Diabetes, Shame, & Blame

shame, blame, guilt

For many people, living with diabetes is stigmatizing. There are a lot of misperceptions around what causes diabetes and what’s needed for self-care once diagnosed. Both of these things can lead to feeling a chronic sense of shame and blame, so people avoid talking about diabetes. The shame, blame and secrecy surrounding diabetes becomes an ongoing vicious cycle, making ‘diabetes myth busting’ really challenging.

What is it about diabetes that causes all this shame and blame?

There are a couple of things. First, there is the idea that people with diabetes brought it on themselves. Why people develop diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) is complex and we don’t understand it completely. However, if you believe developing diabetes is your fault, you’re likely to feel a sense of shame because you have it.

Secondly, lifestyle changes are an important part of diabetes management. Making changes to how you eat and exercise isn’t easy. Often when people have a hard time making changes, they think they ‘should’ be doing better, and feel embarrassed and ashamed of any challenges and setbacks, making it even more difficult to make a change.

Finally, people with diabetes may be concerned with how their diabetes may impact others. They don’t want to be seen as ‘different’ or ‘difficult’ because of what they can or can’t eat, so, instead, they minimize or completely hide their diabetes diagnosis.

There are no easy answers…

BUT there are some things you can do to help. First, you can educate other people about diabetes and what it means to live with it. Helping people understand the facts about diabetes can help combat widespread misperceptions, and help others understand what they can do to help you. Educating people about diabetes includes being open about the challenges of living with diabetes and the stigma surrounding it. Getting support from other people with diabetes is another great way to overcome this shame and blame. Others who understand you and your experience can help you feel less alone with your condition and support you. Knowing that there are other people out there who understand is powerful.

Let’s work together as a community to bust diabetes myths, reduce the shame and blame, and empower every person with diabetes to manage it well. We all deserve to live a happy, healthy life!

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Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE
Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE

Dr. Mark Heyman is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator, with expertise in the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes, including changes that improve physical and mental health outcomes in people with diabetes. When Mark was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999, he was frustrated by the lack of resources available to help people navigate the behavioral and emotional challenges of living with the disease. As a psychologist and CDE, Mark now uses his knowledge and experience to tackle the complexities associated with diabetes. Mark developed and currently leads the One Drop | Experts program. He received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and completed his psychology internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the UCSD School of Medicine. Mark holds an appointment as a voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCSD Department of Psychiatry. In his spare time, Mark can be found performing with his improvisational comedy team *Inside Joke*. Find Mark on Twitter: @DiabeticPsych