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Sickness, Stigma and Spiritual Awakening

A Transpersonal Paradigm for Women with Contested Illnesses

Bernadette Masterson

The author set out to explore a phenomenon she had observed amongst a cohort of women living with chronic «invisible», or contested, illnesses. These women appeared to possess a high degree of altruism, ecological awareness, compassion, and a particular quality of empathic presence. What she didn’t expect to find in their narratives were the accounts of harrowing trauma they endured in the medical battleground of contested illnesses. They described the humiliating effects of being dismissed as reliable witnesses to what was happening in their own bodies, and the sequence of adverse consequences for their health and dignity which occurred as a fallout of not being believed by the medical establishment. The illnesses featured here include ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Electromagnetic Sensitivity, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and Lyme disease. A blend of qualitative methods emerging from the fields of transpersonal theory and contemplative psychology was applied to explore the narratives of ten women, including the author, who experienced awakenings to deeper levels of consciousness and wisdom during their prolonged illnesses. The book presents a unique seven-stage model of spiritual awaking amongst women with contested illnesses which bears relevance for people faced with any kind of life-altering condition.

Bernadette Masterson was awarded a PhD by Dublin City University (through All Hallows College) for her exploratory study of spiritual awakening amongst women with chronic invisible/contested illnesses. Prior to that she had obtained an MA in Applied Psychosynthesis from the Institute of Psychosynthesis/Middlesex University in London. She worked for a number of years in broadcast journalism in London. Currently she contributes her expertise to the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE) in Dublin, and supervises dissertations for the MA in Applied Spirituality - an associate activity between SpIRE and the Waterford Institute of Technology’s Department of Applied Arts.