Self within a climate of contention: Experiences of chronic fatigue syndrome

Soc Sci Med. 2008 Jan;66(2):315-26. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.09.003. Epub 2007 Oct 24.


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a contested condition associated with scepticism and dispute. This qualitative project examines the illness experiences, and specifically the experiences of self, for people affected with CFS living in Australia. Using grounded theory methods, theory related to the process of self-renewal and adaptation associated with CFS is explicated. Narratives were derived from semi-structured interviews with 19 adults, including 3 people recovered from CFS. Analysis generated the narrative of the struggling self seeking renewal that defined the illness experience of CFS. The struggling self articulated the negative effects to self and personhood associated with CFS, defined as the violation of self, and the consequent efforts of participants to manage symptoms and decrease their violation by use of what was termed the Guardian Response and the Reconstructing Response. The Guardian Response provided protection and self-reclamation. The Reconstructing Response fostered self-renewal and meaning. The struggling self occurred within a climate of threats, and it was these threats which provided the catalyst for violation and the responses. Under different conditions the relative strengths of violation, guardianship or reconstruction fluctuated, and it was these fluctuations that presented the participants with the ongoing struggle of CFS.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Self Concept*