Does a Support Group Stigmatize You?

I had heard recently that a friend didn’t want to be identified with our group because she didn’t want chronic pain to become her identity. I take no offense, because, first of all, this friend is one of my greatest supporters in everything I do. Second, this group is here for those who need it. I never imagined it would be for everyone with chronic pain. But Broken and Mended is not just a blog. We are a ministry and there are many ways to connect with us. Her hesitation relates directly to joining a support group.

The implication is that joining a support group stigmatizes you or, at least, labels you. Even if that is true–which I will contest momentarily–it is still another large leap to say that joining a support group will form your identity around the purpose of the group (in this case, chronic pain). In the meetings themselves, we have strongly debunked the idea that our identity should be based on chronic pain. I’ve also touched on the issue in a video blog here and I wrote on the purpose of a support group here.

The idea that joining a group for support stigmatizes you is perpetuated by a society that continues to elevate self-sufficiency as one of its favorite idols. We all need help in some way. Some need it more than others due to extenuating circumstances. That doesn’t mean that participation in a group created for those in similar circumstances creates a personal identity equal to the group identity.

What I mean is that, of course, a group has a particular identity. And when we participate in such a group, we absorb some small aspect of that group into us, but we also give some part of who we are to the group.

Let me tell you a little about me that has nothing to do with my participation (even my creation of!) in a support group. I am naturally shy and self-conscious. Sometimes I think God put me in ministry so I wouldn’t completely retreat into myself. I am an avid Houston sports fan. I love to read and to contemplate big ideas. I am a family man who loves his wife and kids and extended family. I can work hard for long periods of time and do absolutely nothing for long periods of time. Oh, and I happen to struggle with chronic pain and started a support group, in part, to help combat the loneliness that comes with that.

My struggles do not make me who I am, but they are part of who I am. All of who I am belongs to Christ. He is my identity! And whatever segment of society that wants to attribute my entire identity to one aspect of who I am (because society loves to label people!), that is their problem and not mine.

What I want to say to you is that if the reason you have not given us a try is because you thought that somehow being involved would claim your entire identity, that couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the main reasons I am doing what I am doing with Broken and Mended is to help people see that they are so much much than their illness! When you hurt all the time, you can start to believe that your identity and pain are the same thing. But it isn’t true, and Broken and Mended will never tell you otherwise!

About David Heflin

I blog about topics related to the Christian faith and the struggle of chronic pain. I have ankylosing spondylitis and have dealt with chronic pain since 2011. I hope to provide support and community for those going along that same journey with me.
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