Shame and guilt associated with cancer?


Question from Lee L: I'm first generation Chinese American. In our family, people believe that cancer happens for some reason, so I feel a lot of shame and guilt that I must have done something terrible to cause the cancer. I lie awake at night trying to figure out what I did wrong. Is this normal?
Answers - David Spiegel It's common but it's not normal and I think what it comes from is this: Many people would rather feel guilty than helpless. The price that you pay for avoiding the sense that life dealt you a bad hand is that you feel guilty because you are nurturing the fantasy that you had control over something that you didn't. We don't know why people get cancer. Unless you were a smoker for 40 years and got lung cancer, the odds are you didn't do anything to get cancer. Perhaps with some help you can face that sense of helplessness that you were struck with a disease that you had no control over. There may be some cultures where that's the case, and I would be rather forthright if someone was laying that on me. I would respectfully disagree with them. I hadn't particularly heard that in Chinese culture people are made to feel guilty about having cancer, so I'm not sure how much is cultural and how much specific to people around you. For others who are reading this, sometimes when people get depressed they tend to blame themselves and feel guilty about things for which they aren't responsible. If you can't pull yourself out of it or accepting people leaving you with this, then you may be depressed and need some help dealing with this.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. If family gatherings have become oppressive to you, you may want to avoid going to all of them, or bring someone with you that helps you feel more supported.
David Spiegel You can do a few things. That is a good idea, Dr. Weiss. Either you can take them on or have somebody who cares about you sit down with people and tell them that it is making you feel worse. You don't have to stick around for it. If people start doing this to you and you can't change what they do, you can change what you do. Pretty soon, they will get the message that if they want to talk to you, they won't talk about that.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. If it is you, here, that is your own worst enemy, then take Dr. Spiegel's advice and apply it to yourself in terms of how you listen to your own inner voice.

On Wednesday, October 18, 2000, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Feelings about Breast Cancer. David Spiegel, Ph.D. and moderator Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about the emotional effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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