Reflections on Blame and Shame: A 4-part series

Reflections on Blame and Shame: Part 1

Annabelle has a gorgeous mane of thick dark hair, even at age 63, and bright blue eyes. She exercises and has always had a healthy diet. Every week she’s at yoga class and is beginning to meditate at home.

She knows what it’s like to feel blamed for her illness. “When old friends hear I have lung cancer, they ask, ‘Did you smoke?’ What I say now is ‘Yes, and I quit 40 years ago.” She smiles, “Just like you did.’” She doesn’t have the type of lung cancer that has been linked to smoking.

Jessica worries that her yoga friends and facebook community secretly blame her imperfect diet for her breast cancer diagnosis. Indeed, she blames herself. She knows a lot about healthy food and tries to buy local farm fresh and organic. She avoids GMOs. But sometimes she eats ice cream or chocolate. And “sugar feeds cancer!“

Her facebook feed is full of friends who have not had cancer sharing with confidence about the ways diet causes cancer and how baking soda and going vegan offer protection from illness. In our session, she says she feels ashamed when she sees the posts and wonders if her friends blame her for her misfortune or for using western medicine. Compared to the vast majority of Americans she has had a very healthy diet. The breast cancer gene runs all through her family.

Judy longs to re-engage in her career, now that the ovarian cancer is in remission. She is only 30 and wants to live life to the fullest. She confides that she feels blocked in moving forward because she has gotten the message from her family that stress is toxic and her ambition may have contributed to her illness in the first place. She worries that “stress,” even positive stress related to exciting job interviews, will cause a recurrence and her family will believe she caused it.

If you have lung cancer, people want to know if you smoked. If you have colon or stomach cancer –what kind of diet did you have? If you have breast cancer, who are you angry at, did you have an abortion, drink too much, care too deeply, think negative, wear deodorant, an underwire bra, not do self massage, get a root canal?

Have you experienced stress in your life? Well then, your lack of ability to manage it could be to blame for your cancer.

Never mind that in most cases there is no certainty as to cause and most people never develop cancer, even with the exact same human behaviors, habits and emotions.

Genes express themselves over time, according to genetics, diet and environment and rarely is the cause obvious and direct. Instead, it is an intersection of many factors.

I challenge this new age notion that we have conscious control over every cell and its mutation and that illness is a spiritual failure of some sort, usually associated with lack of self discipline or poor choices.

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