a wheelchair as a stark symbol of a diminislzed self and devalued status. 111e wheelchair is something "needed" rather than merely "used." Not surprisingly, they rely on other or no assistive devices until long past the poim of safety, or they may rem a chair because rentals symbolize impenna- nence. Murphy captures the perverse reversal of guilt and shame that people with disabilities routinely endure. Seldom responsible for their conditions, they are punished by having them. Other people's responses shame them for being disabled and that, in tum. elicits their guilt for being different. Murphy voices the silent agony of feeling demasculinized and being sexually limited in a society that values male initiatiVE control, and performance. Stigma, shame, an! demasculinization all contribute to disem bodiment, especially when a man loses sensa tion, movement, and proprioception. Murph· reveals the existemial comradiction ofdissoci ating from his body while simultaneously be ing imprisoned in an overriding idemity as dis abled. Although Murphy dissociated himsel. from his body, he could not dissociate himseli f/'0[11 his disability as its continuing presenCt in his dreams attests. I1ze result of these iosse5 and corztradictirms? Anger. Existential anger. And then exile. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic in- sect. He was lying on his hard, as if it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments .... What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream. -Franz Kafka. The Metamorphosis F rom the time my tumor was first diag- nosed through my entry into wheelchair life, I had an increasing apprehension that I had lost much more than the full use of my legs. I had also lost a part of my self. It was not just that people acted differently toward me, which they did, but rather that I felt differ- ently toward myself. I had changed in my own mind, in my self-image, and in the basic conditions of my existence.
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