Having a chronic illness can bring about many barriers to daily living. It takes a toll on both the mind and body. Depression and anxiety are commonly talked about in the world of chronic illness, however there is one feeling that is often not discussed: shame. No one wants to talk about shame. Much like chronic illness itself, shame is something we want to ignore.
It’s time to talk about illness-related shame.
Shame tells us our social connections may be at risk. There is a worry that others are judging us and there is a fear we will be rejected. When we are ashamed of having a chronic illness we may not talk about the illness to others. We try to pass as healthy, but if we cannot pass as healthy, we may withdraw more by avoiding social interactions in order to feel safe from our anxiety about other people’s judgement of us.
Research on shame and chronic illness describes the deep fear that study subjects felt at being seen as a “complainer” or a “whiner” if they talked about their illnesses (Werner, Isaksen, & Malterud, 2004).
Shame promotes more shame, as we become ashamed of the fact that we are feeling shame. Shame is an emotion that actively hurts us. Withholding information in order to protect yourself or others can be even more hurtful, causing psychological distress.
When it comes to the shame that can accompany chronic illness, remember that the connection between physical and emotional health is strong. Addressing the shame for those of us with chronic illness can help use live the best life we can.
Tips for managing chronic illness-related shame
- Notice the shame you feel
- Separate your feelings of grief from shame
- Honor your feelings and allow yourself to grieve
- Give yourself permission to pause
- Connect with someone who understands chronic illness (therapist, friend, family)
Kayla completed her Masters of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, MN after obtaining her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Winona State University. Kayla completed her internship at Lighthouse counseling working with individuals, families, and couples. Her professional experience has included personal growth counseling with college students, inpatient counseling with adolescents, as well as adult clients. As an a clinician Kayla uses a framework of cognitive behavioral therapy, Gestalt therapy, and family systems. Read More…
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