How to Release Guilt & Free Your Mind
People often say to me, when they are first diagnosed with Cancer, ‘I lead a healthy lifestyle, I only eat organic food and I exercise regularly, I don’t understand why I have Cancer?’ It is a searching dilemma for a lot of people, as it’s so perplexing.
The media is full of cancer advice about eating healthfully, exercising regularly and taking various supplements but they often neglect one crucial element – emotional well-being. In my next few posts I am going to single out a topic and delve into each to explain why our emotional well-being needs to be the best it can be to overcome Cancer. Just eating well and exercising isn’t enough.
The first topic I am going to highlight is guilt. You may have read some articles on Survivor Guilt, in particular those who struggle with guilt about becoming free of Cancer. I will touch on that in another post for sure. But I am talking about the seemingly 'cancer unrelated' events in your life, you dwell on and feel guilty about. It could be anything you have done, at any age, that you feel guilty about.
Often guilty emotions are triggered in the shape of a memory by someone bringing the situation you feel guilty about up in conversation. A song, associated with that guilty time, can remind you of the past just by being played innocuously in the background, which can trigger guilty memories. A smell, such as scent, can remind you of someone from your past that you feel guilty about. Bigger guilty memories can pop into your mind every day or even prevent you going to sleep, or worse give you nightmares.
You may think you have gotten through life as a Saint. Not crossing anyone or upsetting a single person. But we are all culpable of misdeeds and mistakes. Guilt is a powerful emotion and a good one. Guilt means you are not an extreme psychopath. It means you care about others and how you make them feel. It is an emotion that keeps our primal instincts in check for fear of how it makes you feel when you have done something that you perceive as wrong.
Our subconscious mind hosts a playground for our memories. Unfortunately, these can interrupt our mental well-being, or good day, by reminding you of a time when you did something unkind or cruel. Even if that ‘something’ happened twenty years ago.
Pat’s story (not his real name)
Pat came to me after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was middle aged and was fit and healthy, apart from the tumour they had found in a routine health screen. He was adamant that he was just unlucky, as he could think of no reason why this cancer had occurred.
Over the sessions together I got him to go off topic and talk about his wife and children who he loved very much. A couple of sessions later he said he had to tell me something important. He had withheld information from me. Our last conversation had got him to think about things and he had to tell me the truth. He had told no one this secret ever. He told me he had an affair 13 years ago. At this point he broke down in tears.
Eventually he continued to talk. He told me how the affair had lasted five months. It had seemed serious at the time and he was thinking of ending his marriage. Then his wife announced she was pregnant. So, he ended the affair. This secret was on his mind every day. It popped into his mind with such force that it often led to an increase in stress, often ruining his day and good mood.
He ended the story and put his head in his hands embarrassed at crying in front of me. I told him to take four deep breaths while we sat in silence. Then he sat up right and he said by telling me this secret he felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. Then he asked me a question, what could he do about the guilt?
I told him what I am about to tell you. You need to forgive yourself. Don’t worry about seeking forgiveness from the injured party, unless they are already aware of the action that you feel guilty about. In Pat’s case his wife didn’t need to know about something that occurred early on in their marriage.
He also wanted to deal with the stress he felt due to guilt about breaking the woman’s heart whom he had the affair with. Fortunately, I encouraged him to see how she had definitely moved on with her life, as he had bumped into her four years ago. She was now a happy mother and enjoying life with her husband. She was no longer the woman he had left crumpled in a heap crying on the floor of her flat 13 years ago when he broke off the affair.
We re-framed his memory, using CBT techniques, and turned it into something neutral and repurposed it. And every time he now thinks of her and that time he says, in his head, ‘thank you’. Thank you for the memories and thank you for my lovely wife and children. Over time this became easier. The guilt was released. The emotional stress was gone.
Why are Negative Emotions Linked to Cancer
Now, you may be wondering how an emotion like severe guilt can trigger cancer. You won’t find the answer by asking your regular Doctor or Oncologist. I’ll point you in the direction of the research that has been conducted in this area. Psychoneuroimmunology is one area of medicine that examines the connection between our mind set and our immune system. An impaired immune system and cancer goes hand in hand.
What You Can Do to Rid Yourself of Guilt
If you are treating cancer now, or are a post-cancer reader, it will do wonders for you to also treat your mind. You can do a diagnostic on yourself by asking three simple questions:
1. What are your recurring negative memories about and how long have you been living with an emotional burden?
2. How do you deal with your negative memories and emotions?
3. What good strategies do you regularly use to alleviate your negative emotion to feel relaxed and calm again?
If you don’t work on these your body's physical environment will continue as before cancer. Leading to a continued compromised immune system. So, whether you choose CBT, counselling, hypnotherapy, EFT, or some other mind therapy, make it part of your anti-Cancer repertoire and work on your mind a few times a week by putting into practice the methods taught to you.
I offer a life enhancing service in my CBT therapy to Cancer Patients, both past and present and Carers. I was a Cancer Carer myself once, as well as being a Breast Cancer survivor and understand both sides of the story really well.
I love to help people get through their treatment journeys and out the other side with their sanity and relationships intact.
I use Cognitive Behaviour techniques to provide you with great coping mechanisms, plus coaching in communication skills and actions to help you be the person you want to be.
Contact me for more information through my website www.cbtforcancer.com .
All my therapy sessions are conducted by Skype, this makes my therapy accessible wherever you are in the world.