Posts Tagged ‘understanding’

Are You Angry at Yourself? Probably – Even if You Don’t Think so

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

You may already know that anger can have negative effects on both your emotional and physical well-being. I will describe some of those effects later in this post.

But before I do, I want to point out something most people don’t think about, which is this: when most of us think about anger and being angry, we think about someone we’re angry at, or about something that happened to us that made us angry and upset. We remember getting angry when something happened to us that wasn’t fair, like getting sick or losing our job – or both. We get angry at our government for passing bad laws or for not passing laws we know are needed.

But when we think about anger and being angry, rarely do we think about our anger at ourselves. However, most if not all of us have some–and some of us have a lot of it.

We get it from not being the way we think we should be. We get it from not having the willpower we think we should have. We may have it because we haven’t taken good care of ourselves or from not staying true to our values. We can get angry at ourselves because we got sick—even though we’re not to blame for that happening. And we can be angry at ourselves for countless other reasons.

Whatever the reasons and wherever they came from, whether we are aware of it or not, virtually all of us have some anger at ourselves. And that self-anger can have the same negative effects on our emotional and our physical well-being as anger at others does.

Those effects include weakening our immune system, high blood pressure, problems with digestion, skin problems, heart attacks, strokes, anxiety and depression, and many others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that 85 percent of all diseases appear to have an emotional element. I think the percentage is even higher.

So if most of us have some self-anger, and that anger has negative effects on our emotional and physical well-being that makes our lives worse, what can we do?

The first thing we can do is to look and see if there are things we’re angry at ourselves for, things we’ve forgotten or never acknowledged in the first place. Then when we find that anger, we can do the same thing we can do when others do things that hurt and upset us: Just as we can forgive them, we can forgive ourselves.

In one way, it’s often easier to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive others. That’s because it’s easier to forgive people who apologize for what they did, but other people often don’t ever apologize. But we can always apologize to ourselves, and when when we do that, and mean it, it is a lot easier for us to forgive ourselves. So I strongly recommend that you take the time and make the effort to forgive yourself.

The next thing you can do is to be gentle with yourself and have lots of understanding compassion for both the part of you that has been hurt and angry and for the part that caused the hurt and anger. Remember that the part of you that did that was doing the best it knew how and was not intentionally trying to hurt you or make you angry and upset.

Healing self-anger can make a very big difference in your life. One of my clients recently discovered that because of her anger at herself, anger that she didn’t realize she had, she had been punishing herself for years. When she forgave herself and stopped doing that, she had a big breakthrough and experienced a miraculous shift in her often difficult relationship with her husband.

Whether or not you have a breakthrough, I am certain that healing any self-anger you have, by apologizing, forgiving, and having compassion for yourself, will have a very positive effect on your physical and emotional well-being.


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.

Get his free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.

Are you a safe person for people to share their problems, concerns, and fears with?

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Let me start by saying that if you’re wondering what a post about whether or not you’re a safe person for people to share their problems, concerns, and fears with has to do with living well with a chronic illness, then keep reading and you will soon find out.

As I’m sure you know from experience, there are many people with whom it’s not safe to share them. If you’re like me, you learned the hard way that if you did, they would respond in a way that made you feel worse than you already did. Some were dismissive and said “Just get over it!” Some would condescendingly tell me how they had easily solved a problem they saw as much more difficult than mine was. And others were just plain critical. They would let me know that if I just had my act together (or words to that effect), that I could easily solve whatever problem or concern or get past whatever fear I had.

Since learning the hard way that it’s not safe to share those things with everyone, I’ve become wiser. I can often tell whether a person is safe or not. And if I can’t tell, I’ll say some things to test the waters, and will only share my those concerns and fears—especially the major ones—with people who “pass.”

I bet that you do something similar.

I think it’s really important for us to have people in our lives that we can share our problems, concerns, and fears with for a couple of reasons. Obviously people who care about us will support us and try to help us with them. And besides that, in the process of sharing them, we often see ways to manage, solve, or overcome them that we wouldn’t see if we kept silent about them.

So sharing those problems, concerns, and fears is a good thing. And there’s a person I haven’t yet mentioned that you can share them with: YOU. When you do that, then in the same way that you can get support from others and in the same way that you can see new possible solutions just in the act of sharing, you can get support from yourself and you can see new perspectives and answers by sharing your problems, concerns, and fears with yourself.

The idea of doing that may sound strange, but if you try it, you’ll find that it works very well. But—and this is important–it only works well if you are a safe person when it comes to sharing those things with yourself.

