Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Are You Bitter Because of How Your Chronic Illness has Affected Your Life?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

I recently received an unsettling email from a woman who has lived with Myalgic Encephalopathy / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 25 years. Kathleen, as I’ll call her, wanted to know if I could help her.

The reason Kathleen’s email was unsettling was because she referred to a blog post I wrote last summer in which I basically asked my readers to imagine watching a movie where the protagonist had the same illness and was dealing with the same challenges that they were (here’s the link to that post). But instead of writing, as others who have contacted me about that post have written, that it was helpful, she said that if the protagonist has been wrongly accused or imprisoned, she identifies with them, but if not, not only does she not have any compassion for them, but she is happy when they fail.

She went on to say that that is how bitter not being able to be a mother or to have a successful career has made her, and added that while she would never do it, she sometimes has fantasies of killing people who are leading normal lives.

While what Kathleen wrote was unsettling, my heart goes out to her. When she became sick,she was working on a Ph.D. in psychology and felt very optimistic about her future. And then after almost 3 years of doing everything she could to regain her health, and getting some of it back, an accidental exposure to pesticides caused a relapse and even more symptoms, from which she has never recovered.

From what she wrote, I think Kathleen was talking about her reaction to watching real movies. But in my previous blog post, I was asking my readers to IMAGINE watching a movie in which the protagonist had the same illness and challenges they did. And if I have a chance to talk to Kathleen, I will suggest that she do that.

But while I didn’t say so in the previous post, I will be very clear with her that while imagining watching a movie like that is almost always very helpful and healing, it is not easy to do. To the contrary, it be very difficult and emotionally painful.

That’s why when I work with people, I give them several tools, strategies, and suggestions, and not just that one. If you’re interested, you can learn about several of those other strategies in my free E-Course: Learn How to Raise Your Energy – and Your Spirit – in Just 21 Days.


Tom Robinson, who has a chronic illness (Crohn’s disease) himself, helps people with chronic illnesses meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

A New Way to Use Three Important Words

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Four years ago, I wrote a post for my blog* in which I said that the words “I’m so sorry” were 3 of the most important words I had learned in my life. And I went on to explain why they were important, which was that there was a part of me that, because of having a chronic illness and having experienced many traumatic events in my life, was in a lot of emotional pain and needed to hear those words – from me.

I wrote about how I said them to myself in the mirror and how helpful that was, and that my clients found doing that very helpful too.

I recently got a video camera so that I can post videos online. As I was learning how to use it, it occurred to me that recording myself saying those three words, and then watching myself say them, could be a very powerful healing method. So I tried it, and found out it was.

Because I’m able to record myself with the camera, I have modified my technique. I made it a 3- step process, to take advantage of that capability. The first step was to record myself describing what is going on in my life; what’s going well, things I’m struggling with, and the positive and painful feelings I’ve been experiencing. This can be hard to do, but I have found it well worth doing.

The second step was to record myself being a wise, compassionate parent or mentor to myself. I acknowledged the part of me that is struggling and in pain and told him how sorry I was about what he is going through. Then I reminded that part of me about the good and wonderful qualities he has, reassured him, told him how much I loved him and let him know that I was there for him.

The final step was to watch the video. When I did, I sent lots of compassion to the person in the first part, the one who described what was going on in his life and what he was struggling with. And then I let in the compassion, the reassurance, and the love that the wise mentor in the second part of the video was giving to me.

Doing this has been very helpful for me, so I have started sharing it with my clients and others. I would love to hear how well it works for you.

*I’m So Sorry

Is there a connection between having an unhappy childhood and having a chronic illness as an adult?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

With very few exceptions, everyone I’ve talked to who has a chronic illness (and I’ve talked to LOTS of people who do) has wondered why they got it. I have too. Many of them believe what I do: that one of the main factors that caused their illness, was having an unhappy and often traumatic childhood that included not getting nearly enough love from their parents or caretakers.

I believe there is a strong connection between our childhoods and our chronic illnesses for several reasons. The first is that the majority of the people with chronic illnesses I’ve coached over the past 10 years have told me that their childhoods were emotionally traumatic and that they didn’t feel very loved by one or both parents.

One recent client, whom I’ll call Lillian, is a good example. Neither of her parents was emotionally there for her when she was growing up, especially her father. And she’s had cancer – not once, but twice. She was diagnosed with lymphoma was she was seven years old. It responded to treatment, but she never fully recovered her health.

Then, 10 years ago, when she was 38, Lillian was diagnosed with leukemia. She had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. That cured the leukemia, but her body, including her immune system, were severely damaged and she hasn’t felt well or had what she considers to be a good day since. Is is just a coincidence that she didn’t get the love she needed (and still longs for) and that she has had cancer twice. I sure don’t think so.

