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What to Do If Your Family Grows Distant Because of Your Chronic Illness

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As you struggle with your health, your relationship with your family may change — either for better or for worse.  Although some family members may know how to validate your feelings about your health and may even take the time to learn exactly how to help you navigate your health condition, others may not understand your perspective and might pull away when you need them most.  If you notice your family pulling away from you as you become more open about your health or your health deteriorates, you may feel lost, alone and unloved as you search for support.  But even in your loneliest moments, there are people out there who will stand by your side no matter what.

If you’re struggling with your health and your family seems to disappear when you need them most, let yourself feel every emotion.  Express your anger, sadness, disappointment, and loneliness, whether it’s to yourself, to a professional or to another safe person.  Process what you miss most about your family and what type of support you wish they could provide during this time.  Remember that though you may feel like your strong emotions are betraying your family, you feel your relationship with them growing distant, so all of your emotions are valid.

If you feel your relationship with your family growing strained as you learn to live with changes in your health, develop relationships with people who understand your struggles.  Reach out to friends who are empathetic or are open about their own health in order to receive the help you may need.  Research reputable support groups — either online or in-person — for people with your condition or conditions and listen as others share how they cope with their changing or deteriorating relationships with their loved ones.  If you can, seek out professional help to process the changes in your family relationships, decide whether to communicate your needs or cut contact with your family and understand how the dynamics in your family influence your loved ones’ behavior.  You may find that even though you may miss your familial bonds, you can build a strong, caring support system outside of your family.

If your family walks away from you when you need them the most on your health journey, remind yourself that their actions aren’t your fault.  Their inability to help you navigate the changes in your life and understand what you need doesn’t reflect poorly on you — instead, it shows that your family simply may not be the right support system for you right now.  The realization that your family can’t or won’t help you may sting, but your health is not “too much” to handle, and you are not “needy” or a “burden.”  You are handling challenging circumstances to the best of your ability and may be attempting to balance your health and the rest of your life — all without your family present to help you.  None of your family’s actions speak to who you are as a person — and you are still the same incredible person you were before you began struggling with your health.

If your family starts to pull away from you when your health becomes a struggle, you may feel hopeless and distraught, and that’s OK.  Deepen your connections with others who can empathize with your health situation or who are always there for you, let yourself mourn the family you thought you knew and remember that your family’s actions aren’t your fault.  No matter how your relationships change alongside your health, you can work through the sadness you may feel and build a stronger support system than ever before.

Getty image by Boonyachoat.

Originally published: September 22, 2021
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