Families interpret behaviour

Illness often causes changes in behaviour.  Families and friends interpret these changes. Sometimes the ill person would rather nobody noticed, so the family or friends may pretend not to notice.

But families interpret according to:

their own anxieties

their own bodies

their own behaviour

their own beliefs

their own symbolism

their own previous experiences.

So a child who knows about jealousy of others’ lives  but not about pain may interpret a mother’s request for help as ‘she just wants to stop me having a life of my own’.

A father who wants attention himself may interpret his daughter’s response to her symptoms as ‘she just wants attention’…

A young woman who has just lost her mother may interpret her own or another friend’s symptoms as life-threatening when they are clearly not.

Someone who had a bad time at hospital may be afraid to go to the doctor many years later.

A child who sees their father fall over may be afraid he is going to die – because ‘falling over’ can mean ‘being dead’ in children’s games or their minds.

A woman who knows she feels anxiety as stomach aches may interpret her friend’s stomach pains as anxiety.

A mother whose child became very ill after a cold may find it difficult to treat the next cold as ‘just a cold’.

Friction can often arise because people make different interpretations of illness. Even if they agree, the interpretation may be wrong.

People expect others’ bodies to be like theirs, even when they know they are not.  It is easy to forget someone else’s body is very different. So families and friends often forget symptoms such as pain, mobility problems, vision problems, or difficulty hearing or following a conversation.  The default is ‘their body is like mine’  or ‘their body is like it was two years ago’ , even when there has actually been change which everyone is supposed to know about.

This is one of the things which make people feel bad about themselves.

How could I forget? How could they forget? don’t they/I care enough?


About thetroublewithillness

I've been a counsellor for people with physical illnesses for a long time now, and learnt a lot about what it's like living with your own or someone else's illness. I want to pass some of this on.
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