How to Handle Pity After a Spinal Cord Injury
No one likes to be the receiver of pity, especially people with spinal cord injuries. Unfortunately, this is one of the number one reactions people have when someone is paralyzed. It’s a reaction that’s unavoidable when you live with a spinal cord injury. Strangers, family, and friends may all inevitably feel this emotion towards you. You do however have the power to show them they’re incorrect in their thinking. You can speak up and change the way people think. Here are some great ways to get people out of pity mode.
Tell Them How It Makes You You Feel
One of the easiest ways to show people that you don't want to be pitied is to tell them how it makes you feel. For example, if they say, "I'm so sorry. I could never live like that," or something along those lines and it makes you feel terrible, here's what you should say. "I know you're trying to be nice, but what you said hurt. I’m just trying to live my life like anyone else and my injury has shown me my resiliency. You do not need to feel pity for me."
This is just one example of what you can say. What’s important is that you get a message across to them that although you appreciate the goodwill behind the gesture (pity often comes from a place of trying to be nice), it is not a healthy message. Try to show them or explain to them how your life is not what they think.
Many people will think to themselves, "OMG how sad,” when they see someone who uses a wheelchair. Most people have no idea how harsh they're coming across. Their “sympathy” is often interpreted as pity. This is why this is an opportune time to use humor to show them the err in their ways. Saying something like, "Oh I'm just too lazy to walk" to explain why you use a wheelchair can be great.
In fact, humor is one of the best ways to defuse a lot of uncomfortable situations, including being the main attraction of a pity fest. Whatever you think may bring a laugh, say it, especially if you are in a situation where someone is feeling sorry for you. It is magical how humor can completely erase any feelings of sadness, including pity, the moment it is said.
If you would rather not talk to the person directing feelings of pity towards you, your best option is to simply ignore it. Since your injury, there likely have been hundreds of times where you've had to bite your tongue or simply ignore a discriminatory or thoughtless statement regarding your disability. Sometimes it's best not to engage and to simply ignore the pity, especially if the pity is coming from a stranger. Not every pity-filled comment deserves a response.
Say “Thank You, But...”
Similar to what we recommended above, it’s a good idea to take the positive-negative response when it comes to the best way to communicate with anyone showing pity towards you. This means first being polite and thanking them for showing kindness but letting them know their kindness is actually coming across in a negative way. They unfortunately have never probably known anyone with a disability like yours, so you'll need to do a lot of education throughout your life after a spinal cord injury.
Remind Them: You’re Human Too
Reminding good-willed people who accidentally treat you pitifully that you're also a human being who's just trying to live their life can be especially effective. "I'm human too" is a popular statement said by many people who feel they are not being understood correctly by others. Humanity and life, in general, is a wonderful things, even if a spinal cord injury is present.
We hope these suggestions help you the next time you find yourself in a pity-laden conversation. Remember, these are just suggestions and sometimes the best response is to say something direct from the heart. If you feel inspired to say something, just say it (as long as it is not too rude). It is never a good idea to be mean either. Most of the time when people feel pity, they are also trying to be nice.
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Spinal Cord Team