The second reason I believe in that strong connection is because researchers have been finding more and more evidence that people who’ve had unhappy or stressful childhoods are much more likely to be diagnosed with chronic illnesses (and also chronic pain) as adults. The illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many others.

The third reason I believe in the connection between an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness is my own experience. As I’ve written elsewhere, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 47. I feel strongly that having an unhappy childhood was one of two main causes (for reasons I won’t go into here, I believe that the other main cause was my many mercury-amalgam fillings).

There is one more reason I think there is a connection between having an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness. It comes partly from what I have learned and understood about  my clients, but more than that it comes from my own life. As a child, I developed a serious chronic illness that resembled polio, but wasn’t. I eventually recovered from it.

In a therapy session many years later, I had the profound but completely unexpected realization that I had deliberately but subconsciously acquired the illness to get  attention and love from my parents that I desperately wanted and needed, but wasn’t getting.

I wish I knew and could explain how I acquired the illness, but I don’t and can’t. But more than enough corroborating evidence came along with the realization to convince me that, beyond a reasonable doubt, it was true.

If, after reading what I’ve written, you suspect that you may have unconsciously decided to acquire a serious chronic illness, please don’t blame or criticize yourself for having done so. If you did that, it was because, like me, you had an unmet need. What you needed and didn’t get then was lots of compassion and understanding, and what you need and deserve now is lots of compassion and understanding. Please give them to yourself.

You also need lots of compassion and understanding if you had an unhappy childhood and there is a connection between it and the chronic illness you have now. Please give them to yourself – as much as you possibly can. Doing so helps bring about physical and emotional healing.

Are You Being Yourself?

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

This blog post is not for everyone who has a chronic illness. If you’ve let the important people in your life (except for those you work with or for) know about your illness and have given them at least a general description of how it has affected you and your life, you’re welcome to skip this post. Or, if you like, you can read why disclosing your illness was a good idea.

On the other hand, if there are important people in your life you haven’t told about your illness, please keep reading, because by the time you get to the end of the post, I think you will agree that disclosing is a better choice in almost all cases.

Note: as I wrote above, in this post, I’m not recommending that you disclose your illness to your coworkers or your boss. The decision about whether or not to do that depends on many factors that I’m not going to cover here. If you have a question about your work situation, you’re welcome to submit it as a comment to this post, and I will do my best to answer it.

One reason why it’s almost always a good idea to tell the important people in your life about your illness is this: keeping secrets from people and pretending you’re healthy and okay when you’re not isn’t easy. It takes work and can be very stressful. Living with a serious illness isn’t easy either; it’s often very difficult. Given that, I think it’s just common sense to be truthful with our friends and relatives and use the energy we save by doing that to deal with and manage our illness and symptoms.

A second reason why it’s usually a good idea to share about your illness with the important people in your life is that they almost always respond in an empathetic and compassionate way, even when we think they won’t. When they do, we feel cared for and supported, and we both feel closer to each other. It becomes a win-win.

So if there are important people you haven’t yet told about your illness and your life with it, I encourage you to do so. And if you do, I hope you will write about your experience in a comment below.

Do you need to take a time-out?

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

More than many others, those of us with chronic illnesses often get frustrated, discouraged, or upset because of how our illnesses affect our families and our relationships with others, because of all the things we want to do but no longer can, because we often face an uncertain future, and because of numerous other reasons as well.

One thing you can do that has worked well for many people with chronic illnesses—including me—is to give yourself a time-out.

Now as I’m sure you know, time-outs are often used by parents and teachers to discipline children that are misbehaving, and to give them some time to think about their behavior. So I want to make it very clear that I’m not suggesting that you discipline yourself.

Rather, what I am suggesting is that if you get upset, discouraged, or frustrated for any illness-related reasons, that instead of staying that way that you caringly, lovingly, and compassionately give yourself a time-out.

During your time-out, you can listen to music you enjoy, read a book, take in the beauty of flowers or a sunset, or just relax.

At the end of your time-out (and you get to decide how long to make it), the situation that prompted your feelings may still exist, but chances are that your negative feelings about it will be much less than they were.

Best wishes using this and the suggestions in my other posts to have a Happy New Year and your best life possible!


Tom Robinson, who has Crohn’s disease himself, helps people with chronic illnesses mend their broken spirits and then he helps them find inspiring dreams – and achieve them!

Are You a Refugee in a Foreign Land?

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

In this post, I’m going to share  a testimonial with you that I recently received. In it, my client, who is a gifted  writer who lives in Tasmania, describes far better than I could how she was able to reframe her struggle with her illness in a way that gave her a capability to manage it and live a better life.

It is my strong desire that reading her story will help you do the same for yourself.


