One of the most shocking and disheartening aspects of my hair loss experience is the complete lack of empathy from just about all of my family and friends. I’m not alone with this – countless women report the same issue, and obviously it makes the emotional impact of hair loss that much worse. Nothing makes you feel more alone than knowing you’re going bald and no one cares.
I get sympathy and empathy mixed up because they are similar. Sympathy means someone feels sorry/sadness/pity for your situation, they have compassion, and they may reach out to offer their condolences. People have been less than sympathetic over my situation as well, and while I don’t expect them to feel sorry for me, the lack of sympathy still saddens me. Empathy means identifying with, or understanding the person’s situation, or it’s “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.” So it means the person could put themselves in your shoes and imagine that it would really suck to be going bald. How hard is that? Apparently it’s damn near impossible for some reason.
When it comes to my hair loss, all I would want is for someone to say “wow, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to be losing your hair. That must be devastating.” Okay maybe men won’t be as caring because a lot of men don’t care if they go bald, and it might be difficult for them to understand the psychological impact hair has for women. Most women love their hair and they actually enjoy going to the hairdresser, and they draw immense pleasure from having nice hair. So why are most women so callous about my hair loss, and why do so many other female hair loss sufferers report the same phenomenon?
• Reactions to my hair loss from doctors
Most of the doctors I’ve seen have had a horrible bedside manner and have made me feel worse about my hair loss. Almost all women with hair loss say they are met with negativity by doctors, and they end up feeling worse after seeing a doctor for the issue. A few of the comments I’ve heard from doctors include, “you should be lucky that it’s only hair loss,” “don’t worry – you won’t go completely bald,” “stop stressing out – it’s not a big deal.” What’s weird is that I thought doctors were there to help people, and these are the reactions I get from Dermatologists, who supposedly treat hair loss. WTF? I understand that there are bigger health issues out there, but still… I’ve stopped taking rude comments from doctors personally, and now try to laugh at their insensitivity. One of the reasons I’ve thought about becoming a Physician’s Assistant, or Nurse, is so that I could be that rare person in the Dermatology field that actually shows empathy for my patients.
• Reactions to my hair loss from friends and family
When I told my mom my hair was falling out, I was met with various comments like “you’re always exaggerating and catastrophizing. Your hair is fine. You’re just imagining it. I’m sure the doctors say your hair is fine. I’m not balding, so you didn’t get it from me.” My dad said, “who cares if you go bald – there are people with bigger health problems out there.” In reality I got the balding gene from both of my parents, but to this day my mom refuses to admit how thin her hair has gotten on the top of her head. My dad could care less that he’s bald, and my mom is obviously in complete denial about her hair, so I guess that’s why my parents don’t care about my hair. You would think they would have empathy for their only daughter, but they really don’t. They finally feigned a little sympathy once I explained that a doctor diagnosed me with genetic hair loss (I’m not making it up), and that while it may be a “superficial” issue, it’s still the worst thing I’ve experienced, and it’s caused me to fall into a deep depression.
Friends that I’ve told about my hair loss have either also told me I was crazy and making it up (I don’t make things up), or they expressed the least heartfelt sympathies and changed the subject to more important issues, like shopping and TV shows. Some of my friends have kids, so I understand your physical appearance takes a backseat to your kids. Maybe if I had kids I wouldn’t care about my hair anymore (but lots of women have kids and are still devastated by their hair loss). Nothing is more maddening than being told you’re imagining your hair loss, or making it up. I love telling jokes, so I would prefer someone express true sympathy for me, and then make light of the situation, rather than telling me I’m crazy.
Personally I haven’t had friends say horrible things to me – they just deny there’s a problem, or act completely apathetic. The horror stories I’ve heard from other women about the way their friends and family treat them is shocking. Other women have been ridiculed by their friends, mocked by coworkers, kicked out of a wedding party because their hair wasn’t good enough (and wigs were unacceptable), or had husbands leave them because they lost too much hair. Then these women also get ridiculed for later wearing hair to improve their appearance. I’m forgetting most of the horror stories I’ve read – but people are sometimes shockingly cruel!
• Why don’t people care?
I know I’m not dying (even though depression and suicide are common “side effects” of hair loss), and I don’t expect a pity party over my hair, but why are people so damn insensitive? Maybe most people just lack empathy? I’ve always had the ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes and to try to imagine what it would feel like to be in that situation, but maybe no one else does that. Some of my theories about why no one cares about hair loss include: people can’t imagine it happening to them, so they just don’t care. (Female hair loss is extremely common, but I guess most women don’t know that until it happens to them.) Maybe people are uncomfortable hearing about my hair, so that’s why they change the subject and act like I’m crazy. Maybe none of my friends care about their appearance (I know this isn’t true), so they wouldn’t care if they were bald. In my mom’s case, she’s in total denial about her own hair, so that’s why she pretends she has no idea what I’m going through.
Or maybe people are too wrapped up in their own problems to care about mine. Or maybe they just don’t understand how much of an impact this whole thing has had on me, so they think it’s no big deal. Or maybe they just thought I was exaggerating because my hair loss was never that obvious before (but now it’s pretty apparent I wasn’t lying). Maybe people think there’s an easy cure for hair loss, so they assume I can just go take a pill and suddenly be cured. Or maybe I somehow brought this on myself (which is not true). I have really become wary about my relationships with a lot of people after experiencing a complete lack of compassion. Ironically, one of the only people that has given me any sort of sympathy or empathy was some random person I used to always see at Starbucks. He was just some man I would talk with all the time, and I happened to tell him about my hair because I had just come from the doctor. He was actually empathetic and believed me and expressed honest sympathy, and then later we joked about both going bald. That’s all I want.
I guess I’m ranting. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you are experiencing hair loss, and I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to a lack of sympathy and empathy over your hair issues. For people that haven’t spent years watching hundreds of hairs fly out of your head every day, maybe you just think I’m whining. I guess I’m just sad that as if hair loss wasn’t bad enough, the reaction from friends and family just makes it that much worse. I really don’t know why it’s so hard for people to be empathetic about hair loss. I can guarantee if it happens to them, they’ll be feeling just as horrible. If you’ve been brave enough to tell friends or family about your hair loss issues, have you been met with the same lack of sympathy and empathy?