Friendship, connectedness and (in)authenticity for those with chronic illness: trading in one social gain for another

Moensted, Maja Lindegaard ORCID: 0000-0002-8708-1039, Lewis, Sophie ORCID: 0000-0003-4639-217X, Willis, Karen ORCID: 0000-0001-8036-8814, Dubbin, Leslie ORCID: 0000-0002-7044-5799, Rogers, Anne ORCID: 0000-0002-7231-790X and Smith, Lorraine ORCID: 0000-0002-3499-1514 (2023) Friendship, connectedness and (in)authenticity for those with chronic illness: trading in one social gain for another. SSM - Qualitative Research in Health, 3. ISSN 2667-3215


Friendship, a key element of social networks, has been under-studied in the social sciences. Chronic conditions can disrupt many aspects of life including identity, anticipated life trajectories and social relationships. Friendship relationships are important sources of support for chronic condition management. However, for individuals with chronic conditions, developing and maintaining close friendships may be particularly difficult. Despite significant scholarship on chronic health conditions, we know less about the ways in which chronic conditions impact the maintenance of long-standing friendships or the cultivation of new ones. Drawing on sociological theories of friendship and chronic conditions, we aim to advance knowledge of how people who live with chronic conditions navigate friendship. Data were drawn from a qualitative study with 40 people with a chronic condition and who also reported experiences of loneliness. Findings from interviews highlight the significant personal labour and performative identity work required to maintain connectedness within friendships. Normative expectations about able-bodiedness may hinder the continuation of friendships by limiting opportunities for social participation for those living with chronic conditions. Participants discussed both the emotional and physical ‘work’ necessary to maintain even tenuous social connections, hampering one's ability to cultivate emergent friendships. This work included having to trade authenticity for other desirable social gains, such as a desire for social inclusion. This research offers a nuanced exploration of how friendships are created, nurtured, maintained and dissolved and the role they play in the life trajectories of those living with chronic conditions.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1016/j.ssmqr.2023.100246
Official URL
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4206 Public health
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Health and Sport
Keywords friendship, social network, chronic illness, social connection, loneliness, mental health
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