From the closely pressing despair of never having the strength or energy to do what I want or to complete the endless list of things that need to be done, came this quiet and understanding voice, across the Pacific Ocean, to the small cool island where I live.   I spoke my despair into his quiet, listening ear.  I spoke of the work I do with humanitarian refugees – of how hard it was for them to be exiled from home by war and atrocity and how they struggled to make a new home in a foreign country – learning a new language, accommodating a new culture, learning strange ways; and how compelled I felt to assist them, despite my health issues.

He commented that my attempts to support these traumatized new arrivals demonstrated compassion and understanding and he suggested I think of myself in the same way – as a person exiled from my home place of vibrant health, having arrived bewildered and disoriented into the foreign land of chronic ill health and in need of compassionate understanding and help.  That I consider my own needs and support myself as I learned the strange ways of this new country I now occupied.

Such a simple, quietly expressed suggestion.  So lucid.  So liberating.  No suggestion of weakness or giving in, just an acceptance that things are different now.  Just a gentle reminder to look around and see where I am, what can be done, and to support and praise my own efforts at adjustment, my own small gains.

Thank you Tom for this wise and compassionate advice.  I felt heard, honored, assisted, supported in a difficult migration I was struggling to make.

I strongly recommend coaching sessions with Tom Robinson for all those struggling with adjustment to chronic illness, in finding or regaining the joy and meaning in their lives.

Thank you once again,

Best Wishes,



As I said, I hope you will do what Terry did and look at how you can give yourself compassionate understanding and help in the land of “chronic ill health.” And I also hope that you will praise your efforts and all of your gains, no matter how small.


Tom Robinson – Life Coach for People with Chronic Illnesses (and Crohn’s disease survivor)

I help people struggling with chronic illnesses overcome depression, anxiety, and hopelessness so they an feel a lot better and enjoy life a lot more.

For other ideas for living well when you have a chronic illness, sign up for my free report: Has Your Chronic Illness Got You Down? Discover Effective New Ways to Overcome Illness-Related Anxiety, Depression, and Hopelessness so You Can Feel a Lot Better and Enjoy Life a Lot More.

Look for the good things in your life, but do this first

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

As I’ve written in several other blog posts, I follow and participate in several online support groups for people with chronic illnesses. In a group for people with Crohn’s disease, a woman – I’ll call her Kathy – recently wrote to say how upset and stressed she was because the drug her doctor had prescribed two weeks earlier hadn’t helped her symptoms – symptoms that included going to the bathroom up to 20 times a day.

A man I’ll call Gary responded. He shared with the group what had worked for him, and what hadn’t, when he had been in a similar situation. He wrote that he reminded himself that feeling down and sorry for himself always makes him feel a lot worse. So instead of doing that, he thought about all the things he loves about life, including his friends and family, and all the things that are important to him. Then he told himself that he had the inner strength to face and handle his pain and symptoms one day—and sometimes one hour—at a time, and he resolved not to let them beat him.

I think Gary gave Kathy very good advice. But I think it would have been even better if he had told her to first give herself lots of compassion and understanding. In the same way a parent – especially a mother – comforts her child when he or she is sick or in pain, Kathy can comfort herself. When I do that for myself first, I am much more able to follow Gary’s good advice and think about all the things I love about life. I have no doubt that Kathy will have the same result: if she first gives herself lots of compassion, she will find it much easier to find her inner strength and focus on the good things in her life.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start on Wednesday, June 30th. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group Information.

What You Do Know Can Hurt You

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Before I tell you why what you know can hurt you, I want to explain why I chose the title that I did for this post. It’s a variation of the proverb “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” which has been around for over 400 years. Many people have changed the proverb to “What you don’t know can hurt you” as a headline for articles about many dangerous or harmful substances, such as second hand smoke and monosodium glutamate (MSG). I’m using it because I want to talk about things we “know” that prevent us from seeing or seeking out solutions to our problems or improvements in our lives.

I recently coached a woman with fibromyalgia and several other chronic illnesses and conditions. Nancy, as I’ll call her, went through a divorce, lost her home to foreclosure, and now lives with some relatives who are hostile to her. They either criticize or fight with her much of the time. And because the apartment is small, she has to share a small bedroom with one of them..

Nancy “knows” that no improvement is possible in her living situation. She “knows” it because she can’t work and her disability income is much too small for her to be able to afford an apartment or even a room.

Clearly Nancy’s living situation is very difficult. I have lots of compassion for her. However, it’s very possible that there is a solution to her problems that she will never see or find out about because she is convinced that none exist. I would like to see her acknowledge that she thinks that no improvement in her situation is possible, and then tell herself, “I wonder if there is a solution that I’m not aware of.” I don’t know if she would find one if she did that, but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt that miracles do happen, and they happen much more often to people who look for them and who are open to them.

