Redirecting from Self-Blame
One of the first questions patients usually think to themselves when they are diagnosed with cancer is, “Why me?” Some patients then take time to think about their medical history and the decisions they have made in their life, questioning their every move, thinking they may have been able to prevent their diagnosis. This is normal and natural, and something we see frequently. However, it is a dangerous way of thinking that often leads to self-blame. You are not responsible or at fault for your cancer diagnosis. Today we are going to dive into the research that explores the self-blame phenomenon, and give you tips for re-directing your blame, freeing you from undeserving guilt or emotional grief.
The Science Connection: Self-Blame and Cancer
Researchers have spent a lot of time analyzing the connection between self-blame and cancer diagnoses, specifically breast cancer diagnoses.
One study analyzed the “associations between self-blame and anxiety and depression symptoms in a sample of 76 women with breast cancer were investigated. At diagnosis, behavioral self-blame was associated with increased distress; at 3 months post-diagnosis, characterological self-blame was positively associated with affective symptoms and behavioral self-blame approached significance (p = .07); and at 6 months, behavioral self-blame was related to increased distress.” What the researchers found was that “characterological self-blame at diagnosis approached significance in predicting distress at 3 months (p = .055) and was significant in predicting distress at 6 months and at 1 year after diagnosis. These data indicate that behavioral self-blame is a correlate of concurrent affective symptoms, whereas characterological self-blame predicts increased distress over time.”1This is significant because the study was able to concretely measure how affected women are by their breast cancer diagnoses in regards to self-blame, as well as how long the effects can last.
Even medical professionals themselves deal with self-blame and targeted blame as a result of their cancer diagnoses. For example, Larry Lachman, a clinical psychologist in Monterey, Calif., specifically treats people with chronic illnesses. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and was exploring both traditional and alternative medicine approaches. He assumed that physicians would be blaming and judgmental compared with holistic practitioners. The reverse proved to be true. Lachman spoke with a reflexologist following cancer surgery: “First thing she said to me was ‘Why did you have to bring cancer on yourself? Why did you have to manufacture your tumor?’”
It is important to provide context for such unfair and inaccurate accusations of blame by noting that “judgments about behavior not only unsettle and stigmatize the patient, but reflect the interrogator’s own insecurities. Frequently, those disease detectives are attempting to regain a sense of control amid the inherently random and sometimes unjust world that we all reside in, according to researchers who have studied stigma. Psychologists refer to this as the ‘just-world hypothesis,’ a bias in thinking and perception that was first described by psychologist Melvin Lerner and colleagues more than four decades ago.”
Unfortunately, no one is exempt from potentially and falsely being blamed for their cancer diagnoses; this is because we are living in a ‘fix-it’ world brought upon by extreme technological advances that have decreased our patience and increased our ability to access new, cutting edge health information. People often forget that cancer is not entirely preventable, and even the healthiest have the potential to be diagnosed.
You are not at fault: Tips for redirecting blame
You are not to blame for your cancer diagnosis, but because scientific research supports the claim that most people tend to feel some degree of self-blame once they are diagnosed, we want to include a few tips for overcoming it. As first outlined on Huffington Post, here are three crucial steps you can take towards emancipating yourself from unwarranted guilt, hurt, and blame:
Reframe what you should do.
It is so easy to look back after a big life shake-up and think about the things you could have or should have done differently. This isn’t productive, and will only leave you feeling further unsettled. Instead, change your phrasing and you can change your outlook entirely. Saying “‘I could’ is more empowering, freeing and expansive. It gives you permission to feel more joy in the moment.”3You cannot change your past, but you are actively shaping your future with your present actions and thoughts. Identify this opportunity, and focus on how you are phrasing your thoughts and words. This can be life-changing and will help you take control of your current life situation.
Look at the big picture.
Perspective is so crucial. Rather than allow yourself to become overwhelmed by your diagnosis, recognize that “every situation we experience is part of a bigger plan. When you can look at setbacks and opportunities for growth, life becomes easier and there is less pressure. Look at the blessing in each lesson. Instead of blaming yourself for a situation, look for the silver lining. Ask yourself: what could this situation teach me?”3You have overcome setbacks in the past, and cancer is no different. You are a cancer warrior, and this is another part of your life journey. Allow it to teach you, grow you, and help nurture you into the person that you are meant to be.
CMN firmly believes in you: you know yourself best, you know your health, and you know what decisions are in your best interest. Recognize that you are still in control even after you have been diagnosed, as you are in charge of what type treatment you want to receive and where you would like to receive it, among many other decisions you will make. You do not have time to blame yourself; rather, you need to focus on the journey you have in front of you. There is no room for self-doubt or blame. You have overcome adversity in your life, and this is no different. You have gotten through many hard times due to your strength and decision making, and you will need to rely on the same skill sets in order to fight cancer. Trust yourself: you can do this!
You are not to blame for your cancer diagnosis. You are a cancer warrior, and you deserve the best treatment possible. CMN is an alternative cancer treatment hospital that aims to serve our patients with the highest levels of transparency, comfort, respect, and compassionate care. We treat cancer with a multi-dimensional plan, fighting cancer physically while helping you heal mentally and emotionally. To get in touch with us and discuss coming to CMN, you can contact us here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glinder, JG and BE Compas. “Self-blame attributions in women with newly diagnosed breast cancer: a prospective study of psychological adjustment.” NCBI.1999.
Huff, Charlotte. “A Sick Stigma.” Slate.2013.
Kaiser, Shannon. “Stop Blaming Yourself for Everything in 3 Easy Steps.” Huffington Post.2014.