As some of you know, I am trained as a psychologist/neuropsychologist. I did my doctoral dissertation in diabetes management. And I’ve now had diabetes for over 60 years.
As I have watched the many posts on our forum I have been concerned about how often I see the term, “diabetic.” Why am I concerned? Because, in my opinion, the term is a “trap,” a trap that is accompanied by negative and limiting “self-talk.” In its extreme it can become “an identity.” Let me explain my concern.
There is a field of study and practice in psychology that looks at the relationship between cognition (our perceptions of “our world”) and behavior (how we relate to “our world”). This area of study/practice is known as “cognitive-behavioral” psychology.
As we are all aware, at one time or another (all the time?) diabetes can cause each of us discomfort. We can simply find it difficult to take. Especially when diabetes is difficult to manage. Cognitive-behavioral psychologists suggest that, when a person is having trouble living with a situation, they can change their emotional reaction by changing what they “tell themselves.” Rather than “just suffering with it,” they can change their “self-talk.” They can work to develop and implement problem-solving strategies, and emphasize parts of their lives that provide them with pleasure (“positive tracking”).
Some years ago a woman was referred to me by her family physician. When I asked her to tell me a little about herself, she scowled and replied, “I’m a diabetic.” When I asked her to tell me more about herself she said, “I have to follow this diet and I hate it.” After about twenty minutes I was finally able to get her to tell me that she was married, had two daughters, and owned a florist shop.
What I discovered in that first twenty minutes was this woman was “trapped” by her negative thoughts about diabetes – her negative self-talk. She was so “trapped” that, when she was asked to “tell…about herself,” she was unable to call up thoughts that gave her pleasure (i.e., her husband, her girls, her florist shop, etc.). As it turned out, she had lost her ability to “track the positive parts of her life.” She had truly become a “diabetic,” and, for all intents and purposes, in her thoughts, that is all she was. It had become her “identity.”
Over a period of several weeks I worked with this woman and helped her replace her negative “self-talk” with honest and positive statements about herself – statements that caused her to smile. And her frustrations with diabetes management eased; her management improved. She got out of the “trap” of being a “diabetic” and got back to living her life. She returned to being herself.
So, if I asked you to tell me a little about yourself, how would you respond? Think about it. Would you list other parts of your life, the positives, first?
If you asked me to tell you a little about myself, I would say, “I’m my wife’s buddy, I’m a father, a scientist, a ‘maker,’ a writer, a lecturer,” and on the list would go. I would never say, “I’m a diabetic.” I refuse to get caught by the “trap” of that negative “self-talk.” It’s just not my identity.
If you asked about my medical history, T1D would be at the top of the list. Yes, I have diabetes. But I’m not a “diabetic.”
This may sound like “semantics” or “political correctness” to some. Maybe it is. But at a very personal level, it is how we “talk to ourselves.” It is my opinion that the way we talk to ourselves can influence the courses of our lives.
Be who you are; become who you want to be. And manage your diabetes – give it its fifteen minutes a day. But dump that term “diabetic.” It doesn’t do anything for you, in my opinion.