My next Coaching/Support Group for People with Chronic Illnesses will start this coming Thursday, June 3rd. For more information, go to Coaching/Support Group information.

Do you have TLCC Deficiency Syndrome? Here’s how to treat it

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

You won’t find TLCC Deficiency Syndrome in a medical dictionary, but in my many years of coaching people with chronic illnesses I’ve found that it describes what many of them have. TLC, of course, is an acronym for “tender loving care,” and the last “C” is for compassion, so TLCC Deficiency Syndrome is the condition of lacking the needed tender loving care and compassion that people with chronic illnesses often experience.

Many things can cause TLCC Deficiency Syndrome. Some of the most common are new symptoms or a worsening of symptoms that are already present. I’ve observed that when people have flares or develop new symptoms, they usually get the treatments they need to combat those flares and new symptoms, but they often ignore the need for extra TLCC that almost always accompanies them. I’ve also often seen people’s families and friends provide lots of logistical support, such as rides to doctor visits, advice, etc. in those situations, but overlook or not fully recognize the need for extra TLCC their friend or family member has. As a result, the TLCC Deficiency Syndrome goes untreated.

So what do you do if you have TLCC Deficiency Syndrome? First, let your friends, family, and others in your support network know that you need more TLCC, and ask if they would be willing to give it to you. Chances are good that many of them will.

However, there will inevitably be times when you are suffering from a TLCC deficiency, but your friends and family aren’t able to give you the TLCC you need. When that happens, it’s up to you to give yourself the extra tender loving care and compassion that you need and deserve!

Here’s how: First let in and acknowledge to yourself how unpleasant and painful living with the symptoms of your illness has become. Now you may find doing that to be difficult and uncomfortable. However, the discomfort won’t last long and your TLCC Deficiency Syndrome treatment will be much more.

Once you’ve accomplished the step of letting in and acknowledging how painful your symptoms have become, then complete your treatment by giving yourself the same compassion you would give to someone you feel close to and care about, such as a child, a spouse or partner, or a dear friend. When you do, I’m certain that you’ll feel much, much better. Not only that, but you may find, as I and many of my clients have, that the treatments you’re undergoing for your illness become more effective.

Tom Robinson – Life Coach for People with chronic illnesses

What To Do When You Feel Shortchanged By Your Illness

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A while ago I worked with a client I’ll call John, who had ulcerative colitis. John had learned the hard way that if he didn’t follow a very strict diet, he would have intestinal and other symptoms that were very severe. But when he adhered to that diet, he felt extremely deprived. Those feelings of deprivation would lead to cravings, which he would eventually give in to, and would again experience all those awful symptoms.

I think that one of the hardest things about having a chronic illness is dealing with feeling shortchanged and deprived. We can easily feel like that because of all the things we can no longer do – things like eating whatever we want, working as many hours as we want, traveling without worrying where the nearest bathroom is, or being the active and attentive partner, spouse, or parent that we used to be.

The first thing I tell clients who feel shortchanged or deprived because of any kind of limitation that is due to their illness is to fully acknowledge those feelings. We often try to tell ourselves that those limitations aren’t a big deal, or we try to discount our feelings by telling ourselves that many other people have limitations that are much harder to live with than ours are. But those strategies don’t work, because there is a part of us that knows we aren’t being honest with ourselves.

I have found, both from coaching others and dealing with my own illness and the feelings that come with it, that what does work is for us to tell ourselves we are sorry we feel shortchanged and deprived. And it’s very important when we say that to ourselves that we really mean it. Just imagine for a moment how unsupported and uncared for you would feel if a friend told you they were sorry because of how you felt, but you sensed that he didn’t mean it. So when you tell yourself you’re sorry, make sure you truly mean it.

After my clients tell themselves how sorry they are, I then give them the following challenge: Brainstorm to find alternatives for the things they can’t do because of their limitations, that give them the same feelings of enjoyment and fulfillment that the things they no longer can do used to give them. I encourage you to take on this challenge too. For example, if it’s difficult for you to travel, you can become internet pen pals with people in your favorite foreign country. Or if you can’t participate in the outdoor activities you formerly did with your children, you can learn how to play their favorite video or computer games with them. The list of possible alternative things to do is limited only by your imagination, and I bet you can find some that you enjoy more than you thought possible.

Getting back to John, I suggested that he find some special foods he really enjoyed that didn’t exacerbate his symptoms, and I also suggested that he do things like buy himself a CD he wanted every week he adhered to his diet, so that he wouldn’t feel deprived. He found these suggestions very helpful.

If you are feeling shortchanged or deprived because of any illness related limitations you have, I encourage you to first fully acknowledge them, then let that part of you that is feeling that way know how sorry you are, and finally, do some brainstorming to come up with enjoyable and satisfying alternatives for the things you’re no longer able to do.