Do You Apologize For Having Problems?

In talking with a lady I just met about her traumatic brain injury, I realized we share something else in common.  We both feel the need to hide our injuries & apologize for whatever symptoms we can’t hide.

I think this is a very common phenomenon for adult children of narcissistic parents to apologize for their issues as well as those with the so-called “invisible illnesses” such as mental illness, fibromyalgia, & arthritis.

Why is that?  Why would anyone feel the need to apologize for things that are beyond their control?  I think there are a couple of potential reasons.

One reason is people are often uncomfortable with unpleasant things.  They often respond inappropriately & without empathy.  They may make jokes in an attempt to lighten the mood or change the subject, but whether they intend it or not, it feels as if they are making fun of your illness or troubles.  It’s impossible to feel safe with people who do that, & often easier to hide your symptoms or apologize for the ones you can’t hide in an attempt to pretend you don’t have the problem.

Another reason is so many people seem to think if you don’t have obvious, glaring symptoms like a 5 pound tumor on your face, you can’t be too bad off or you’re faking your problem.  For example, I had awful back problems for 10 years after my mother threw me into a wall when I was 19.  I had better days sometimes where I could deal with the pain enough to wash my car or do other somewhat physical things.  Since I could do things sometimes, people thought I was faking my injury.  I learned quickly it was easiest to hide my pain rather than hear the nasty comments.

Many illnesses don’t affect your appearance, & if you don’t look obviously sick, many people assume you don’t have a problem.  I’ve experienced carbon monoxide poisoning which gave me plenty of lasting problems, but if you look at me, I look healthy.  You’d never know that I live with symptoms of it daily if you spend only a short amount of time with me.  Any time though reveals I stumble over words when speaking, have virtually no short term memory & get very tired, very easily.  When that happens, sometimes people insult me saying I’m old or dumb.  It’s easier for me to hide the symptoms or apologize if they show up.

Mental illness is its own special entity.  So many people believe having a mental illness means you’re weak.  You need to pick yourself up by your bootstraps!  Shake it off!  Let it go!  Stop wallowing in the past!  If you just did those things, you would be fine.  They fail to realize many mental illnesses are exactly that- illness.  You can’t just shake off illness.  Your brain is actually broken.  Many people refuse to believe this, unfortunately, which means it’s easier to hide your symptoms than to risk showing any & hearing about how weak you are.

And still other people who have experienced their own life threatening illness seem to think if you haven’t experienced what they have, you haven’t got a problem.  I knew 2 ladies who both went through cancer several times each.  One had a generous, loving heart, & understood that although cancer was terrible, there were other serious problems in the world.  The other, however, whatever your problem, she would tell you (or at the least imply) to be glad you didn’t have cancer, as if it was the only real problem or real illness anyone could have & nothing else mattered.

I know these types of situation are painful, & wanting to hide or apologize for your symptoms is a very natural reaction.  But I want to encourage you today, Dear Reader, to stop doing that like I am going to try to do.  Your illness or its symptoms are nothing to be ashamed of.  You have nothing to apologize for, either.  The person who makes you feel that way is definitely the one with the problem, not you.

While I’m encouraging you to stop hiding your symptoms, I also would encourage you to have balance in what you discuss.  People who discuss mostly one topic, in particular the awful disease or disorder they suffer with, tend to put off others, even those with great empathy.  It can be frustrating for a person who wants to have a relaxing conversation or even look for support regarding their problems to be forced to listen to someone who drones on & on about their condition every single time they speak.  It’s not good for either person.  The listener gets frustrated, may say hurtful things in their frustration or even end the relationship.  The talker is so focused on something negative (their disease or disorder) that they ignore the more positive, good parts of life, which can lead to depression.  The talker also ends up hurt because they feel rejected when the listener is obviously tired of hearing about their condition.

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Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health

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