Nileema Conlon Vaswani, MS-UK Counselling Coordinator, discusses how MS can affect relationships.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a physical condition of the central nervous system where a process of demyelination can create a range of physical changes in the individual. However, these changes have cognitive and emotional repercussions which can influence relationships with the self and others.
If someone has become accustomed to leading a busy independent life, living with MS can be a frustrating experience. Changes that are made as a result of circumstances rather than choice are harder to accept and there can be a helplessness about not being able to overcome them. Perhaps there is a sense of loss of the old self and anger at the new self, especially when the MS is progressive and therefore irreversible.
There is also a sense that MS can be all-encompassing and all-defining. The question is whether MS is a condition that the individual has or whether it is synonymous with their identity. If they see themselves as their MS, then how they relate to themselves is likely to be different and more difficult than it was before.
What others see
Even where there is a separation between the individual and their MS, it is possible that other people might see just their MS. If there are visible physical changes, such as difficulty walking and the use of mobility aids, these might draw attention away from the individual and focus instead on the MS. This can lead to frustrations for the individual who wants to live life beyond their MS. Family and friends might have a tendency to be overprotective to compensate for their own helplessness in not being able to change their loved one’s condition. Over engaging in the individual’s everyday needs, trying to convince them that they should give up work or suggestions that they make other changes, can feel stifling.
How you see you
Changes to our internal world can influence our perception of the external world and subsequent relationships within it. If we are struggling to understand changes within ourselves, it is likely that others may also not understand these changes. The loss of independence means that there is either going to be a change of lifestyle or a greater dependence on others.
Adjusting to change
Often, where there are sacrifices to independence, those close to us can assume roles outside of the given normal. A partner, for example, might also turn into a carer. These dual roles present challenges that may compromise the original relationship. Where a partner has to assume largely a caring role, then there can sometimes be little room left for other aspects of the relationship.
The individual with MS might also want to disown their emotions and have a ‘beat it’ attitude towards their condition. Emotions that are brewing but not acknowledged might be channelled through anger towards others. Using this projection as a defence mechanism might help the individual cope with the uncertainty of their MS, and the uncomfortable and difficult feelings that it presents.
Call 01206 226500, or visit our MS-UK Counselling page.