I don’t need your pity

Pity can make someone with HIV feel pathetic, hopeless, and label them as a victim in need of help. Pity is often dressed in well intentioned attire but does little for a person living with HIV’s self esteem. Subconsciously, a lot of us do it.

A friend, a family member, a colleague at work discloses their status and automatically we give them that “special look” and that “special voice”. We pause and give them pity eyes – deep and penetrating and launch it a “awww, you poor thing speech” with a sorrowful pity voice, we end with a “I will pray for you”.

You think you are being kind and caring but it comes across as belittling with a slight “I’m glad it’s not me” and a presumption of how they contracted the disease. Because HIV and Aids may be contracted in various ways, do not presume to know the lifestyle of a person with Aids or HIV.

It is a thin line between honest concern and pity. A touch on a shoulder left too long, a handshake too tight, a lingering gaze. You somehow have convinced yourself that you are a saint, helping him/her make it to through each dismal day thanks to some kindness on your part, what you actually doing is reminding them constantly of their illness.

Pity is not a helpful emotion, empathy is. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. To sympathise is to show pity, condolence and compassion – all well-intentioned traits but not very helpful. With revelations of an individuals status, you may need to recreate a mutually acceptable relationship with honest channels of communication. It is important to note also that what is appropriate for one person might not be appropriate for another person. So, when in doubt, ask the individual how he or she would like to be treated.

There are some people who, because of fear or discomfort, will avoid interacting with people with HIV. Other people simply do not know what appropriate behaviour is when around a person with a HIV. Learning that people with HIV are no different helps reduce pity.

However, if you see a situation in where you think you might be of some assistance, ask. If your offer for assistance is accepted or requested, ask how you can best be of help. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you don’t know what to do or how to help. Simply ask the person for guidance.

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