Looking for Meaning

Written by Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC

In certain circles that some might characterize as "New Age"—or simply spiritual—meaning is often sought for, and assigned to, events and conditions that occur in people's lives. This is a normal human reaction to difficult circumstances, and it can be both a positive force for self-reflection and learning, as well as a negative force for blame and recrimination. 

Who's to Blame? 

As I mentioned in the introduction, in certain circles, some may assign total responsibility to the sick individual for their plight. If a person develops an eye disease, it may be said that that person is unable to "see" something important in their lives (intimating that their physical condition is due to a personal flaw in their character).

And from the perspective of the individual, that person may simply blame themselves for getting sick or developing an illness over which they actually had little to no control. 

Even in the online version of The Merck Manual, the stigma of blame assigned to those living with mental illness is described: 

"Although tremendous advances have been made in the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses, the stigma surrounding them persists. For example, people with mental illness may be blamed for their illness or viewed as lazy or irresponsible."

Blame does no one any good, but it can be assigned in ways that can be signifcantly deleterious for the person being blamed. 

On the Positive Side

Thinking positively about looking for meaning in illness, we can use illness as a springboard towards compassionate self-reflection, taking responsibility for our actions, and potentially making positive lifestyle changes in the interest of our health. 

Taking stock of our lives and our choices, we can potentially move ourselves towards increased joy, and cultivating compassion for ourselves while simulltaneously taking responsbility for our choices can be a very helpful and powerful combination. 

We can acknowledge our deficits and poor choices, make a new start when we've fallen off the diabetes self-care wagon, and practice that all-important self-compassion when we're taking stock of our "faults". 

Much good can come of compassionate self-reflection, as long as we stay away from blame. 

Deflect the Negativity

When someone chooses to blame you for your illness or symptoms, it's your job to deflect that blame, shielding yourself from negativity that does not belong to you.

If a friend can caringly communicate to you that they're concerned about your choices or lifestyle, that's one thing; but if a loved one or friend uses shame or blame in their communications, it's your right to not allow those words to have any power or impact. 

Allow the Good

Meanwhile, focus on the notion of meaning in a way that serves you. If assigning meaning to aspects of your health is helpful, consider it a tool for your personal growth. If you can imbue aspects of your health with meaning that assists you in increasing yours sense of self-empowerment, then feel free to do so. 

Focus on the good, reject and deflect the negative, and understand that meaning can be a boon to your health, your wellness, and your ability to reflect positively on your own life's voyage.