by JoAnn LeMaistre
“Traditionally, the experience of serious illness has been approached in two ways: (1) a gloomy perspective of resignation, self-denial, and helplessness, or (2) a Pollyanna approach that denies altogether that there has been a real trauma. Both of these perspectives distort and disguise the reality of chronic illness.
The first perspective views the chronically ill person as a failure. This is the patient who does not respond to the ‘miracle’ of modern medicine, and somehow the lack of recovery is often perceived as the patient’s fault. This attitude of blame accounts for some of the worst psychological abuses of patients by health practitioners and caretakers, an attitude typified by the too-frequently heard statement, ‘Stop complaining. You simply must adjust.’ Unfortunately, the sick person may also adopt this punishing attitude toward himself or herself. Sadly, the word ‘adjust’ too often means ‘resign,’ ‘settle for less than a desirable existence,’ and ‘surrender.’ At its worst, ‘adjust’ is just another way of saying ‘You are now a nonperson without the right to experience strong passions, desires, or fierce and unyielding hope.’ All the anger and blame inherent in this attitude is misdirected: the patient rather than the disease becomes the target.
The Pollyanna approach is typified by — and fueled by — personal stories or testimonials of complete recovery from extreme illness or disabling conditions. These stories tug at the heartstrings and catch the fancy of all who read them. Besides creating false hope by overplaying the likelihood of complete recovery, these stories consistently underplay the sadness and feelings of worthlessness that are part of the legacy of any physical or emotional trauma.
Sometimes, it is useful in social situations to present yourself as a Pollyanna. When meeting new people and situations, it may be an advantage for you to let others think you have mastered your disease. The anxiety of other people is reduced by not having to confront illness. The danger is that this Pollyanna image may create a barrier between you and the people who can offer real help.
The resignation viewpoint holds little hope; the Pollyanna viewpoint holds little reality.”