Living with an autoimmune disease can be frustrating. Learning about the spiritual meaning of autoimmune diseases can be empowering and help us take better care of ourselves.
Autoimmune diseases cover a range of conditions in which the immune system attacks itself rather than foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. Arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Grave’s disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and lupus are all examples of autoimmune diseases.
No one really knows why some people get autoimmune diseases and others do not. There is likely a genetic factor, and diet and stress are thought to play a role. There is no specific cure for these diseases, but various treatments and lifestyle changes can help lessen pain and suffering caused by them.
It can be very helpful to understand the spiritual aspect of a chronic illness such as an autoimmune disease. This is not to blame ourselves for being ill—there is so much we do not have control over, and we do not “create” our illnesses through some kind of incorrect spiritual response. Learning the spiritual aspects of our illnesses, rather, can help us learn something about how best to support our bodies, hearts, and spirits as they are.
Inflammation and Heat
Many autoimmune diseases center around inflammation. In a healthy immune response, inflammation helps heat up the body and kill any intruders. When these defenses are turned against the self, this can be a source of pain and discomfort that can feel self-perpetuating.
Energetically, heat is related to the emotion of anger. Anger can be understood as the emotional body’s immune system: it shows up to protect the self, to patrol its boundaries, and to ensure the self gets what it needs. When we consistently ignore or suppress our anger, it may have nowhere to turn but inward.
Here are some questions to ask yourself if inflammation is a part of your experience:
What is your relationship with your anger?
Has your anger worked for you in the sense that it succeeded in protecting you or helping you get your needs met?
Do you feel you can safely express your anger in your current work/family/life situation?
Do you feel your needs are generally met?
Are your boundaries generally respected?
Long-Term Stress Patterns
Many chronic illnesses have a relationship with long-term stress patterns and often appear during childhood (especially if there was abuse). Unprocessed trauma or stress can tax the body’s defense system and affect the nervous system. When normal stress management strategies are not successfully releasing stress and calming the nervous system, stress can get stuck circulating inside of our bodies.
Some questions to explore:
How do you manage stress?
Do your current stress management strategies work for you?
How often do you feel completely safe, calm, and relaxed?
The Body Attacking Itself
Fundamentally, an autoimmune disorder means the body is attacking itself. The body’s story may have something important to tell you. Ask yourself these questions:
Do you protect others at the expense of your own needs and feelings?
Are there parts of you that you feel must be punished, suppressed, or made to disappear?
Have you ever had an experience that you feel is still “within” you? Could your immune system be trying to eradicate shame, memory, or the stagnant energy of a past experience or pattern of experiences?
Do you pay attention to your body, attending to its needs gently and quickly?
Is an autoimmune flare-up the only time you are forced to attend to your own needs?
Does a flare-up do anything else useful for you, such as allow you to shut down, slow down, process emotions, or care for the needs of your body and mind?
If any of these questions resonate with you, that does not mean you are to blame in any way for being ill. Spirituality is just one layer of our experiences.
However, you may be able to use this insight to consider caring for your emotional and spiritual self more often and in combination with other treatments to support your body, mind, and spirit.
Explore these 8 ways to live with chronic illness.