Overcoming the torture of self-blame
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- A natural reaction
- Personal experience of self-doubt
- Blamed for getting cancer?
- Is it my fault I have cancer?
- Calming the internal pain of self-blame
A natural reaction
It is easy to feel a lot of guilt and stress following a cancer diagnosis. Your thoughts can quickly turn to blame yourself for cancer.
It is a wholly human reaction at a vulnerable time in your life.
Your mind freezes as you daringly ask yourself, ‘Did I do something to cause this cancer?’
‘Did I do something to deserve this?’
‘Why me?!’ your inner voice demands.
Negative thoughts of self-reproach can become unrelenting as you endlessly play the blame game with yourself.
‘Did I drink too much or eat too much?’, ‘Did the cigarettes I used to socially smoke do real harm?’ ‘Was it junk food?’ ‘Not enough exercise?’ ‘Or too much, sunbathing?’.
You are angry. You naturally will actively look for someone or something to point the blame at, all in the hope of somehow coming to terms with the situation.
The mental torment continues as you dissect your family history looking for clues as to why you got this particular cancer and why now?
Muddled conversations at the kitchen table take place as a family; you collectively try to remember if distant relatives had developed cancer in their lifetime, and if so, what type?
Blaming yourself for cancer is a common problem amongst people with cancer. Often the belief is that in their lives, somehow, and at some point, they are sure that their behavior has contributed to their cancer diagnosis.
The emotional stress and frustration that accompany your brain’s incessant racking can infiltrate your whole being, then quickly escalate into being an issue in and of itself.
You may perhaps already be self-aware enough to realize that these are irrational feelings of guilt …but it is hard to stop short of feeling them.
Personal experience of self-doubt
My husband definitely had to struggle through his own personal experience of self-doubt as he came to terms with his terminal lung cancer diagnosis.
The guilt he felt was painful to witness.
The irony was that he was a non-smoker suffering from a disease commonly liked to the ill-advised lifestyle choice of smoking.
The judgment in the assumption of others was thinly veiled.
‘Did he smoke?’
‘He has lung cancer… but he didn’t smoke.’ I would swiftly clarify in an attempt to stifle their obvious conclusions and divert their finger-pointing.
My husband thought the same as many other people newly diagnosed with cancer; ‘Was I unhealthy?’.
But this simply wasn’t the case. He had always been lean, fit and ate well.
‘If he could get cancer, then anyone can!’ remarked many friends who shared our shock.
Everyone likes to think they have control over their lives, and all look to attribute blame when things go wrong.
The truth was we both found it hard not to look to blame, and we both experienced the pain of self-doubt.
As the caregiver, I experienced a huge amount of self-blame for weeks or even months as I tried to unpick how exactly this had happened to us.
I tortured my mind to the point of cruelty.
My inner torment seemed to focus upon why we had not been able to spot his cancer sooner, a burden I somehow felt responsible for.
How could I have not foreseen this coming? Why did I not see the early warning signs sooner? Had I been deafened to the alarm bells?
In hindsight, it was an example of twisted logic; I had tried to take on all the pain by deferring the blame away from my husband, all in an attempt to protect him.
But I had done nothing wrong. There was no apparent reason for me to do this other than to vindictively beat myself up when I was already down.
I now recognize that by this point, I was already deeply depressed and fraught with anxiety, two mental health problems, which exposed me further to being prone to self-blame.
Reassuringly, both the top consultants for the NHS and private healthcare in Harley Street said that he had done nothing to deserve his diagnosis.
Sadly, however, they both mentioned that he must just have been ‘unlucky’.
‘We have all the luck in the world, it is just all bad!’ he ironically joked.
This was a difficult moment to navigate, but it was kind and caring for these highly respected oncologists to make it clear to us that he, and we, could not have done anything different to sidestep fate.
Blamed for getting cancer?
In recent history, society has been increasingly made aware of the preventable nature of certain cancers and the importance of spotting early warning signs. In a valent attempt to save lives, we are repeatedly warned of the potential risk factors and early symptoms.
