Having a chronic illness can be a challenging experience, and it can feel even more challenging without the full support of those closest to you.

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Accepting you have a chronic illness can be a difficult and painful process. Having your loved ones in your corner when you need support can help a lot.

Unfortunately, the people close to you may not always be as understanding about your condition as you might like and need them to be.

It could be that they don’t show up when you need them to assist you in some way. They may not take your condition seriously and belittle your symptoms. Or perhaps they invalidate your feelings around the illness.

It can be difficult for a person with a chronic illness to understand why they don’t have the full, loving support of the people closest to them.

Yuko Nippoda, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the U.K. Council for Psychotherapy, says that there are many reasons someone may find it hard to show up for a loved one with a chronic illness.

One of the main reasons is that it can be hard to understand the experience of chronic illness without having lived it yourself.

“There can be a lack of empathy if they are generally well themselves and have not experienced illness, as they do not understand what it is like to be ill,” says Nippoda.

“Many chronic illnesses are unseen, and sufferers can look well,” she adds. “In those cases, because the loved one who has the condition looks well, carers sometimes forget the struggle they have.”

The limited or sometimes unpredictable life of someone with chronic illness may also be a reason loved ones aren’t fully supportive. If you live with an illness, you know that planning ahead can be hard. You may have to bail on plans and feel perceived as “flaky.”

While it’s no fault of yours, loved ones may struggle with the unpredictability, Nippoda says.

For other loved ones, it may be a confidence issue that’s to blame.

“Some carers are not confident enough to take responsibility,” Nippoda says. “They may feel that it is too much responsibility and do not feel confident enough to be with them. They may even feel scared, and this can lead to a lack of commitment.”

Whatever the reasons, an unsupportive loved one can negatively impact someone with a chronic illness.

“When people who are chronically ill are not accepted and are treated harshly by their loved ones, on top of their struggle to fight the illness, it is really demoralizing and debilitating,” says Nippoda.

This can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression that can make you feel even worse.

It’s not your responsibility to make someone understand or empathize with your condition.

However, if you’re up for it, there are some steps you can take to help a loved one understand what you’re going through — and how much their support and understanding would mean to you.

Involve them

Involving your loved one in your medical treatment can give them a window into what it’s like being you.

Nippoda recommends bringing them along to appointments and asking your doctor to explain debilitating aspects of your condition.

Have a calm conversation

Communicating with someone who won’t listen can be a frustrating experience and may result in angry confrontations.

“When you explain how you feel to those who do not accept you, you may become angry or show frustration or irritation, and they might not hear you or fully understand what you are saying,” Nippoda says.

Instead, she recommends sitting down with them and explaining your feelings from a place of calm and goodwill.

Try to understand their behavior

It can be easy to assume we understand how another person is feeling or why they’re acting the way they are. Often, it’s more complicated than we imagine.

“They might have their own issues, or they might be reacting to your behavior,” she says. “Relationships are always two-way, and it is extremely important to understand each other.”

That doesn’t mean you should accept ill-treatment. The way they’re treating you may be uncaring and unfair, but attempting to understand why they behave the way they do may help you to make your peace with it.

Build trust

In some cases, communication hasn’t been easy even before the illness started. Difficult circumstances can illuminate these issues.

“It’s vital to build a trusting relationship to communicate well with the person who is struggling to accept your chronic illness,” says Nippoda.

“By exploring what you are both doing in the relationship, the dynamic can change and your communication can improve,” she says. “This can be a very significant process towards gaining mutual understanding and trust.”

Depending on the situation, couples therapy or family therapy might be useful.

Suggest a support group

While you’re by no means a burden, seeing a loved one struggle with a chronic illness can be emotionally taxing.

It’s possible that the person in your life who’s not acting as supportive of your illness as you’d like them to just doesn’t have the support and coping tools they need in their own life.

In this case, a caregiver support group may help.

“Here, they might gain some insight into how to treat you, and they can also communicate with other people whose loved ones are suffering from the illness,” says Nippoda.

Having a chronic illness can be a challenging experience, and it can feel even more challenging without the full support of those closest to you.

You may find that opening the lines of communication will make your loved one act more supportive and accepting over time. However, you can’t make anyone change.

If you aren’t getting emotional support from a loved one, you must seek support elsewhere, says Nippoda.

In that case, consider joining an online or in-person community of other people who are living with your condition. They’ll know just what you’re going through.


Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.