Dealing with Anger due to Cancer

Anger and Cancer
John R. Rifkin, Ph.D.

One of the most frightening experiences for anyone is being told by a doctor that you have cancer. Although treatments for cancer have improved dramatically over the last forty years, many people still believe that a diagnosis of cancer is the equivalent of a death sentence. Whether the diagnosis you receive is a more or less life-threatening one, it is always a significant injury for anyone to not be healthy.
Injury, or pain, is always the primary of all of the negative emotions that people experience. Emotional injury is always followed by three secondary negative emotions: sadness, fear and anger. Sadness is defined as an honoring or grieving of an injury. I define fear as energy the body generates to avoid further injury. I look at anger differently than most people. I see anger also as energy the body generates in response to an injury that is meant to address or confront the injury. When you have been diagnoses with Cancer, you have to experience all of these emotions.

It is important to not look at anger as negative, even though it is a secondary negative emotion. The energy of anger can be highly important in healing of all types. Certainly this is true in almost all emotional healing, but it is also true in the context of physical healing as well. Bernie Siegel, M.D., author of “Faith, Hope and Healing,” and an expert on outlook and healing, says “Hoping means seeing that the outcome you want is possible and then working for it.” The energy that it takes to work for the outcome you want can come from the anger you have related to the injury of being diagnosed with Cancer. The outcome you want is to be re-diagnosed as being cancer-free.

In the practice of psychotherapy over more than 30 years, I have come to respect and believe in the healing power of the unconscious. The unconscious is what is left of you when you go to sleep. It is your body and the part of your mind that is intricately wove into your physical being. What we do in psychotherapy is consciously focus in aiding that healing process.

When I have worked with clients who have been diagnosed with cancer, the way we put that anger to work is though visualizing becoming healthy. Either through the use of meditation, imagination or Eye Movement, the client focuses on the cellular healing taking place in their body. This involves visualizing their body successfully seeking out and destroying the cancer cells in their body. This process is repeated on a regular basis, both in and out of treatment.

Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., the discoverer of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), talks about how she cured her breast cancer using this process. She envisioned her body’s white blood cells attacking the black, cancerous cells in her body and seeing them replaced with healthy pink cells. Over a series of months, she became cancer free.

The energy involved in confronting and fighting cancer in your body can be fueled from the anger and fear that are generated by the injury of receiving your diagnosis. In truth, that is exactly what that energy is meant to do: maintaining the confidence and hope to power your recovery.

Dr. John R. Rifkin, Ph.D. is a psychologist with over 30 years of experience and author of “The Healing Power of Anger: The Unexpected Path to Love and Fulfillment.” He has served on the Board of the Colorado Psychological Association and chaired the Committee on Private Practice. He does speaking engagements as well as having a general private practice in Boulder, Colorado. His websites are and

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