If you are often dismissive of your concerns or if you tell yourself that you shouldn’t have the fears you do or if you weren’t so messed up (or whatever word you use), you would have solved your problems a long time ago, then you have shown yourself that you are not a safe person to share your problems, concerns, and fears with. And, without knowing why, you won’t.

But to solve your problems and address your fears and concerns, it’s important to share them with yourself as well as with others. And to do that, you need to be a safe person to share them with. So if you have been dismissive or critical of yourself, start being gentle, understanding, and compassionate (and this includes being understanding of yourself and compassionate and gentle FOR having been dismissive and critical).

I know you will find that making these changes will be a big help in dealing with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, as well and with your other problems and concerns.

If you would like more helpful ideas, I invite you to click here get my free report: Finally! Real Hope for People Suffering from Chronic Illnesses.

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 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.

How to Get Others to Better Understand What it’s Like to Live With a Chronic Illness

Monday, July 19th, 2010

My girlfriend and I usually do very well communicating with each other. But recently we went through a period where we were struggling. What happened was that I was sharing about some of my challenges with her, and she thought that she understood what I was saying, but I didn’t feel understood. And communication breaks down if one or both people don’t feel understood, regardless of whether or not they actually are.

After we struggled for awhile, I remembered a communication technique called “reflective listening,” which I had read about many years ago in Dr. Thomas Gordon’s book, Parent Effectiveness Training. In reflective listening, the listener mirrors the speaker’s mood and restates what the speaker said in her (or his) own words. If the restatement doesn’t accurately summarize what the speaker said, he (or she) lets the listener know, and the process is repeated until the speaker is satisfied that the listener understands him (you can learn more about reflective listening here.

I suggested that we try using reflective listening. Mary Ellen was very willing to do that, and when we did, I felt that she truly understood my challenges that I had been telling her about.

With that success in mind, it occurred to me that reflective listening could help many people with chronic illnesses with one of their main frustrations, which is getting their family members and their friends to understand how hard it is for them to live with their illness (I know this is one of their main frustrations because because of my own experience having a chronic illness, and also because a high percentage of clients mention it in the questionnaire I give them before their first coaching session).

Because reflective listening involves mirroring the speaker’s mood as well as summarizing what he or she is saying, I think that using the technique would greatly help others to understand what it’s like for us to live with a chronic illness. So I recently started suggesting to my clients that they learn reflective listening, use it with friends and family both as a way to become better at it and also for the purpose of demonstrating it to them, and then ask those friends and family members if they would be willing to try using reflective listening with them.

I haven’t heard back yet from my clients about how well my suggestion has worked, but I am hopeful that by using it they will get a lot more understanding from others about what it’s like to live with a chronic illness than they previously had. And if you decided to give this idea a try, I hope it works well for you – and I would greatly appreciate hearing about your results in a comment to this post.

Having a Caring, Compassionate, Understanding Friend

Friday, June 25th, 2010

When our lives are difficult, as they often are when we have a chronic illness, having a caring, compassionate, understanding friend can be tremendously helpful. A friend can give us hugs, and when we need it, a shoulder to cry on. A friend like that can be the difference between getting through difficult times or just giving up.

Everyone I have talked to about this has told me they know how much of a difference having a friend during difficult times in our lives makes, because they have experienced that difference for themselves. I’m sure you have too.

But not everyone has a friend like that. And even if we are lucky enough to have such a friend, it’s very likely that there will be times when we need caring and understanding, but our friend isn’t available to give it to us. Fortunately, if we don’t have a friend like that, or we do but he or she isn’t available, there is something we can do – something that very few people know about: we can be that kind of a friend for ourselves.

The reason we can do that is because as human beings, we are innately caring and compassionate. Without even thinking about it, we care about injured pets and other animals. And we have compassion for our children, friends, and partners when they are facing or going through difficult challenges. All we need to do to be the caring, compassionate, understanding friend that we need is to direct those innate qualities to ourselves.

We can do that in many ways. For example, we can by give ourselves hugs, and we can tell the person in the mirror how much we care about him or her. Doing that may feel strange and awkward at first, but over time it feels less and less so. And I know from watching my clients, as well as from my own life, that the difference being a caring, compassionate, understanding friend to ourselves makes is immense. So I strongly encourage you to be that kind of a friend to yourself.

How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

When someone wanted coaching sessions with me, I used to send them a questionnaire to fill out before the session. In it, I asked how they felt supported by their family and friends, and then I ask how they felt unsupported by those same people. From the large collection of answers I received over many years of coaching people with chronic illnesses, I learned what they want but don’t get from others, and I learned about the relationship challenges and difficulties people with serious chronic illnesses have. In this post, I’m going to share that knowledge with you. Then I’m going to describe some strategies and methods you can use to get support from the people in your life and have the kind of relationship you want with them.

