Denial & Difficulty Accepting a Diabetes Diagnosis
Last updated: March 2022
Denial and difficulty accepting the diabetes diagnosis are not uncommon.
Dealing with diabetes denial
You may have found yourself or someone else saying “I’m only borderline diabetes,” “It’s just prediabetes,” “I was started on metformin as a precaution,” or “My doctor is just watching it.” These may be signs of denial. But why does this happen? Having trouble accepting the diagnosis of diabetes can be related to a number of things.
First, know that it is perfectly normal for individuals to experience emotions similar to grief when first learning of the diagnosis...those being denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As with any of the stages, individuals can sometimes get stuck in the denial phase.
Denial can often have a deeper root in past experiences, stereotypes, and guilt. Often I see denial occur among those who not only have a family history of diabetes but a family member who has experienced serious complications of diabetes such as kidney failure, blindness, or amputations.
In this way, the individual may directly associate these complications with diabetes and believe that, by acknowledging their diabetes, they are accepting that this is a part of their future. On the flip side, there could be no family history at all, causing added shock.
It's not visible
Another reason for denial is that diabetes is not a physical trait and the symptoms are less obvious. For example, if you are blind, it's difficult to deny that you can’t see! You can’t actually see diabetes if you are ignoring it. And, even if you ignore it for long enough and develop complications, your healthcare provider may not make it very clear that diabetes itself is the culprit.
This is why many of the folks I’ve seen who struggle with denial actually began working with me to help manage their weight and not for diabetes; the number on the scale or larger clothing sizes are clear indicators of weight gain.
Myths and baggage
Furthermore, denial may be linked to social and cultural myths and baggage that are still tied to diabetes, which associate people with diabetes as overweight or having brought it upon themselves in some way. These myths and stereotypes aren’t necessarily true and only cause shame and guilt with diabetes.
Therefore, denial of diabetes may actually related to denial of some of these myths. For example, the person may believe that, if they accept that they have diabetes, they must be accepting that they are overweight.
Labels and rules
Then there is the idea that diabetes comes with a label and a set of rules, and that you have to give up your way of life and/or way of eating.
Sure, there are guidelines to care for yourself and best practices; however, diabetes does not define who you are and doesn’t change you. And accepting that you have diabetes doesn’t mean you don’t have to change everything overnight or immediately “go on a diet.”
Finding acceptance with diabetes
As you can see, there are many potential reasons why someone may struggle with acceptance and denial. It is helpful to identify what exactly is the source of this denial in order to break those chains and move forward. Sometimes journaling can help with this.
Once you are able to find acceptance, you can begin to actually manage diabetes. And, once your diabetes is better managed, you feel better, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s worth it, I promise. If you or a loved one has diabetes and experiences shame, denial, or difficulty accepting the diagnosis, it may be beneficial to work with a mental health professional. Finding support and connecting with others who have diabetes is also helpful.
Remember, you are not alone, diabetes does not define or control you.
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