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Is It Your Fault If You Get - And Stay - Sick?

Lissa Rankin's picture

I am currently writing the hardest chapter in my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself.  Any time you write about self-healing, one painful issue comes up for any sick person. “If I can heal myself and I’m still sick, is it my fault?”

As a healer at heart, I think blame, guilt and shame have no place in the therapeutic relationship, but how should I address the fact that we have the power to heal ourselves without blaming sick people for their illnesses?

I decided to ask the wisest people I know - my friends on Twitter and Facebook

Why Some People Self-Heal & Some Don’t

I asked why one sick person gets well and another stays sick or even dies. Was it the patient’s “fault,” per se? Was it divine will? Was it karma? Fate? Sheer bad luck?

Hundreds of people responded. Here are a few highlights:

Athena (@Martzca) posted, “Some people aren't meant to get better. Some people are getting something in return from being sick and don't want to let it go.”

@Gaelick tweeted, “A feeling of self worth. The person with it accepts the miracle, the other can't.”

Savannah Alalia tweeted, “The one who heals is the one who has the courage to go wherever they have to physically, mentally, emotionally & spiritually.”

Mary Roger Barrett tweeted, “Maybe they are [experiencing a miracle] and it just doesn't fit our definition of what a miracle is.”

Erin Harnesh tweeted, “Everyone's path is unique. Maybe someone has more learning to do with their illness, more enlightenment to see. God has His reasons.”

Adreana Leal wrote, “Sometimes the conscious wants to live, but the unconscious wants to die - or vice versa.”

Lisa J. Smith posted, “We all have different journeys and experiences. Positive thoughts are great, but divine order sometimes is greater. Some things we will never understand. We must have faith to trust all is as it needs to be, and maybe the healing is in the illness itself, not in the healing we think we want.”

Maya Hanley posted, “Sometimes we learn a lot about ourselves from illness. I think of people who've had terrible accidents and who go on to do amazing things in life because they heard the messages they were supposed to hear and then used what they learned to do good.”

Helena M. Falcon wrote, “I believe there's a divine hand over us, and our path on this earth has been written. Some paths end with the illness, and miracles transpire in many other forms (as I experienced when my husband died of leukemia at the age of forty.) I believe his mission here on earth was done.”

Al Wright posted, “Healing does not always mean finding a total cure for illness. Sometimes, people heal in the process of dying.”

Sharon Martinelli wrote, “Some things are simply beyond our control and our knowing. One of the greatest frustrations I have experienced comes from reading well-intentioned books that make great efforts to connect our human ailments and diseases to our emotional selves and our dis-eases. This puts incredible pressure on the person who is doing their best to heal but is nonetheless losing the battle with their illness. Sometimes, acceptance is much grander and then can enable a patient to come to peace with where they are in that moment. Perhaps then a miracle occurs - or it doesn't - and it is how we support one another through either outcome that is really important.”

April Cooper posted, “The question I would ask in each case is ‘How is the illness contributing to the person's awakening?’ We each have a hero's story to live. One person's hero may be awakened by the illness, while another person's awakening lies in something else, so the illness isn't needed for the long-term.”

Michaela Spurling, who noted that she is “living successfully and well with inoperable liposarcoma,” wrote, “I often read that our life is run by our subconscious mind, which is like a program that plays everything we have learned since being small, especially the very early years where our brains soak up everything like a sponge. It is said that we are only using the conscious mind 5% of the time, which is precious little. I think if someone does not heal, it may be that consciously they want to heal but on a subconscious level they don't. There are ways to rewrite the subconscious mind using techniques like EFT, Psych-K or Brandon Bays' Journey Therapy for example. I also believe if the soul is ready to leave the physical, then nothing will hold it back and the person will die because they have fulfilled what they came here to do.”

Vanessa Smith wrote, “It's a natural human tendency to make our experiences mean something based on the personal and collective story/ belief system around the topic. In our culture, we view illness as ‘bad’ or something to fix, an indicator that something is wrong. Perhaps that's not the truth, but rather, a perspective. I believe someone might not ‘heal’ (make their illness go away) because it's the path they chose (on a spirit level) to experience - just for the experience itself, not for karma or lessons learned or soul growth. Why would experiencing an illness necessarily be any different than choosing to eat cake? We just make it a bigger deal because it’s got more emotional weight attached to it.”

