Loss of self: a fundamental form of suffering in the chronically ill

Sociol Health Illn. 1983 Jul;5(2):168-95. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.ep10491512.


Physical pain, psychological distress and the deleterious effects of medical procedures all cause the chronically ill to suffer as they experience their illnesses. However, a narrow medicalized view of suffering, solely defined as physical discomfort, ignores or minimizes the broader significance of the suffering experienced by debilitated chronically ill adults. A fundamental form of that suffering is the loss of self in chronically ill persons who observe their former self-images crumbling away without the simultaneous development of equally valued new ones. As a result of their illnesses, these individuals suffer from (1) leading restricted lives, (2) experiencing social isolation, (3) being discredited and (4) burdening others. Each of these four scores of suffering is analysed in relation to its effects on the consciousness of the ill person. The data are drawn from a qualitative study of 57 chronically ill persons with varied diagnoses.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • California
  • Chronic Disease* / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Support
  • Sociology, Medical