A narrative review of the impact of disbelief in chronic pain

Pain Manag Nurs. 2013 Sep;14(3):161-71. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Nov 26.


Although the experience of being believed is frequently alluded to in chronic pain literature, few studies have specifically explored this phenomenon and even fewer reviews have been offered. This narrative review sought to explore the wider social context in which individuals with chronic pain may experience disbelief toward their pain. Articles were obtained through a search of eight databases and a hand search of the references of full-text papers. Key results within the articles were noted and integrated to form three main themes: stigma, the experience of isolation, and the experience of emotional distress. The experience of stigma can occur in a number of ways. It may be through actual or perceived encounters with others; it can be through the use of psychologic explanations of pain; it can come through a perceived challenge to one's integrity and subsequently affect an individual's identity; and such stigma may be influenced by negative female stereotypes. The loss of relationships associated with being disbelieved can lead to the experience of isolation. This may be self-initiated, particularly when an individual has been given a contested diagnosis. Finally, disbelief can lead to emotional distress. This can take the form of guilt, depression, and anger. Throughout the article, implications for health care professionals, working with individuals living with chronic pain, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Social Support*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Truth Disclosure*