The conceptualization of meaning in illness
The focus of this paper is the development of a conceptualization of meaning within the context of serious illness. It is based on a symbolic interactionist perspective, with the significance of the concept of meaning for the process of adaptation being a primary point of discussion. Meaning, as it is defined here, refers to the perceived nature of the relationship between the individual and his/her world that is developed within the context of specific events. It is comprised of two inextricably linked dimensions: meaning that pertains to one's identity and how that is affected by the event of the illness, and meaning which pertains to perceived characteristics of the event and to the social circumstances that surround it. Interviews with 38 persons living with the stress of cancer provide qualitative data that illustrate the concept as it is set forth in this paper. Four specific domains relevant to symbolic interactionism were explored in these interviews: (1) the individual's response to the illness; (2) changes that occurred relative to identify as a consequence of the illness; (3) the impact of cancer on the individual's relationship to the social world; (4) anticipated effects of the illness on the individual's future. Clinical implications of specific aspects of meaning are discussed.
Volume (Year): 38 (1994)
Issue (Month): 2 (January)
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