One of the characteristics I notice many of us have (especially women but I think men do too) is that we tend to downgrade ourselves. Ask almost any woman about her body and she seldom tells you that she has beautiful curly hair, or pretty skin. She will instead say that she is too fat, or her nose is too big, or some other flaw.

Most of us don’t take compliments well either. If we are told we have cooked a great meal, we say we overcooked the turkey. If we are complimented on an outfit our response is “Oh this old thing. I have had it forever!”

You get my drift. For seven years I counseled children, many who had been abused and neglected. One of the few rules I had as a counselor was each child had to tell me five good thing about themselves, or what they had done before they left my office. To my dismay, guess how many children could do that.

The answer will stun you – none, nada, zilch. Not one child, even those who came from intact families, could say one positive thing.

I would then coach them but they still had problems. I would tell them “You have a pretty dress on,” or “You were on time,” or “You were polite and said please and thank you.” Often I would get a blank stare and a refusal to follow my lead.

I think this is a sad reflection on our society and the reason there are so many suicides. We tend to emphasize the negative instead of the positive with our kids, who grow up to be negative adults. Even if a child was suspended or in trouble at school they would come in afraid of a lecture from me. Instead I would ask them, “What would you do differently?”

Now let’s take this one step farther. We are diagnosed with a potentially fatal and often crippling disease like cancer. Women (and men) with breast cancer tell me they feel mutilated from the surgery. People with other types of cancer have scars running from top to bottom for certain types of cancer like colon cancer. I know two people who had cancer of the jaw and had part of their faces removed. What does this do to our self image? And radiation burns are difficult to look at for many people.

I am “fortunate” that I have a blood cancer and not had the mutilation. But when I look in the mirror at my pale face and dark shadows from the chemo, I do not feel good about myself. Even if no one else can see them, the angry welts and bruises on my stomach from the shots there repulse me.

Our teaching from childhood is to look at the negative. We need to look at the positive and that is hard to do. These surgical scars are reminders we are alive. The shadows under my eyes are not as bad as I think. A smile on my face is much more noticeable. I did not say this was easy since we have been programmed from childhood to think negatively about our bodies.

But we as cancer survivors need to give ourselves some slack. We often feel guilty because we should be happy to be alive, but we let these body images bother us. Just remember that we have been programmed to do this. Practice each time you look at your body to look at the positive and your curly hair, or sweet smile or pretty eyes. Affirmations really do work. In fact, we can apply this to every one of us – whether we have cancer or not!

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