Irrational Beliefs Around Disability
by: Ann Jorn
I work with people who have chronic pain. Often I have found that people get hit with pain mid-life when they have young children. As as result of the person's inability to do what they used to do, they feel like failures as mothers or fathers. Typically young children have a remarkable ability to understand their parent's problems and are accepting of them but the parent lambastes themselves for their own disability. Adolescents may be another subject entirely. They may say to a parent that it is “not fair” that a parent is ill which the parent uses to further condemn themselves for their own limitations. This self condemnation of course is intimately connected to depressed mood. (Pain is also intimately connected to depression due to the nature of pain and its affect on the physiology of the brain.) Also, frequently the person with a disability or illness is telling themselves that this pain “should not” have happened; and, because it has and they have real physical limitations, they are a failure or useless as a parent. So the client not only condemns themselves but also buys into the idea that they are ruining their child's life. I heard this just today.
So let's take a look at the client who has chronic pain, is limited physically, and whose child is complaining about the parent's illness. Now I have a distinct advantage here because I have had rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 3 and have had a life time to figure this stuff out. This client was saying to herself the same thing her daughter was saying “why” did I have to, you have to mom get sick!? I did a lecture to a weight management group one time where a person in the audience also was engaging in the why me scenario. I said “why not you?” which was rather shocking to people I am sure but then I said “why did I at 3 years old get rheumatoid arthritis? Those were the cards I was dealt. It is up to me to play the hand as best I can as it is up to you.” Asking why about such things unless you are a scientist studying chronic pain or some illness is utterly useless and down right emotionally harmful. This is the typical way I dispute that demand that pain should not have attacked a client. The initial dispute “why not you” really gets at a person's idea that they, glorious they, are above the rules of nature. In short it is an empirical dispute. I then follow with a dispute about how the “why” question actually hurts them. Once I have done this and have improved the client's understanding I assist them to dispute their child's irrational beliefs. Doing some family therapy by the way is also a good way to address how everyone is dealing with the client's illness and disability.
Ann C. Jorn, Ph.D. is an expert in the psychological treatment of people suffering from chronic pain conditions. She is also an expert in the cognitive behavior therapy of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy is the recommended treatment method for chronic pain. Dr. Jorn is an author, educator and lecturer. http://www.rebtberkshires.com Helping People in Chronic Pain Live Successfully
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