Chronic Illness · Chronic Pain · Personal · Social Justice

The Fundamental Attribution Error and Chronic Illness: The Importance of Education and Kindness

A note about making assumptions about others’ behaviors without knowing the whole story (the fundamental attribution error):

It’s a painful thing to have happen to you. Really, really painful.

Since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and choosing to live my life in a way that reduces unnecessary, unhelpful forms of physical activity – by doing things like sometimes sitting instead of standing, having a handicap permit for my toughest health days, and sleeping enough – I have had many things said to me. Most have been supportive, some have been well-intentioned but awkward, but some have been downright hurtful.

I’ve had people assume that my choice to sit is an active choice that conveys disrespect and apathy. I’ve had people assume that the handicap permit I drive with isn’t mine. I’ve seen people judge me when I walk out of my car. I see it in their eyes and I hear it in their voice when they ask me questions. I wonder if they think it’s an honor for me to be told that I “hide my disability well” or that “no one would ever guess I’m sick.” I wonder why they may jump to the conclusion that I’m disrespectful or lazy when just about anyone who knows me could attest to those assumptions being incorrect. I wonder why they jump to any conclusions at all.

Since 96% of all disabilities are invisible to the naked eye, I think it’s crucial to give all people the benefit of the doubt when we don’t know their stories and struggles. This is not to say that people with visible disabilities don’t struggle with others’ fundamental attribution errors, too. But I, as someone with an invisible illness, have seen and experienced both beautiful and hurtful things simply due to the fact that my disability is invisible. You can’t verify it with the naked eye as a casual onlooker. Why do some people feel the need to do this?

Since God has given endless grace to me, I choose to give grace to others. I’m working hard to not make assumptions about other people’s actions and intentions, but when you assume something about me without having enough information, my decision to give grace to you doesn’t mean your action didn’t surprise or hurt me. My message is simple: be thoughtful when interacting with others. In the case of 96% of people with disabilities, their disabilities are invisible, you don’t know what may be going on just below the surface. Please ask if you must know, and please be kind in the way you ask.


Be kind whenever possible facebook cover photo


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