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Explanation:
When I was younger, I broke my arm close to my growth plate near my elbow. As a result, part of my arm grew and the other part did not, resulting in a boomerang shaped arm (if I hold my arm straight out, it looks like a boomerang). Normally, I can hide it very well with long sleeved shirts or a jacket. However, I was helping someone move some things yesterday, and because it's warmer outside, I wore a short sleeved shirt. They noticed my deformed arm, and they asked me if I needed any help moving anything, and it was embarrassing. I told them I was fine and didn't need any help, but it left the both of us in an awkward situation.

Question:
How do I let people know that my deformity doesn't disable me at all, without making the situation awkward?

41

I have several disabilities, and what I do is make a joke out of it. This serves several purposes.

  1. To let people know you don't need help
  2. To let people know you are comfortable with who you are
  3. Lets them know that they have not offended you.
  4. Lets you make any points you wish to make in a non-aggressive way.

For example if someone were to ask me if I needed any help, I might say "No, I'm beyond help" or I'd make a joke by directing it to something else. "Sure, do you know a good psychiatrist?"

The important thing is that humor disarms any awkward situation. I'm older than most people that come here and I grew up in an age where people were more likely to make fun of you than feel sorry for you. (I'd actually prefer the former to the latter) Because of this, I think we wound up with more skills on dealing with "normal" people.

That said, this technique has been working for me for decades. Its advantages are:

  1. The person asking the question doesn't feel awkward
  2. You don't feel awkward
  3. You come across as more "normal" and people don't feel the need to be over cautious with you, and you don't feel like you have to explain anything.

I have a bunch of stock jokes. If it's about my hearing, and I'm dealing with a store or restaurant, I say "Look at it this way, I'm the one customer you can yell at". I use the "beyond help" and "good psychiatrist" lines often. If they get flustered and say "OH! I'm SORRY!" about one of my disabilities, I say "It's not your fault" and chuckle a bit. I usually have a new friend after that

  • Of course, why didn't I think of that? I suppose I was taken totally off guard when they asked me, that I couldn't think of anything witty to say. Do you prepare a joke beforehand for situations like this? – Joe-You-Know May 10 '18 at 14:59
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I agree with being lighthearted about it and throwing out a joke as in Richard U's answer but I'd suggest you then follow it up with a reference to confirm you know what they are talking about. Something like "I know my arm looks a little odd .... I'm fine" if you want to keep it minimal or more explanation if you want to give them a clearer picture. Then you are reassuring the person that the initial comment was a joke, you do know what they are referring to but it isn't a problem.
Adding "Thanks for asking" reassures them that you didn't take any offence and helps remove the awkwardness. If you are matter of fact about it they will usually be the same in future.

4

I have a question for you? Do you feel awkward about it?

Most interactions people are sensitive to your feelings and response. If you just ignore it and behave like it is nothing, people will feel this and things continue as if nothing has happened.

As people we are very sensitive to awkwardness, and the other party if they detect you feeling bad about it, will then feel bad and wish they never said anything and it escalates. Ignoring such things takes practice. Try to imagine you are an actor on a stage, playing a part, and your character has no worries.

This will help you and them. Your arm is part of you, and you are great, that is all people need to know. This is about being assertive and projecting a positive self image. If you want to know a good exponent of this is Nick Vujicic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nknzSWDcUgA

4

I'm not a fan of the "let's joke about me" strategy but I can understand why some people would like and go for that, my preferred approach aims for neutrality, respect and dignity.

Preventing the situation
You can't control what people think on the general situation, they are simply showing they care about you, but you can change what they think about your particular situation, opportunely and on advance, prior to the situation as you asked.

Tell a story that shows that you have done this before.

If you know you are going to be helping them move things, tell a story in advance about you lifting something heavy. And you can start or end that with something memorable like:

I'm stronger than I look. You'll be surprised.

Even when they haven't seen your arm, that will be memorable. That should be enough.

Defusing the situation
If anyone didn't get the message and they still act condescending by accident, you don't want to be harsh on them, but you are allowed to defend your dignity:

I'm the one helping you, buddy. (smiling of course)

If someone is too condescending it gets annoying, you are allowed to be less amicably, still polite.

It's not a big deal, really, don't worry and don't make other people worry. I can handle myself just the same as you.

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