Tag Archives: cancer

Breast cancer and the LoA: Please don’t be afraid to feel afraid

In my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, I work with women who have breast cancer. They are often afraid of their fear: the Law of Attraction has become a monster for them. The issue is the LoA and how it applies – and does not apply – to getting and fighting cancer.

I have studied the LoA for years. There is a lot of (I believe rather immature) stuff on the internet about the LoA. “Think well and you will be well”, the teaching goes. I think it grossly oversimplifies the case.

And worse, I think it freaks people out.

Is there nothing to fear but fear itself?

So many women I work with are freaking out because they are scared, and they are scared of being scared. This puts them in a bind. They can’t begin to grapple with the fear, move through it, and let it move through them, because they are afraid that in being afraid they are making themselves sicker.

Because they are afraid of the power of their fear they don’t allow themselves to express it. Consequently, their fear has no way out. It grows in the darkness. And worse, these women feel shame because they have fear.

For most of us, a cancer diagnosis is @%*&# scary.

And then things get better. Most of the time – by far, most of the time – my clients do, too. They learn about treatment options and they start the marathon. They find out that the sun still rises and they still laugh and have fun.

The marathon ends and they reflect on how much they have gained: they know a lot about mindfulness and meditation, complementary therapies, nutrition and natural beauty products. They have learned to tell the people they love that they love them. They don’t sweat the small stuff.

But for many women, the road to recovery is fraught with the boogey man named LoA. They come to me and cry: I am afraid, and I am afraid that my fear is killing me. If I let myself feel afraid, am I making my cancer grow? I am afraid to let myself feel afraid, and I’m still afraid. I have no power over this fear. It feels like life and death.

Don’t suppress your emotions.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I know my clients. I read the research. I talk to people. I listen. And I can tell you that there is not a shred of evidence that feeling afraid makes people sicker. On the other hand, there is research, including a study of 94 women with recurrent or metastatic breast cancer, showing that unprocessed trauma hurts.

David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, says “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please. Don’t. Suppress. Your. Emotions.

Emotions are not “good” or “bad”. What we do with them, however, has consequences. Suppressed emotions can cause some serious mischief. Keeping our fear pushed down is exhausting. And it’s inauthentic. And we can’t heal what we can’t allow ourselves to feel.

I think that having a dialogue with our feelings is healthy. In English we say “I AM afraid”. Other languages express it as “I HAVE fear”, and there is a certain mindful distancing that comes from framing our emotions this way.

What I want to say to my clients, to all the women who are fighting the fight, to you, is this:

Please don’t punish yourself by fearing your fear. Let yourself feel your feelings. Let the fear move through you. You will find yourself on the other side of that feeling and see how much you have grown.

The role of emotions in cancer

Susie (name changed for privacy) came in to my therapy practice in Bryn Mawr, and she was reeling. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and treatment was underway. But she wasn’t sleeping. She was trying to keep it all together, and ended up alternating between tears and anger. She was certainly having trouble engaging in life. And she knew that none of that was helping her condition.

Cancer and the mind body connection

The mind-body connection has major implications for our health and well-being. People all across the Western world are taking up practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, and they are doing it with good reason. They feel better, and there is a deep and growing body of empirical evidence showing that emotions play an important role in health.

Resources as mainstream as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic address the role of stress in health. We know that stress and traumatic events impact the hormonal stress response system in ways that impair immune function and can lead to disease―even cancer. And we know that there are ways to combat that impact and improve overall health and wellbeing.

In one study of 94 women with metastatic or recurrent breast cancer, stress was correlated to disease: women who had not experienced significant stressors remained disease-free for longer periods of time than those who did experience significant stress.

So, what are you supposed to do if you are upset?

There is good news even for people experiencing tough times. You can fare better if you deal with your emotions. According to David Spiegel, M.D., one of the study authors, “people do better in the aftermath of traumatic stress if they deal with it directly. Facing, rather than fleeing it, is important… In other words, don’t suppress your emotions.”

Please, don’t suppress your emotions. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer experienced a significant loss in the two years before diagnosis. I can’t tell you how many times when I’m doing energy healing on a person with cancer I hear the phrase “un-cried tears “. Tears are not shameful, and we should throw away the silly lyric “big girls don’t cry” and its implication that even little boys shouldn’t. Tears are cleansing and we do ourselves a great service when we cry them.

The “Type C” personality

Not shedding those tears is an aspect of the “type C personality”, a term dubbed for the traits commonly seen among people who have been diagnosed with cancer. In the Cancer Report, Susan Silberstein, Ph.D., of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, outlines the traits. They are:

  • Repression of negative emotions (as mentioned above)
  • Feeling hopeless, that there are no options, or a lack of control
  • Not having deep emotional ties or being in toxic relationships
  • A tendency to keep the peace at any cost, to put others’ needs first, or even to be unaware of their own needs
  • A feeling (often unconscious) that they do not deserve happiness, success, or even life
  • A need to gain attention through the disease which they could not, or did not, receive otherwise

No, it’s not your fault

Now, this does not imply that getting cancer is anyone’s fault. None of us has everything all figured out. We all need to learn and grow, and some of us will learn through the experience of disease. Thankfully, when we know what we are meant to be learning, it is a little easier to set ourselves to the task at hand, and that’s why this information about the mind-body connection and the “Type C personality” can be so empowering.

When I work with clients who have cancer, we spend a lot of time re-working their emotional patterns. We create a safe space to cry. We reframe the work ethic to create less stress and a more balanced life. We practice shifting emotional boundaries to create healthier relationships. We shine the light on those tendencies to “stuff it” and practice speaking up. All of these are skills that can be learned, and learning them leads to a happier, and healthier, life.

As for Susie…

Susie and I worked together for several weeks. During that time she had a few “aha” moments. On her first visit, she cried. But after the tears were released, she started to feel lighter and clearer, and certainly more optimistic. We used some hypnotherapy and guided meditation techniques to help her find her voice. When she used it, she found that, far from driving people away, her relationships actually improved.  She evaluated her work schedule and found ways to be more efficient and less stressed. And she became confident that her treatments were working. Susie managed to learn some of the lessons her cancer had to teach and was able to get back to the joy of living.

And that, it seems to me, is pretty much the point. 🙂