Lindsay E. Smith, who suffers from a “mystery pain” in her pelvis, wrote, “Will the mystery pain in my pelvis disappear when I face some as of yet undetermined sexual issue from my past? Or is it just there to make my life miserable every so often?  Taking the middle ground stance seems too much of a cop out; either you believe that every pain and issue is a mirror of yourself, or you believe that it all comes down to random environment and genetics. I find myself leaning more and more heavily to the subconscious mirror side as of late, but I don't know how to face the stabbing pains in my gut or the bouts of severe depression without feeling as though I'm being punished for not being able to work through the roots behind those issues. It's a question that not only applies to health, but to all aspects of life. Funny thing is, as much as I rant now, I have faith that not long from now, I'll read something that addresses these exact issues with a solution that makes sense to me. So this is sort of my way of asking the Universe for an answer.”

Brenda Fredericks Marino wrote, “I recently met a man who had been healed by an amazing spiritual healer. He told me that when this man is healing people, offering them his healing light, some people accept it and some don't. Maybe it is just their karma to go down a certain road.”

Elsah Cort wrote, “Healing is a return to wholeness, and each person discovers their own path to this. It is not a matter of lining everything up right (i.e. your belief systems, etc) but more of a surrender to the process. Be careful of using the word ‘miracle’ with too much awe attached to it, as miracles are only called that because we are not recognizing the truly ordinary, natural way the universe unfolds. The biggest obstacle in this exploration of healing is for us to release attachments to the consensus reality when we think about disease, treatment and cure. ”

Dean Campbell wrote, “[The outcome] most likely has to do with a reason to live.  People that have something that they have to do or want to see yet. They can will themselves to live on, while others accept what they believe is their fate and then pass on.”

What Do I Think?

I’ll tell you in great detail what I think in my book, but until then, a few key thoughts.

Call it self-sabotaging unconscious beliefs, call it lack of self-esteem, call it karma, call it divine will, or call it cellular degeneration, it’s a known fact that we’re all going to die one day.  Heartbreakingly, some of those people will be innocent newborns. Some will be blameless six year olds. Some will be mothers with three young children who have a brain aneurysm that bursts during labor, leaving a father to raise the children alone.  Some will suffer from the effects of a toxic waste dump they unwittingly lived near. Some will die of congenital anomalies with which they were born.  And some will be 97 year old scoundrels, having buried everyone they know.

While miracles can always happen, sometimes they just don’t. We must make peace with this fact. But when we mix faith, love, gratitude, intention, and Divine intervention in a Petri dish, I believe we pave the way for miracles to happen. By healing your mind and your life, you create the perfect environment for cure, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. And if cure isn’t meant to happen, healing allows you to live or die with illness in a state of grace.

So yes, I believe you can affect the outcome of your illness. And no, I don’t think it’s your fault.

What do YOU think?

Share your answer here. You might even get quoted in my book!

Writing away,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Lissa Rankin's picture

Thanks for your feedback L. Suzanne

I so appreciate your words. Funny you should comment now. I just yesterday wrote Part 2 of this post! So stay tuned for more on my evolving thoughts...

Much love and wishes for healing and peace,

L. Suzanne's picture

it's a slap in the face

Having had a rare neuromuscular disease for nearly 30 years (Moersch-Woltman) I do have some rather strong feelings about this issue. At first, some ignorant people told me I didn't have "enough" faith, or I would be healed. How rude. Then I read Bernie Siegel's books and he said essentially that I "needed" the disease for some odd reason, or I wouldn't have it. How rude. I was disappointed to see you quote from his book in some of your blogs, and grateful to see that your are a bit conflicted in doing so.

Fact is, I have a great relationship with God - and a near-death experience that reinforced that relationship beyond words. I don't need faith - I have knowledge of God and His love for me.

I also know that my disease is not my fault, that I did not cause it, that I do not need it, nor is it only for me to learn from. After I read Siegel's book, I went through a very deep mourning, full of guilt and self-blaming, feeling that I had robbed my four children of their mother and my husband of his wife. I had robbed myself of my own person, so I thought. Only after a bit of therapy for that situational depression did I come to understand that Bernie Siegel is up in the night. Fact is, I don't "need" this disease for any reason. My therapist and I quite thoroughly went through all the possibilities, one by one, and put them all in the trash can, where they belong. What this disease is, is an opportunity to learn, just like any other challenge life brings. I can learn from it as I go along, and others can as well. There is growth in accepting what cannot be changed and in being who you were created to be in spite of physical issues.

