October 27, 2003
Body Image and Cancer
Kyla Brooke, LMFT, CMT
How do you feel about your body after your cancer diagnosis?
Your body, along with your body image, can be powerful resources for your healing process. Body image is how you perceive your body and your physical appearance. This is a changing event; a snapshot in time. It is your own mental picture of yourself. Body image is not inborn, but learned. It is not necessarily based on fact. Body image is changeable, and can fluctuate daily, or over time. Most importantly, how you feel about your body can impact your healing process.
It is common to have many feelings about your body after a diagnosis of cancer. Ask yourself; do you feel any of the following?
- Do you feel
- - Betrayed by your body?
- Are you angry with your body?
- Upset by your hair loss?
- Do you have strong feelings about your changing body during chemo or extended illness?
- Are you grateful to your body for it's ability to fight?
- Are you proud of your body's strength and resiliency?
- Do you love your body?
People often have conflicting feelings about their body image. During an illness, a physical and spiritual crisis, these feelings often may become even more polarized. Acknowledging this and working to enhance your relationship to your body can create lasting change in your life.
Things you can do to support your relationship to your body image can include: positive affirmations, meditation, relaxation, breathing to music, gentle exercise, massage therapy and psychotherapy.
Positive affirmations can support you in changing your body image and relationships to self and others. Often, with affirmations, people try to state something that they cannot believe or support. For example, if you actively dislike or hate your body, saying "I love my body" may be too big a stretch. Begin by writing down your current belief system about your body image. Then try moving one word into an affirmation. For example a belief of: "I feel betrayed by my body" Can become " I feel supported by my body" Try to go for positive change, but not the opposite of what you truly believe.
- Meditate daily on your body's ability to be life renewing and affirming. Try the following affirmations
- "I accept you, my body. I will do everything I can to support you in healing"
"My body supports my healing process"
"I have a good body"
Can't meditate? Try breathing. Breathe in four counts and breathe out 4 counts. Try this listening to soft, sweet music. Even 2 minutes daily of relaxing, focusing on your self can make a difference.
Exercise can also support a greater sense of positive body image. This doesn't need to be a huge workout. If you are new to exercise, are very debilitated, or need a fresh start, begin with a 1 or even 2-minute stretch daily. Do this at the same time every day. Commit yourself to this short time. Increase your workout time by 1-minute segments over a period of weeks until you have achieved a manageable workout time for your own personal needs. By starting small, you have a greater chance of experiencing long-term success, and long lasting change.
Enlist the support of a bodyworker to assist you in changing your body image. Good bodywork can asset you in becoming unstuck in your body and in your attitudes towards your self. It can also assist in releasing physical pain.
Use psychotherapy to unravel threads of old attitudes and beliefs, and create new, positive models of being. Childhood patterns of relating may have worked well in your past, but often do not assist you now. Let go of these old attitudes and beliefs that can impede your healing. Use this time to become the best person you can be.
During treatment, it's important to be aware that there is a difference between healing and a cure. Healing includes an ability to accept change and all outcomes. Cure means that your disease goes away never to return. By healing your relationship to your body, healthier processes can occur. You may discover your SELF, your health, and your life in new important ways.
Whatever you do, however you begin, support your healing by honoring your body and create a positive body image Find what works for you and do it. Celebrate the person that you are and the body that you have!
Kyla Brooke, LMFT, CMT, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist She specializes in the body/mind connection in the healing process. When appropriate, she synthesizes psychotherapy, bodywork and movement in her private practice. Her office is in Berkeley, CA. Please call 510-524-4424 to schedule a consultation. She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org