Overcoming the Stigma of Chronic Illness

When I see clients in my psychotherapy practice who struggle with chronic illness, I’ve found there is one common mistake that they make when thinking about their situation: they tend to compare themselves to other people. Although it is a natural human tendency to compare oneself to others, this can create a great deal of unnecessary pain and suffering.

There is Only One You

woman wearing red hat celebrating in snow

You are a totally unique human being and your journey is unlike anyone else’s. No one can ever live your life, or know exactly what it is like to be inside your skin. If you are struggling with a chronic illness or disability, you may have already realized how different your experience is from other people you know who are struggling with the very same condition. Just like no two people experience life the same way, no two people experience illness the same way either.

When scientists researched what accounts for the differences in the ways people experience illness, they found that these differences are not necessarily the result of the severity or the type of illness you are dealing with.

It turns out that the way you experience illness and your ability to function with a chronic medical condition is also a reflection of the prejudices, misconceptions and mistaken beliefs about you and your illness that you encounter in your environment. When those around you do not understand, accept and support you, it can make it that much harder to adapt to your surroundings and function in the most optimal way possible.

The Hidden Effects of Stigma

For those struggling with chronic illness, stigma can be a powerful barrier to gaining the acceptance and support they need to adapt. Since the beginning of human civilization, societies have always created norms based on how the majority of people look, act and think. When a person deviates from those norms, they are often devalued by that society or made to feel ashamed because they do not fit in. This phenomenon of debasing the non-conforming individual is known as stigma.

Stigma varies from culture to culture, because every culture has different values.
Most stigmas relate to things that the majority sees as anxiety-provoking or threatening. Our modern western culture is overly focused on attractiveness, youth, productivity and autonomy. Because chronic illness can affect a person’s appearance, make them less productive and autonomous, it’s easy to see how individuals with health condition can be stigmatized in our society.

Is Stigma Stopping You From Achieving Your Potential?

Stigma can have a profound effect on your own self-acceptance as well as your ability to heal from your illness and adapt to your environment. That’s why it’s critical to take take a moment to consider how stigma may be affecting your life.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if you are being stigmatized:

  • Do you find that people suddenly change the subject when you talk about your illness?

  • Are you being criticized, or left out unnecessarily because of your illness?

  • Do you feel like people talk down to you or treat you like you are much less capable than you actually are?

If any of these reactions from other people feel familiar to you, it’s important to know that people may be judging you negatively because you do not meet their expectations based on societal norms. They may perceive you as vulnerable because of your illness and this may feel threatening to them. This can lead to them acting in ways that discriminate against you, leaving you feeling disregarded and isolated.

Fight Stigma by Generating Positive Interactions with Others

family hoolahooping together

Don’t let yourself or someone you love be stigmatized by others due to a health condition, or for any other reason. You can reverse the effects of stigma by creating as many positive interactions with others as possible. Studies show that it is the quality of your relationships that is the truest measure of the quality of your life. Surrounding yourself with people who boost your self-esteem, foster your well-being and believe in you is the best antidote to stigma.

Our society has a long way to go in being able to accept people who do not fit the mold, but you can avoid stigma as much as possible by establishing relationships with people who understand and respect you, regardless of your illness.

Chronic Illness Counseling Helps You Create Positives in Your Life

If you are ready to create more positives in your life and are looking for someone to walk with you every step of the way to help you get out of pain, let’s connect on the phone and see how I can help you get the results you want much faster.

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Looking forward to speaking with you soon.

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