Fact is, I am now a much more patient person. I am a much more empathic person. I am an activist for others with disabilities. I am also a much healthier person, in spite of the disease process, because this illness has challenged me to reach for the best health possible - to exercise as much as I possibly can when I can, to eat the best possible diet possible, to find balance in my life in ways you have also discovered.

I will continue my journey towards health and I appreciate your concepts and tools. But you should probably junk Bernie Siegel's ideas as soon as possible - they are very destructive. The focus should be on growth, no matter the challenges, not on guilt.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thank you Amy

And thank you Rachel for supporting her! Such good stuff! Keep up the healing work. The world needs more people like you to spread this kind of work in the world.
Bless you both

Amy St. Hilaire, LMFT's picture

response to Is It Your Fault if You Get Sick...

Great Article I loved all the things everyone had to say. Like someone commented above, I agree with most of what everyone had to say as well. In the work I do as a Healing From the Body Level Up Practitioner and LMFT, I see people who have all sort of symptoms and illnesses. I think of these as Dis-Ease held, stored or stuck in the mind-body-spirit.

I have seen so many things involved in healing dis-ease. For some with cancer, we have found a triple loss pattern in the years before the diagnosis followed by a snap second decision to manifest the cancer. For another person, it was the pain and heartbreak and longing from a secret 30-year affair where both were married to other people that created the "aching all over" of fibromyalgia that no medical treatment had helped successfully.

I have seen people HOLD ONTO dis-ease, symptoms and pain for secondary gain and as we describe, these seduction patterns only deliver a crumb of what the person is manipulating for.

I have seen people who literally, unconsciously FIGHT to get, be or stay SICK because when they were feeling unloved in childhood by mom or dad they saw someone else get, be or stay sick. AND they saw mom or dad gave that other person the attention and love they were desperate for. Because they were young and did not have fully developed empathy, they could not understand the pain of illness and simply thought "Oh my goodness, being sick is a good thing."

Sometimes clients come in with migraines or stabbing back pain and we find they are manufacturing that pain for all sorts of reasons: to prove how strong they are, to get the love they are desperate for, to get out of having to "do" their life, to suffer enough to "redeem themselves" for some current or past life wrong they have committed, to reach enlightenment by trying to transcend suffering, to be a martyr and get worship and admiration, to become a healer by healing oneself through illness or pain or even as a way to have the ultimate power and control over their lives by making it so that NO doctor, acupuncturist, reiki master, chiropractor, drug, healer, therapist or even GOD can help them--and so nothing can have more power than them to affect their illness/symptom/pain and they end up getting to be right and more powerful than anyone else including GOD--but the perverse twist is they get to be right and stay in control in a limiting identity as someone who is "unfixable".

Other people run scripts they unwittingly act out that say things like healing or health equals war, when in fact, healing and health can be natural and doable, done in partnership with helping professionals, not a battle, not a constant power struggle between patient and healer/doctor, not a state where fighting keeps erupting and people feel attacked and wounded and experience battle fatigue and burnout.

In healing the fibromyalgia I had for 11 years, there were war statements, seduction patterns and, believe it or not, personality traits. Some people, as was the case for myself, have an ego structure/Enneagram type that is prone to drama and over-reactions. For me as an Enneagram 4, my unconscious ego fear was "I feel nothing." I was using the global all over body pain of fibromyalgia to overcompensate to prove I did not feel nothing. My food sensitivities stemmed from the same fear. What better way to show that I did not feel nothing, than to react to benign seeming foods, be emotionally oversensitive and have chronic low grade depression. Healing these patterns and more I have probably forgotten about (because I so don't need them!) has completely healed that old identity and allowed thriving health and energy I never imagined was possible.

I make a very strong distinction with my clients. When we find a pattern that a person has been subconsciously running we don't JUDGE it, but we do DISCERN. Acknowledge: I do do that (pattern/way of being). True. Accept: Oh well, that is what I have been doing for whatever reason, Oh well. Discern: Does it serve me? Am I getting what my younger parts are desperate for with this illness, etc. Heal: Then use an effective method to heal it and stop running that pattern.

