Suffering Verbal Abuse When You're Sick

Have you ever been told that you're always sick or that you're inventing your illness. Suffering from a chronic illness or mental health problem can cause you to experience verbal abuse from other people at times.
Suffering Verbal Abuse When You're Sick
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 29 August, 2023

Nobody ever wants to be sick, but when ill health appears and weakens you, you need support from your environment. After all, your recovery benefits from the understanding, closeness, and care offered by the figures around you. However, this basic and primordial rule isn’t always followed.

If you suffer verbal abuse from your partner, family, or colleagues when you’re ill, you’ll be interested to know it isn’t an isolated phenomenon. Indeed, many people have to deal with chronic illnesses or mental disorders and find themselves on the receiving end of cruel words every day, along with a lack of empathy or even violent communication.

“You’re always the same”. “It’s just an excuse to attract attention”. “You’re useless”. These are some simple examples of what you might hear on a daily basis if you’re experiencing verbal abuse when you’re sick. Unsurprisingly, this kind of violent communication further increases your suffering.

Verbal abuse by partners or family members when you’re sick is the most harmful kind. In fact, it has the severest of impacts on your mental health.

Woman scolding a man to represent what it is like to suffer verbal abuse when we are sick
There are many people who suffer from chronic illnesses yet experience verbal harassment from bosses or colleagues.

Verbal abuse when you’re sick

Some diseases are invisible. They’re conditions that don’t cause fever or involve broken bones or bandages. But, we live in a society that only gives relevance to what’s visible and not to silent sickness. This explains why conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, migraines, rare diseases, or mental disorders are so poorly understood.

For example, if you have a thyroid problem, and find it difficult to face your working day, you might be branded as weak. Or, if you suffer from a musculoskeletal problem, it may also condition and limit your life and lead to misunderstandings. Even if you’re suffering from the flu, you might experience verbal abuse.

This often happens because, when you feel ill and weak, it’s easier for you to become the target of manipulation and emotional abuse. Personality factors also have an influence. For example, violent communication is typical of people with low empathy, narcissistic traits, or those who are aggressive and want to exercise power over others.

If you’re worried that you may be a victim of violent communication, here are some indications that you’re being abused by figures in your environment.

In any illness, physical or psychological, the sufferer deserves compassion, respect, and understanding.

Characteristics of this form of psychological abuse

When you’re sick, you need empathy, compassion, and support from your environment. However, maybe you’ve run into someone who, far from offering you understanding, attacks you. The abuse in these situations manifests itself in multiple ways. You need to know how to identify it. Here are the signs:

  • Your environment minimizes your illness. They may even question it, saying things like “It’s nothing. You’re just trying to be the center of attention again”.
  • The abuser may blame you for your physical or mental condition. They might say things like “It’s your fault you’ve caught the flu” or “You’re depressed because you’re weak and you take everything the wrong way “.
  • The abuser ignores or even denies your condition. “There’s nothing wrong with you, so get back to work” they might tell you.
  • They may gaslight you. This means they make you believe that you’re inventing the disease because you’re unbalanced. They might say “You don’t have fibromyalgia. You’re just making it up like your mother did”.
  • They’re contemptuous and insulting. “Look at you, you’re pathetic” they might say.

The effects of the abuse

To date, this kind of abuse hasn’t been researched a great deal. However, the effect of social support on all kinds of diseases is recognized. Research conducted by the University of Utah (USA) claims that, at present, we don’t know what mechanisms lie behind the fact that our well-being benefits from the support of our environment when we’re suffering from any illness. However, the data is there.

In fact, mortality is reduced when there are networks of significant figures. Moreover, the sufferer’s quality of life improves. But, what happens if you’re attacked and criticized in the midst of a physical or mental health problem?

  • Psychological abuse in the midst of an illness makes you feel more vulnerable.
  • Your condition may worsen. You might lose interest in continuing treatment or stop seeking medical help. Your emotional health is undermined by mental abuse.
  • Feeling criticized, rejected, and attacked in the midst of an illness increases your feelings of loneliness and discomfort associated with the condition.

Being emotionally attacked and abused when dealing with an illness undermines your psychological balance and can impact your own medical condition.

The abusers

Being abused when sick is a frequent phenomenon. As a rule, those who underestimate and attack you when you have a health problem may show narcissistic traits. The University of Wollongong, (Australia) conducted a study on the impact of living with a pathological narcissist.

These are people who underestimate and victimize others, lack empathy, and exhibit vengeful traits. When you’re sick, they’re irritated by your vulnerability and, given the lack of tools to show compassion, they react aggressively.

In addition, they might exhibit contradictory behaviors. For example, on one day they’ll take care of you but, on the next, they won’t even pick up a prescription for you.

man thinking about what it was once like to be verbally abused when sick
Having the support of loved ones when we’re sick is a fundamental nutrient for our well-being.

What can you do if you’re verbally attacked when you’re sick?

Whether it’s a chronic illness, depression, or a simple cold, everyone deserves and needs understanding, empathy, and help when not feeling well. Therefore, if you’re suffering verbal abuse while you’re sick, it’s a form of violence. As such, it’s not permissible. If you’re in this kind of situation, it’s worth reflecting on the following:

  • Your health is the most important thing. Prioritize it and do what you need to do at all times. If you need a doctor, consult one, if you need to rest, do so, no matter what those around you tell you to do.
  • Get the support you deserve. If the abuser is your partner, a relative, or a friend, contact someone who can help you, and who understands and respects you.
  • Make a decision about the people who are abusing you. Because, most likely, they’ll do it in other situations too.

Finally, it’s at these moments of fragility that you need others the most. You deserve valid support. It’s an unquestionable basic principle of humanity. So, make sure you surround yourself with compassionate and empathetic people, and remember to offer the same help to others.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Goldsmith, Rachel & Freyd, Jennifer. (2005). Awareness for Emotional Abuse. Journal of Emotional Abuse. 5. 95-123. 10.1300/J135v05n01_04.
  • O’Leary KD, Maiuro RD, editores. El maltrato psicológico en las relaciones domésticas violentas. Nueva York: Springer; 2001.
  • Reblin M, Uchino BN. Social and emotional support and its implication for health. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2008 Mar;21(2):201-5. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3282f3ad89. PMID: 18332671; PMCID: PMC2729718.
  • Ronningstam E, Weinberg I. Narcissistic personality disorder: progress in recognition and treatment. Focus. 2013;11(2):167–77

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.