Most of us think about ourselves in a certain way. Over the years of our life and our different experiences, we’ve shaped our identity. We label ourselves and feel comfortable in those labels. Even if they aren’t particularly good parts of our identity, we are comfortable with them. You may think of yourself as a worrier or an anxious person. You may consider yourself intelligent or quick witted. You may believe you are creative or a rule follower.
Cancer As A Magnifier
When your partner gets cancer, I have found for many of my clients, myself included, the way we’ve always been gets magnified. In other words, we become more of who we’ve always been. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it’s not so helpful. If you have always been a worrier, then that part of yourself will be emphasized. Cancer and your partner’s health will give you more than enough to worry about. If you have always struggled with anxiety, it might now become almost debilitating.
It’s not all bad new however! Your positive qualities will be emphasized as well! If you have always considered yourself a creative thinker, you will rely on that identity to deal with this crisis. Because of the circumstances you now find yourself in, you will discover that some of your traits will be useful and some will become very detrimental.
My Dislike of Conflict
For me, my husband’s cancer also highlighted certain aspects of my identity. I found many strengths within myself. However, I also found many tendencies that were not helpful. Such as my dislike of conflict. I had always avoided conflict all through my life and always sought to keep my environment peaceful as much as I could. While dealing with cancer and all the treatments and frustrations, my husband would get angry or very frustrated. My automatic reaction was to try to create peace and so I would try to manage his anger or calm his mood. The problem was, I couldn’t. His emotions were not within my control, no matter how hard I tried to create peace and calm.
Your Identity Is Just A Habit
How you think of yourself and what you consider your personality is just a habitual way of being you have developed over time. Some parts of what you consider your personality may serve you very well in the challenge you face with your partner’s cancer. However, some aspects of your personality may not serve you at all. Or, you may discover some things come up that you didn’t even know were there. All of it is just the habitual way you have developed of being. Sometimes we feel like this is who we are. It’s not! It is not an unchangeable part of yourself. Quite simply, who you are is just a habit you’ve developed. (Dr. Joe Dispenza talks a lot about this in his book Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One)
To understand how our personality and behavior becomes a habit we have to understand at least a little the connection between the mind and the body. When you think a thought in your head, you will feel the emotion that thought generates in your body. This link between your thoughts and your emotions happens so quickly, you don’t even notice. Over time, the more that link is enforced the more automatic it becomes. This is how you “become” a worrier. It’s not an unchangeable part of your identity, it’s just that you have a thought/feeling combination so many times it is automatic in your body.
Being a “worrier” is not an unchangeable part of your identity, it’s just that you have a thought/feeling combination that has been used so many times it is automatic in your body.
The negative emotions you feel frequently are ones that have simply been reinforced through repetition. You can think of that thought/feeling link like a dirt road that has been well traveled. Again, if you consider yourself a “worrier” it just means that when you think troubling thoughts, your body will automatically trigger the sensations you associate with worry. The thought/feeling pathway is well established. What we practice, we get good at!
Notice Your Automatic Response
In order to change your response to something, you have to break that link between the thought and the feeling. You have to stop using that dirt road so that you can create a new road. The first step to doing this is to notice that the road is even there. For some of our habitual responses, you may not even realize you are doing them! You have to bring awareness to what you have been doing automatically for so long.
Break the Connection
Once you become aware of this thought/feeling pattern that has become ingrained, you want to be able to interrupt that pattern. There are several ways of doing this, but the one I find the simplest and easiest to do is a technique called tapping. Tapping is a process by which you physically tapp with your fingers on 9 meridian points on your body while you focus on your negative emotion. This process has been proven to actually calm your nervous system. When you can think about your problem while your nervous system is calm, you start to break that pathway. If you have never heard of tapping, I urge you to check it out. There is a lot of research on how it works, but quite simply I use it myself and with my clients and it works!
Open Up To New Ways of Thinking
When you are able to break that automatic thought/feeling connection, then you will be open to new ways of thinking. This is where the magic happens because this is where you can literally learn to think and act in ways that serve you! You don’t have to “be” the worrier! You can change the way you’ve always been!
This is definitely a process and the best way to work through it is with a coach. I help you with each step of this process in my Feel Better Now coaching program for people who have a partner with cancer. Want to learn more? Set up a time and let’s talk!