“My diabetes is not very serious.”
“No matter what I do my numbers are crazy, so it’s no use even trying.”
“I just don’t have time for all this!”
Any of that sound familiar? Diabetes denial—in all its subtle iterations—is common for all types of diabetes. Being told you have diabetes can feel like a giant slap in the face. And after the initial diagnosis, diabetes comes with work, work, and more work. Denial is a much more attractive option than vigilant management.
Denial isn’t entirely a bad thing. Denial can actually help someone cope with the shock of initial diagnosis and ease into management. A small bit of denial can be helpful.
But a lot of denial is a serious danger. Not only will denial keep someone from living their healthiest life, but it will increase their risk of diabetes complications including heart disease, amputation, blindness, and a whole host of other scary complications that tend to freak people out and cause denial in the first place. So let’s move on to what to do about the issue!
How to recognize the many faces of denial
If you are reading this, then you are clearly not in full-fledged denial. Good for you! But it’s good to know what denial looks like when it does creep up so that you can recognize it in yourself or others.
Be on the lookout for these kinds of behaviors:
- Downplaying the disease. It’s good to keep a positive attitude, but avoid letting a chipper outlook keep someone from taking care of themselves. There’s no “little bit” of diabetes. A type 1 may go through a honeymoon phase when management is easier, and someone with prediabetes or the early stages of type 2 may feel fine, but those times don’t last. Watch out for “it’s no big deal” attitudes, even if they seem positive.
- Shame and guilt. There is unfortunately a stigma associated with all types of diabetes due to lack of understanding or victim-blaming. Even the person with diabetes can feel embarrassed about the condition. If they don’t talk about their diabetes or try to manage it only in private, they might be dealing with shame or guilt. This is especially true for people who are overweight because of fear that people will think they “brought it on themselves.”
- Claiming time constraints. If someone is always talking about how they don’t have time for management, it could be one of the sneakier forms of denial. Someone could indeed be very busy, but that doesn’t justify ignoring a life-threatening disease.
- Making tiny exceptions all the time. No one can be 100% on top of management 100% of the time. But when skipping checks and making exceptions becomes common, cheating may actually be denial. Not shooting for perfection is a good strategy to avoid diabetes burnout, but if exceptions are becoming the rule, someone is likely dealing with denial.
- “It doesn’t matter anyway.” It’s frustrating when someone makes the effort to control glucose and their numbers are still off, but when someone uses that as a reason not to try, they’ve crossed into denial. Also watch out for attitudes like, “I’m going to die anyway” or “I’ve gotta go somehow” as this is a sign of not only denial but depression.
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How to respond to denial
Once you recognize denial, either in yourself or a loved one, you can take action. But charging in with a bullhorn, health pamphlets, and a kale salad are not your best strategies, especially if you’re looking for long-term results. Here are 10 strategies you can use to address denial:
1. Banish Blaming and Judgement
No one signs up for diabetes. Parents often blame themselves with their child is diagnosed with type 1, and even adult type 1s may feel like they’ve done something wrong. Blaming can be worse for type 2s since the disease is associated with lifestyle factors, but there are hereditary and environmental factors that come into play that no one has any control over. Make sure loved ones know that diabetes is not their fault, even if they didn’t have the best diet. The blame game will only make a person want to deny their disease even more.
2. Ditch Scare Tactics
Telling someone about the dangers of diabetes can come from a place of love (“I don’t want you to lose a foot!”), but fear can drive a person further into denial. Telling someone (or yourself) they’re going to die or go blind or whatever doom comes to mind is probably just going to make them want to stop hanging out with you. And as much as we want you to share the articles on The Diabetes Blog, tagging your friend in every article about gangrene and ulcers is more likely to get your friend to block you than change their habits.