Reframing the Picture:
U-M expert discusses ways to reconsider survivors' guilt, con't.
Transform the Experience
The best way to overcome feelings of guilt is to turn your negative experiences into positive actions, says U-M psychiatrist
Amy Rosinski, M.D. By devoting your time and energy toward productive and uplifting activities, you will be left with less time
to focus on negative thoughts.
- Volunteer. Discover a new sense of purpose by volunteering
with support groups or cancer awareness fundraisers.
- Practice mindfulness. Mind-strengthening techniques
like yoga and meditation help you practice focusing on optimistic
thoughts instead of dwelling on feelings of guilt. Visit our Guided Imagery web pages for more
- Distract yourself. Fill your schedule with activities that
bring you happiness, like exercise or time with friends and
- Keep a gratitude journal. Maintain a daily diary filled
with words, pictures, magazine clippings or photographs that
remind you of the things you're grateful for. The Creative Writing Studio web page can help you get started.
- Create a legacy project. Writing the story of your life,
including the things you are most proud of and the major
lessons you've learned in your lifetime, gives you a chance to
reflect while producing something your loved ones will cherish. Our Grief and Loss Program is a good source of
information for this.
You mentioned the financial implications of cancer; can you expand on that?
The financial impact of cancer is very real and can linger. In this case, I would encourage families to investigate every option
available to them-for example, visit the Cancer Center's Practical Assistance Center to find out whether they qualify for various
financial assistance or disability programs. These programs are designed to help families during these difficult times.
Sometimes people with cancer feel that they may have done something
to cause their disease. How do these forms of guilt impact patients?
Cancer is caused by many things, so it's often impossible to know why someone develops the disease. But this may be one
area where there are more serious implications of this notion of guilt, particularly among lung cancer patients who smoked.
Occasionally, a feeling of self-blame can translate into a sense of fatalism: They may believe they were at fault, so they aren't
worthy of treatment. In that sort of situation, counseling can help patients reframe their experience to get them thinking about
what they have to look forward to.
Can you talk a little bit more about that of reframing an experience?
No one can tell you how to feel. If you feel guilt, you feel guilt. But a therapist can help patients find ways to alleviate it and work
around it. Often, for patients in this situation, focusing on meaningful milestones -- such as living to see a daughter get
married or the birth of a grandchild -- can serve as motivation to keep living. It's a matter of helping the patient find the things
in life that are more important than that sense of self-blame.
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