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Fibromyalgia Pain & 'Situational Narcissism'

Saturday 27 February 2010

Woman and mirrorAbout.com's Adrienne Dellwo has an interesting article about behaviour that can come about as a result of chronic pain:

Fibromyalgia Pain & 'Situational Narcissism'

Tuesday February 23, 2010

Narcissism: exceptional self-interest; self-love that shuts out others; behavior which involves exclusive self-absorption.

The terms "narcissism" or "narcissist" are rarely meant as compliments, so when I saw the headline, "Does Chronic Pain Turn You Into A Narcissist?" I clicked on it ready for a fight. As I read the article, however, I realized the term fits pretty well.

The Huffington Post article was written by Lee Lipsenthal, M.D., who's also a cancer patient. He's a doctor who's become a pain patient and has had his perspective on pain change as a result. It's the thing we talk about here a lot, the whole I-wouldn't-wish-this-on-anybody-but... phenomenon: we wish our doctor/spouse/friends/children/etc. could truly understand what we go through, and we know that the only way they can is by experiencing it.

Here are some of the quotes from the article that really grabbed me:

"Suffering daily pain has been a game changer. Each moment, I am drawn from whatever I am focusing on (a task, a relationship or conversation) to my bodily discomfort . . . . Every activity becomes a struggle. Every moment becomes about me."

"My only consolation is that my pain is likely to be short lived, and it is predictable that I will feel well again in the next few weeks. The chronic pain patient doesn't have the blessing of a 'light' at the end of the tunnel."

"We usually think of the narcissist as one who is so in love with themselves that they can't see, connect or experience others. Isn't the pain patient a narcissist of sorts? Their acute attention to internal noise is a form of narcissism, taking them away from relationships with others and decreasing their ability to see outside of themselves."

He also talks about how doctors deal with a lot of chronic pain patients, and how it's frustrating because they usually can't do a lot for us. He also says it's a challenge for doctors to get us outside of the narrow world-view imposed by our pain.

So what does he suggest? A different approach for doctors facing chronic pain patients. After experiencing the loneliness of pain, and the way it robs you of your ability to empathize and connect with people, he believes doctors need to ask about relationships. If they've suffered, he believes the prescription should be support groups or psychotherapy -- not because we're crazy, but to help us re-establish our connections with other people.

He also advocates meditation, which he says is shown to decrease the pain response and also increase empathy.

How often do we talk here about how lonely we are because of our illnesses? And I think it applies to more than pain -- intense fatigue takes away the ability to see beyond yourself every bit as much. When you have both, it's more than doubly hard.

While I don't think support groups, psychotherapy and meditation can overcome all of our problems with forming meaningful relationships, I think they're a step in the right direction. Getting doctors to recognize this aspect of chronic pain and debilitating chronic illness -- and suggest these kinds of treatments -- would be a huge step forward.

You can read the entire article here: Does Chronic Pain Turn You Into A Narcissist?

The article, with comments, originally appeared here.

 


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