Searching for Meaning in Misfortune: Making Sense of Incest


Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1.


A critical feature of many undesirable life events is that they often shatter the victim's perception of living in an orderly, meaningful world. Many authors have suggested that following such outcomes, the search for meaning is a common and adaptive process. This paper explores the validity of that claim by considering data from a recent study of 77 adult women who were victimized as children: survivors of father-daughter incest. In the process, several central questions regarding the search for meaning are addressed. How important is such a search years after a crisis? Over time, are people able to make sense of their aversive life experiences? What are the mechanisms by which individuals find meaning in their negative outcomes? Does finding meaning in one's victimization facilitate long term adjustment to the event? Finally, what are the implications of an inability to find meaning in life's misfortunes?