10 Things That Can Inadvertently Hurt People With Chronic Illnesses


When trying to support someone who has a chronic illness, there are some little things that might be doing the opposite. It can be hard to know how to support a loved one who is chronically ill, and if you are trying to support, your heart is in the right place and that is the most important thing!

I’ve been sick and in pain my entire life, so I’ve encountered these over the years. I want to make it clear that I’m extremely grateful that people are supportive and I’m not upset at these things. I just think it can be helpful for both the people who are ill and are looking for ways to express what is not helpful, and for people who are wanting support others who are ill.

1. Commenting that someone who is sick looks healthy is usually not helpful. Keep in mind that many people have faced doubt from doctors, have been told it’s in their minds, or have been told they are exaggerating. So, when they hear that they don’t look sick, those experiences taint that with the feeling that their pain or illness is being invalidated.

2. Pointing out that someone looks terrible is also not very helpful. It’s highly likely that the person knows they look sick, and it can make them feel self conscious or hurt.

3. Suggesting herbal remedies and alternate therapies is generally not helpful and in some cases can actually be dangerous. Certain herbal remedies can be deadly, depending on the person’s unique health issues. Certain immune boosters are helpful for people with functioning immune systems, but can actually cause immune deficiencies to worsen. Of course, some people may be receptive to alternative ideas, so I just suggest that you ask first. Ask them if they are interested in hearing about some herbal remedies, or other treatments. Also make sure to add, if they are interested in these remedies, that they should talk with their doctor first. Even if two people have the same disease, their bodies chemical makeup will be different.

4. Judging the medications a person takes is also not very helpful. It’s a very personal decision, made between patient and doctor, and there will be reasons they have decided for or against certain medications. Reasons that can be very complex and be based off of blood tests, allergies, the illness involved and many other things.

5. Only talking about someone’s health can become very sad and can make the sick person feel like other people are defining them by their illness. This tends to happen a lot when the person who is chronically ill doesn’t work. Health becomes the main topic. Get to know more about the person’s interests and share things about yourself.

6. Constantly asking someone who is chronically ill if they are back to work yet can be disheartening and hurtful. Many chronically ill people will never be able to return to work and being asked that question often is a painful reminder of that fact. Most people who have had to stop working due to illness are very upset they had to stop working. It can cause an identity crisis, loss of socializing with coworkers, and the loss of feeling productive.

7. Asking if a chronically ill person is “better yet” can make them feel like they have not been heard. It’s usually not malicious, when this question is asked, but it can feel very invalidating. Chronic typically means that it is not going to get better. I think people have a hard time with that because it seems so unfair and they want the people in their lives to get better. It’s natural to want that.

8. Getting upset if the sick person has to cancel plans can make the person who had to cancel feel guilty for being sick. I know it sucks when plans are cancelled, but it also sucks for the person who was so ill that they had to cancel.

9. Saying to others that “so-and-so does nothing” can be hurtful. Treating and taking care of a chronic illness is hard work. It is exhausting, frustrating, painful and involves many appointments and often harsh medication.

10. Saying things like “You’re sick again?! You’re always sick!” can add guilt about being ill, and that’s really hard because it’s something we have zero control over.

If you’ve read this and are looking to support someone in your life who is chronically ill, thank you. You are an incredible person and your caring will make an enormous difference.

If you are chronically ill and are trying to help show others info about what can inadvertently be hurtful, I hope this helps you start the conversation.

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Thinkstock photo by Kosamtu


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