Adapting To Impairment


*Direct all correspondence to: Kathy Charmaz, Sociology Department, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928.


Serious chronic illness undermines the unity between body and self and forces identity changes. To explicate how the body, identity, and self intersect in illness, one mode of living with impairment, adapting, is explicated in this article. Adapting means altering life and self to accommodate to bodily losses and limits and resolving the lost unity between body and self. It means struggling with rather than against illness. The process of adapting consists of three major stages: (1) experiencing and defining impairment, (2) making bodily assessments and, subsequently, identity trade-offs, as ill people weigh their losses and gains and revise their identity goals, and (3) surrendering to the sick self by relinquishing control over illness and by flowing with the experience of it. Adapting seldom occurs only once. Rather chronically ill people are forced to adapt repeatedly as they experience new losses. The data consist of 115 interviews about experiencing chronic illness and 25 more focused interviews about the body in chronic illness. The strategies of grounded theory provided the methods for completing the analysis.