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.”1 This 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.”2
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:
1. 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.”3 You 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.
2. 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?”3 You 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.
3. Trust yourself.
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
 Glinder, JG and BE Compas. “Self-blame attributions in women with
newly diagnosed breast cancer: a prospective study of psychological adjustment.”
 Huff, Charlotte. “A Sick Stigma.”
 Kaiser, Shannon. “Stop Blaming Yourself for Everything in 3 Easy
Huffington Post. 2014.