Of course being that we have free will, people can also choose to keep running the pattern and stay stuck in it-STAGNATE. But, I find once people know what is creating the dis-ease, they choose to free themselves from it. There are lots of other ways to get what we want and need. And so we GROW and HEAL.

So, I don't look at it as a matter of FAULT because it is not helpful. but of course it happens that someone finds they are running a script that is supporting illness and feel ashamed and to blame. So we heal that heavy, non-productive emotion with EFT or TFT and then can get down to healing the larger pattern.

Sorry that got so long...you can see I am rather passionate about this topic and was so glad to see this article. Great stuff, Lissa!

Rachel A's picture

Thank you for sharing...

Hi Amy,
Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and examples of people you've worked with in the past.
I decided to pick a Word of the Year this year and chose "Awareness" after a brief brain-stirring session. ("Brainstorm" wasn't quite accurate in this case ;)
Becoming aware of things - emotions, thought patterns, actions, reactions, etc - seems a simpler beginning than jumping right in to Accept, take action, make major changes, etc.. And I really appreciate your description of just noticing "ways of being" without condemning or blaming or dwelling on the past.
Thanks again,
Rachel A.

Ti 's picture

The miracles are happening NOW, sick or not!

With all of the odds that you wouldn't be born, that a particular method or accident of conception wouldn't create you, the miracle is that you were born and are still alive! Look at how life expectancy has increased. It's a miracle to be alive at 40, 50, 80. It's a miracle to survive childhood and the perceived omnipotence of adolescence. All of the biological and environmental pieces that fit together perfectly so that I am here--breathing, typing, forming coherent sentences--add up to a series of miracles that leave me grinning with the glee of having beat the odds and lived this long. If I were to get sick, stay sick, die of that sickness, I've been awash in miracles for 43 years. Disease and death are not failures or signs of not being complete. They are events open to a variety of interpretations. (My husband died when he was 35 and I was 36 and my father is dying now, so I'm not naive about the pain of losing someone.)

Rachel A's picture

Can't wait till your book's ready for us!

Thank you, Lissa & all who shared their thoughts, for such an open & honest discussion. It's intriguing to read of different people's varied experiences with both their own and others' illnesses, paths to healing, curing, acceptance, letting go, learning, etc, etc. I found myself agreeing with all of the comments, in one way or another, despite the wide variety.

On Feb 10th, my 35-year-old sister-in-law (brother's wife) will celebrate the 2-year anniversary of a successful bone marrow transplant for acute leukemia (ALL) and has been generous in sharing her journey to wellness with us. (Just had an email from her last night outlining her latest experiences w current diet,, exercise (which for her also seems to double as a spiritual practice), gratitude, etc. She & my brother have two kids (ages 9 & almost 7) & the past 3+ years have most definitely been a family journey, as we all participated to some degree in sis-in-law's illness & subsequent recovery.

I'm so grateful to be alive at this moment in time, in an atmosphere of people continuing to question, research, observe, experience, experiment, share, embrace, enjoy, laugh, love, ETC!!

Thank you, thank you!

Lindsay E. Smith's picture

Wow! You quoted me! I can't

Wow! You quoted me! I can't begin to tell you how cool that is.

As a bit of an elaboration (because 'mystery pain' sounds awfully wibbly-wobbly), doctors have assessed and tested my pelvis for signs of diseases including endometriosis, but everything has turned up clean. I've been told I "might just need to live with it."

So I have been. And I've been living through some other tumultuous experiences as well, but the main theme of my life is taking back control and responsibility for my feelings and actions. There are many instances of improvement that I've experienced, but perhaps the most relevent is that when I started to settle some major codependency issues I've been saddled with, my bouts with pelvic pain started to diminish. I've been suffering and medicating myself for years, but this, this is real lasting progress that doesn't run out once the painkillers are out of my system.