But unfortunately, this means that you are more defenseless to blaming yourself for cancer when cancer does happen. You can become bogged down in regret for not making better lifestyle choices or seeking help faster.
Yet it is widely reported that 60% of cancers are not preventable, so more than likely, there is nothing you could have done to dodge this bullet in life.
The reality is that many factors need to collide for any cancer to develop over time.
Even if you face a type of cancer with strong links to lifestyle choices and are closely related to certain behavioral risk factors, no one can definitively say why exactly cancer happened to you now.
You have to remember that no one is perfect; no one has led a perfect life. Any cancer can happen to anyone at any time. So, don’t be so hard on yourself.
Is it my fault I have cancer?
You did not ask for this or deserve this.
‘What could I have done differently?’ ‘What should I have done differently?’.
This frustration is a common problem, but mentally beating yourself up will not change your reality.
Self-blame is often linked to the low-esteem felt by people facing cancer who are already feeling marginalized from the world around them and treated differently.
There can be a snowball effect as you get mentally stuck in the cycle of stressing out over how you ended up in this situation.
As a result, the quality of your life is dramatically affected, and you end up becoming even more stressed out about being stressed!
So, it is time to stop the ruminations, you are not to blame for this disease.
By being consumed by negative, punishing thoughts, you will be more likely to react in an unhealthy way and not looking after yourself when you need it most.
You may end up struggling and turning towards damaging behaviors such as; drinking too much, eating a poor diet, not connecting with support, forgetting to take your medications correctly or even, not attending appointments.
You need to go easy and be gentle with yourself.
You are not invulnerable or superhuman.
Self-criticism is not the answer. Berating and belittling yourself is not what is needed. Blaming yourself for cancer is an unnecessary step too far.
What you do need is acceptance, hope, positivity, peace, and support to get through this, not blaming yourself for cancer.
You’ve got to show yourself the same love, empathy, and compassion you would undoubtedly show towards someone else in your situation.
You are where you are. This is what it is.
Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.
Mentally, you need to find a way of moving past the negative feelings of guilt, blame, or even shame, which is an easy trap to fall into.
You need to now focus on finding the best ways to cope with the problem of blaming yourself for cancer.
Calming the internal pain of self-blame
To diffuse your damaging anger and re-direct the poison of blaming yourself for cancer.
To help you through, the first thing you need to do is take on the personal responsibility of dealing with the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer.
This is not your fault, and no one else is to blame.
The negative emotions a cancer diagnosis provokes have to be faced and dealt with.
Even if you could have prevented this from happening, the reality is that this is here; cancer is your current reality.
Blaming yourself for cancer can become excessive and turns into its own problem.
So, stop seeing yourself as part of the problem but, in fact, part of the solution.
You have the ability and capacity to control and change how you react to cancer.
Put a stop to the self-loathing, turn your precious energy towards the positive, and don’t allow cancer to win.
To get through cancer, avoiding negative emotions, you need to prioritize taking care of your whole self.
How can you look after your physical and mental wellbeing during cancer?
- Listen to the experts that surround you, keep in close contact with your oncologist and specialist nurse.
- Talk to your dietitian about how you should be supporting your health through the correct nutrition.
- Speak to your physiotherapist for advice on suitable exercises for rehabilitation.
- Interact socially with other survivors in group support sessions or online.
- Talk more to your caregiver and inner circle. Be blunt about how you want to approach this; ask for the support you want and need.
- Seek professional early help from counselors and your doctors for any mental health problems which may arise.
- Ask for the practical help you need from the cancer charities out there, and if you can’t, then ask a friend to help you negotiate the care you need.
- Try out some complementary therapies. Even if you never have, book that massage or reflexology appointment. Relaxation is a need, not a luxury.
- Connect with friends and accept the love and support you are shown.
- Take a walk in nature, breathe deeply, and experience any spiritual connection you may be feeling.
As you feel more confident that you are doing everything you can to get through this, your mental strength will recover, which will help you overcome the challenge.
Whether the niggle of self-blame remains or not, how you regain your power over cancer is by making sure you seek and follow the best medical care and look after your whole self.
Doing so will set your mind at ease as you move forward in life without looking back at what cannot be changed.
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