The Expert Within

The following is a post by Judith Driscoll. I hope you enjoy it and find your “Expert Within”. For Judith, a psychotherapist diagnosed with Melanoma last July, the discovery of research supporting emotional approaches to healing cancer was beyond empowering. She was encouraged to learn about others—like her, “type Cs”–who had survived cancer by altering their approach to life. Although it challenged the medical culture she is a part of, she felt inspired to share her non-traditional, holistic approach to healing influenced by these recent discoveries. Her blog—theexpertwithin.com—shares her week-by-week process of reading, integrating, and tweaking her emotional landscape, her life, and her diet: healing through the cultivation of self-esteem, emboldened authenticity, and better eating. Check it out. If her blog gets sillier over time, it means she’s “working her program.”

The Expert Within

In a blog I write called “The Expert Within” (theexpertwithin.com), I posted an entry about Dawn, a student in my writing class who lacks confidence in her writing. While she doesn’t disparage her writing with actual words, she quite clearly conveys a dismissive view when reading her work aloud in class. The moment she starts to read, she races from one point to the next, like a tourist making up lost time during the drive between guidebook-endorsed attractions. She punctuates scans and skips with the words, “blah, blah, blah,” frowning unsympathetically at her pages.

One evening others in the class offered that an attitude adjustment towards her work is in order, demonstrat-able by a change in her reading style. Dawn wondered aloud how to change an attitude that was so pervasive, a question I have wrestled with myself lately. We both mistakenly thought that an attitude change had to precede a change in behavior. Surely it isn’t behavior first, followed by attitude?

But why am I writing about Dawn and her writing in my one big chance to post on a site about cancer and treating cancer in ways that I think are important? Since my cancer diagnosis, I have struggled over this nagging sense (and burgeoning proof) that self-esteem and cancer are related. If a poor attitude towards self has allowed the cancer, how to change it? How does one begin to see him or herself differently when everything seems to support an existing attitude? (By the way, if you question that poor self-esteem can contribute to cancer, read Cancer as a Turning Point by Lawrence LeShan, PhD, or Getting Well Again by Simonton, Matthews-Simonton, and Creighton.)

While I can’t always find my own answers, perhaps I can offer more clarity where others are concerned. (You know, those who can’t do, teach.) I see, for example, that Dawn can simply start to read her written words more lovingly, demonstrating to self and others the esteem that she seeks. When a change in attitude is sought, a “fake it ’til you make it” approach can be quite helpful. Change the tone of voice, slow down, voice enthusiasm and positive emotion, and a more positive attitude will follow.

Research has uncovered an interesting phenomenon: even a change in posture will help adjust brain chemicals so that you exhibit more confidence. Over time, a physical demonstration of confidence with nary a change in self-talk will improve the thoughts about self dramatically.

Can our bodies actually change our minds? Absolutely, according to current research presented in a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy. A posture change lasting only two minutes reconfigures the chemical balance of your brain, allowing chemicals linked to lack of confidence change to a mix of those which make you more assertive, confident and comfortable. Try it. Google the words “Amy Cuddy Ted Talk,” and look for a video in which she replicates the gender-rooted “Type A” postures associated with self-esteem and alpha behaviors. Assume the power pose, wait two minutes, and see if you feel like you look.

I’m going for a full five minutes of unbolstered uprightness. After years of a low-confidence slouch and client face-to-face sessions done from a C-curve over my laptop in a plumphy armchair, I’m standing and sitting taller. I’ve adjusted my car seat so it’s bolt upright, and when standing, I occasionally remember to adjust my shoulders back, facing the outside world with my heart front and center. Aside from a self-esteem boost, I can expect another direct anti-cancer benefit: my more open chest allows my lungs to fill up with air and exhale deeply, adjusting my internal PH balance back to optimal. (Okay, so I can’t see in there to know this is happening; I’m trusting what I learned recently.)

Dawn, wintering in Mexico, is no doubt blissfully unaware of this blog post. Here in the frigid Midwest, I will continue to wittle away at my slumpy posture with post-it reminders and straight-backed chairs; and every so often I’ll hike my arms into a fake victory stance just to punctuate my self-directed good vibes. Why not kick-start your own inner expert? (You know what to do.) Cancer, finding its once familiar slouchy home all but dismantled, will surely pack up and find a new one.
Judith Driscoll

Elyn
Executive Director, Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation
~~If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any~~

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