The first thing I learned is that, more than anything else, there is one thing those of us with chronic illnesses are not getting from other people that we really want: understanding We want others to know how hard it is for us, both physically and emotionally, to live with a chronic illness. It’s not surprising to me that not getting the understanding we want is such a common problem,  because I don’t think it is possible for a person who has never had a chronic illness to truly know what living with one is like.

That said, it is almost always possible to get more understanding from others than we currently do. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to avoid complaining about not being understood and to not criticize the other person for not giving us the understanding we want. Instead, what works best is to tell him or her how important being understood is for us and how appreciative we are when they try to give us understanding. Then, to help the other person better understand our symptoms and pain, it can be very helpful to describe them by comparing them to pain the other person has experienced, such as a kidney stone, or pain they can imagine, such as having a root canal without anesthesia.

Another thing I learned from people’s answers to my questions is that many of us with chronic illnesses have family members and friends who either don’t believe we’re as sick as we say we are, think our problems are in our heads, or think we are sick by choice as a way to avoid having to do things like housework and going to social events.

There are several possible strategies and methods for dealing with that kind of situation. Which ones to use depends on who it is that doesn’t believe you, and how important he or she is to you. If the person is a distant relative or a casual friend, you may choose to just avoid interacting with them. But avoidance is not a good strategy if the person who doesn’t believe you is a good friend, a parent, or your spouse.

Before I give you a specific method to use to resolve or at least improve the problem I’ve just described, I strongly recommend that you give yourself extra compassion for the emotional pain that having someone important to you disbelieve the severity of your illness inevitably causes. If you’ve read my other posts, you know that giving yourself lots of self-compassion is something I recommend often, because I strongly believe it is very helpful for those of us with chronic illnesses.

Depending on whom it is who doesn’t believe you, the history of your relationship with that person, and other factors, there are several possible methods you can use to improve or resolve the situation. One that often works well is the following: Instead of trying to convince the other person that what you’ve told them about your illness and its symptoms is true, accept the fact that they don’t believe you and let them know that you’ve done that. Then politely ask them if they would be willing to imagine what it would feel like to have a chronic illness, tell someone important to them about it, and not be believed. If they do, and chances are good that they will, you will at least have gotten some understanding from them that you didn’t have before, and it’s likely that they will start to let in and acknowledge the reality of your illness and its symptoms.

The next thing I learned from my respondents’ answers was actually a confirmation of something I already knew from my own experience as a person with a serious chronic illness: people often ignore or tune you out when you tell them about your ongoing struggles. Some respondents said their friends did more than ignore them; they abandoned them. When people in your life do any of those things, I again recommend (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) that you give yourself lots of compassion. I frequently ask my clients to tape reminders to do that to their bathroom mirrors or suggest that they wear rubber bands around their wrists to help them remember to give themselves extra compassion.

In addition to ensuring that you’re getting extra doses of compassion, there are some other things you can do when people tune you out. One is to make it a point to temporarily set aside your illness symptoms and problems when you meet your friends, and ask them, in a way that shows them you really mean it, how they are doing, what their concerns are and what successes they’ve had. When you consistently do that, you will usually find that they will show you the same concern and give you the same support in return.

Another thing you can do when friends tune you out or when they abandon you is to find and make friends with people who have the same illness you do. You can do that face to face in support groups, by phone in telephone support groups, and via computer in online support groups. Most major cities have support groups for the more common chronic illnesses. If there isn’t one for your illness and if you’re willing to do so, there’s a good chance you can start one by first connecting with other interested people through the websites and The advantage of the telephone and online support groups is that you can participate without leaving your home, so you don’t need to be concerned about mobility issues and other challenges that might make it difficult to attend an in person meeting. The website yahoogroups is a good starting place for looking for an online support group, as there are groups for almost any illness you can think of.

I titled this post “How to Deal With Others When You Have a Chronic Illness,” but it’s also about how you can get your need for understanding and support from others met. I hope the suggestions I’ve shared with you help you do that.


I help people with chronic illnesses (I have Crohn’s disease myself) meet their many challenges and then find and follow a path to happiness and fulfillment.

Get my free report, Has Living with a Chronic Illness Worn You Down? Learn How to Outsmart Your Illness and Have a Much Better Life.

