Dr. David B. Adams – Psychological Blog

Psychology of Illness, Pain, Anxiety and Depression



Soon after asking why something has occurred, the most common follow-up thought is “what purpose does this serve…why do I deserve to suffer…who caused this…and if it was caused by me…what am I supposed to learn from this terrible event.

Humans do not cope well with the concept of random events.  If we cannot find someone or something at fault, we feel ill-equipped to accept what has occurred.  For after all, are we so great or important that we have been chosen to suffer in this fashion?  What about the truly evil people?  We suffer and they do not?

This comes from a field of thought called “teleology.”  In teleoleogical thinking, we do not consider the source of an event so much as the purpose that this event serves in our lives.  We question whether this is something that a greater power insists we experience.

Teleology is is an explanation in terms of some purpose, end, goal, or function. We may have an illness or an injury due to negligence of someone else, due to carelessness on our part or due to random exposure to a situation that risks our health and safety.

When we search for a purpose to our suffering, we begin to think spiritually or superstitiously or even irrationally, that we are suffering due to some greater plan.  We may, at times, believe that the purpose of illness or injury is a test of our strength, our faith or our willingness to cope.

Focusing on “why” something bad has happened can stop recovery dead in its tracks, because it is usually an existential question without an answer.

Switching the emphasis to “How can I speed my own recovery and get control of my life” gives the patient an obtainable goal, so that healing can progress.


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