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Like a Broken Record

Like a Broken Record

The conversations are predictable; brief sound bites that get repeated again and again, though the speaker frequently changes:

“Are you sure you have arthritis?”

“You are too young to have arthritis.”

“We all have arthritis.”

“Have you tried x, y, and z?”

“You shouldn’t take those meds.”

“Just believe you don’t have it, and it will go away.”

Though unsolicited advice gets repeated in the most uninspiring form, on occasion I hear triumphant music:

“What is rheumatoid arthritis, and how it is treated?”

“You mean the autoimmune disease? I am so sorry. When did this happen?”

“I know a bit about RA. What is it like?”

Unfortunately the monotonous and haphazard suggestions based on erroneous understandings far outnumber the brief flashes of authentic and real conversation. As I have learned from being involved in the RA community, unwanted and unsolicited advice from people who do not understand the disease is a common phenomenon. The general impression I get is that I must thank people for their concern, and seriously consider their proposals. I don’t buy it. I personally find it audacious for someone to offer medical advice about a condition they do not have, of which they know very little or nothing at all.

For those struggling with an autoimmune disease, life could be better in infinite ways. If our own bodies have turned against us, let us at least have the kind and loving support of our friends and family. My experience is that having rheumatoid arthritis can result in many misunderstandings, even among some people in my close circle.

I try to view pushy people on a spectrum. On one end, regardless of what I say, I will not be heard or listened to and the pushiness will continue for as long as I engage them. On the other end are people who, though they push their unsolicited advice, will stop doing so when I ask them to. Somewhere in the middle are people who will not respond to my simple request that they cease and desist, but will stop when they realize they aren’t getting anywhere.

Recently I discovered something that works moderately well with this middle group of people who don’t listen to my many protests, rebuttals, and well-argued refutations. It is called “The Broken Record.” It comes from assertiveness training, which is a method for teaching people how to better speak about their own interests in situations of conflict. The idea is to calmly and confidently state one’s position, and then to continue restating it in the same manner, no matter what the speaker comes back with. Basically, try to sound like a broken record.

As an example, I have received suggestions from people who were really just trying to sell me products they have some investment in. I live in a state where there is a plethora of multilevel marketing companies. There has been a boom here in health supplements, drinks, and various other products over the last decade. Because of that, I know many people who are selling things, and friends are their target customers.

When I say, “no thank you, I am not interested,” they tend to respond with “it might help,” or “I know someone who recovered from disease x, y, or z because of it.” In the past, I have either refuted their statements by explaining the difference between anecdotal claims and evidence or just said that my doctor and I are working on it. Unfortunately, my rebuttals often land me further into a conversation I don’t want to participate in. The broken record method is to not take the bait, and reply just as calmly, “No thank you, I am not interested.” If they continue to push, just say it again and again until they get the point. The idea is to leave the person with absolutely nothing to come back with. So far I have had some moderate success with this method.

Unfortunately even in my immediate family, there are people who do not stop giving unsolicited advice no matter what I say. Never mind that I am the most educated in my family, live with the disease, and spend a whole lot of time reading about it, they want me to seriously thank them and follow their advice. RA is hard enough to live with, I don’t need arguments and unsolicited advice from the people I love and care about every time we get together. At the same time, I want and need their support. It certainly can be a tough situation with no straightforward answers.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Gayla McCann
    3 years ago

    Boy, I feel like this! ESPECIALLY with my family!! It’s more of “I am not working because I have an illness, not so I can run errands for you!” or “Please do not endanger my health by coming around me with what you consider just a cold. I am on immune system suppressants, it is DANGEROUS for me!!”

  • Pwilcox
    3 years ago

    I am fairly new to RA having been diagnosed in Oct. 2015 after 18 months of going to 9 different medical personnel desperately searching for a reason to my sudden onset pain. I was somewhat relieved when I finally got a diagnosis. I did not know any friends or family that had RA and I thought I would go to a Rheumatologist and get a pill and all would be well. How wrong I was. A year later I am still searching for the right treatment. Methotrexate does not seem to be working adequately and I am looking to go on biologic infusions early next year. I understand what you are saying but I have a somewhat different view. I have found that few people understand RA and don’t believe it can be as bad as I say. I have learned to ignore/avoid these people and listen to my body. If I have to cancel plans, I don’t apologize. I have at least 3 friends that I know well enough to discuss RA with, but they are reluctant to talk about it. I left my job of 40+ years due to debilitating pain and found out later that there was a person close to me at work that has RA and she never mentioned a word. I maybe could have avoided giving up a good job with benefits if she would have opened up to me. I had one friend that died this year at age 43 – her death was not related to RA, though she had RA, and she was a wealth of information to me even though I was 20 years older. Sadly, I can no longer go to her, but I have kept emails she sent encouraging me and giving me information. I seek out people that I know may have RA in hopes they will tell me what has and has not worked for them. I would always consult with my Rheumatologist before trying anything but I still like to know what has worked for others.

    I have been reluctant to go on biologic infusions, but have been told by several people willing to talk, that they have been helped by the infusions. I think your approach is probably right in your case, but so far I am trying to use my RA as an education tool. It may go in one ear and out the other and if they seem really uninterested, I change the topic but sometimes I recognize what may be RA in someone even though they don’t, and encourage them to get tested. A few have heeded my advice, one turned out to be RA and the other osteoarthritis. They both thanked me because they had could receive treatment based upon their knowledge. I am thankful for RA websites that lets me reach out to others with chronic diseases. Good luck!

  • Michael Booth moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Pwilcox, thank you for being here and for sharing your thoughts. I am sorry to hear about the complications with treatment and hope something works for you soon. I too did not respond well to methotrexate. My second round of biologic injections have been working well though. The first was not pleasant but I am happy I gave a different drug a try.

    In regards to your view differing from mine, I am not sure where that is. I agree with your thoughts and envy that you have people to discuss the disease with. My essay dealt with the myriad people who push their views or products on me: pushy people who are not doctors, do not have RA, but still believe they are experts on treating it. I think the community and relational aspects you shared are wonderful, and wish you the best in your efforts to use RA as an educational tool.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.
    Best, Michael — team member

  • Cassandra Bird
    3 years ago

    Bravo! Well said 🙂 I feel like a broken record repeating myself to deaf ears anyway. You’re right maybe a simply no repeated will enter their brains. Let’s hope! Thanks for sharing, I’ve shared x

  • Michael Booth moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Cassandra Bird,
    Thank you for your comment. I can definitely understand the feeling of already being a broken record with how often I repeat myself. I hope the method of a simple “no thank you” works well for you. Thank you again.
    Michael — team member

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