When you get angry, be gentle and understanding – with yourself

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I decided on today’s topic because of a conversation that took place recently in one of the online support groups I belong to. A woman I’ll call Carolyn wrote about her long, ongoing struggle to try to get disability insurance. She said she was very angry because she was being treated unfairly by the disability insurance system, especially compared to a relative of hers who was getting a much quicker response.

I don’t know Carolyn, but from what she shared about herself it seems clear to me that she qualifies for and should get disability insurance. I can easily empathize with her, not only because of her struggle to get the insurance, but because she lives in constant pain and shouldn’t have to go through all that additional stress. The fact that it’s well known that valid claims are routinely denied, especially the first time they are made, doesn’t make Carolyn’s-or anyone’s–experience of trying to get disability insurance any less trying and stressful.

Carolyn was denied not just once, but twice, so her anger is completely understandable and very probably justifiable as well. But I hope she follows it up with a lot of gentleness and compassion for herself (and I let her know that). When we get angry when we feel like we’ve been treated badly or unfairly, we often don’t realize that underneath that anger is a lot of emotional pain. And just as we give those we care about compassion when they have been emotionally hurt and are in emotional pain, we can do the same for ourselves.

Another person in the group told Carolyn to try to stay positive. That sounds good, but when we’re going through a hard time, neither I nor people I’ve talked about it with have been able do that for very long. And not only is giving ourselves compassion is much easier to do than staying positive, but it heals the emotional pain rather than just covering it up.

A Special Kind of Love – Part 2

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Back in August I wrote a post I titled A Special Kind of Love, in which I described the special ways my mother took care of me during those times when I was sick as a child, and how as an adult I eventually learned to take care of myself the same way. Today I want to tell you another story about a mother’s love for her child.

A while back I was coaching a woman – I’ll call her Wendy – who was struggling with ulcerative colitis. I wanted Wendy to see that she needed and deserved lots of understanding and compassion from herself. Wendy is married and has a very young son. Like most mothers, she would do anything for her son to help him be happy and healthy.

Knowing that, I asked Wendy to imagine that her son had grown up and was in college. I also asked her to imagine that he was struggling with ulcerative colitis. After she took a minute and did that, I asked her what she would say and do. She said that she would hug her son and tell him that she would always love him, that she would always be there for him, and that she would do whatever it took to help and support him so that he could live well.

Hopefully Wendy’s son will never develop ulcerative colitis. But since Wendy has it and is struggling with the symptoms and challenges of living with it, she needs all the understanding, compassion, and support she can get. From her answer to my hypothetical question, Wendy realized much more than she did before that she has lots of understanding and compassion to give. I strongly encouraged her to give them to herself, because she needs and deserves them. And if you have a serious chronic illness, I strongly encourage you to do the same for yourself. You deserve it!

How to always get the understanding and compassion you need

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Today I’m going to share one of the strategies I give my clients with Crohn’s disease and other chronic illnesses to help them have much better lives. I also use this strategy myself – a lot.

Those of us with a chronic illness often find ourselves needing understanding and compassion. Sometimes we can get them from spouses, friends, and others. But there are times when those people aren’t able to give them to us. What can we do then? Before I answer that question I’m going to tell you a true story about what not to do:

A few years ago I was a volunteer host for an online Crohn’s and colitis support chat room. One day a man came into the chat room who was clearly very upset. Frank (as I’ll call him) had missed several days from work due to a flare-up of his Crohn’s disease. When he returned to work, his boss, who knew of his condition, didn’t express any concern or compassion for Frank at all. Instead, he chastised Frank for missing all those days of work.

That was hard on Frank, and he spent a lot of time in the chat room telling the rest of us how hurt and angry he was because of his boss’s uncaring behavior. He then came up with the idea of leaving his colonoscopy pictures on his boss’s desk – both as an act of retaliation and to have him see the error of his ways. I tried to tell Frank that that wasn’t a good idea, but he wasn’t listening all that well.

Clearly what Frank needed most was understanding and compassion. However, from the way he described the situation, the chance that he could get any from his boss ranged from slim to none. Instead of trying to get it from his boss, and feeling hurt and angry when he didn’t, what Frank needed to do was give himself the understanding and compassion he needed. And the same is true for us when we find ourselves with the same needs, and with spouses, partners, friends, colleagues, or bosses who for whatever the reason aren’t able to meet them.

It is ultimately is up to each of us to meet those needs for ourselves. This may seem difficult or even unnatural to do, but it doesn’t have to. Thinking about how we would treat someone we loved and cared about who wasn’t feeling well, such as a close friend, a spouse, or a child, and then treating ourselves the same way can go a long way to meeting our need for understanding and compassion.