How can I explain what I got out of this? I no longer believe the pain to be some form of punishment; it's more like it was a physical manifestation of the spiritual and emotional pain my behaviour and thoughts were causing. So now after 15 years I'm not pain-free, but I'm certainly 'pain-diminished' and perhaps, more importantly, healing. It's as you say, Lissa, medicine is about treating the whole person and removing the blocks to their own healing. I'm training to be an RMT, and it's my hope to soon be able to help others remove their own blocks to healing as well. Thank you Lissa, and the others that stand by me on the way. <3

Maya Hanley's picture

I Find Illness Fascinating

Having experienced a number of illnesses, some of them unusual, I can always looks back and see what was going on at the time and how I had somehow 'created' the illness as an expression of what was troubling me spiritually or emotionally. As Gloria said above, she has noticed that almost all the illness she has seen has been related the person's spiritual life.

I have had kidney stone colic 11 (yes, eleven) times and, while it was in part due to oxalates in my diet (I ate mountains of spinach regularly), I know it was mostly caused by the deep anxiety and stress I had buried since my mother left us when I was 13. Once I got the help with the oxalate problem and also went into therapy, I have not had a renal colic attack in 20 years. I saw it as a sort of metaphor for my troubles. I was not releasing my anxiety and it was forming stones in my body. Creating wracking pain that was equal to the psychic pain I was feeling, or indeed, it WAS the expression of the psychic pain.

Illness has always been how I have expressed psychic or emotional/spiritual pain. And I notice that the illness is always in some form a metaphor for what's troubling me. I have improved how I deal with illness as I have understood more how it relates to my emotions and I find that as I do more spiritual work, I get ill far less frequently and, if I do get ill, it is mostly mild.

I don't blame myself for these illnesses as I understand that it has been how I express my internal pain but I do know I created it somehow. In consequence, I see other people's pain and suffering and, when possible, talk to them about what's really going on. Sometimes it makes a difference and sometimes people don't want help. I have one friend who 'loves' being ill or injured. It's when she gets the most attention. For her to change would mean a lot of work to unravel her need for such attention. I understand that and don't try to change her. I just love her as much as possible and take care of her as best I can.

Lissa Rankin's picture

The difference between healing and curing

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

A few of you mentioned the difference between healing and curing- and yes, there is a big difference. Healing means "a return to wholeness." Curing means elimination of disease. I wrote about it at length here:

Much love to you all

Sara Broers's picture

We will not live forever as

We will not live forever as we know living today. I believe that everyone can heal when they get sick. Now that means physically for some and mentally for others. Healing can be accepting the dying process and moving spiritually into the next phase of our lives, in heaven. It's hard to let go of our loved ones, but it is part of living!

Gloria Romlewski's picture

Is It Your Fault if You Get and Stay Sick?

From my perspective as someone who has been working alongside a spiritual healer for over 25 years, there is an inextricable link between a person's spiritual and physical well-being. If a person doesn't delve into the reasons that have caused their illness and make changes to their life, it could be considered their fault if they stay sick. I've learned that the more negativity that one accepts at both the spiritual and physical levels, the more likely they are to experience malaise. Once an individual learns self-love and how to refuse the negatives in their life, they are able to begin self-healing. Sometimes all it takes is the removal of one malicious spiritual nuisance to effect a healing!

"When a person works in harmony with their spirit, they are working with a sole spiritual being that is dedicated to improving their life experience."

Stay well, Lissa, and thanks for your expressions of the alternatives that we all need to consider!

Tammy finnerty's picture

Reply to is it your fault if you get sick and stay sick

I have had the opportunity to ponder this question, and face the facts, that not every one can be cured. Why - is an answer that will never come. As a therapeutic yoga teacher, I have worked with people who have had ALS and Cancer. I do know this - we can all HEAL - but healing is different then curing. Healing requires acceptance and surrender, and SERIOUS letting go. Not everyone can get there. Curing - is another story. Take some with ALS for example. There is no cure. It is a death sentence. Sheryl Payne - 41 years old - just recently passed away, leaving two 5 year old twin boys and a loving husband. She was 37 years old when she was told she had ALS. Did she invite this - create this? No.

We all need to remember that none of us get out of here alive. These bodies will not last forever. Yet somehow we are shocked and surprised by death, and illness. Yes, we can do what is in our control to keep our bodies and mind healthy - to slow down the ticking clock - and make our way around the sun a few more years then if we don't. And - here is the good news - we can all heal - regardless.

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