Shame, guilt, and communication in lung cancer patients and their partners
Lung cancer patients report the highest distress levels of all cancer groups. In addition to poor prognosis, the self-blame and stigma associated with smoking might partially account for that distress and prevent patients from requesting help and communicating with their partners. The present study used innovative methods to investigate potential links of shame and guilt in lung cancer recovery with distress and marital adjustment. A specific emphasis was an examination of the impact of shame on partner communication. Lung cancer patients (n = 8) and their partners (n = 8) completed questionnaires and interviews that were videotaped. We report descriptive statistics and Spearman correlations between shame and guilt, relationship talk, marital satisfaction, distress, and smoking status. We coded the interviews for nonverbal expressions of shame.
Greater self-reported shame was associated with decreased relationship-talk frequency and marital satisfaction, and with increased depression and smoking behaviour. Nonverbal shame behaviour also correlated with higher depression and increased smoking behaviour. Guilt results were more mixed. More recent smoking behaviour also correlated with higher depression. At a time when lung cancer patients often do not request help for distress, possibly because of shame, our preliminary study suggests that shame can also disrupt important partner relationships and might prevent patients from disclosing to physicians their need for psychosocial intervention and might increase their social isolation. Even if patients cannot verbally disclose their distress, nonverbal cues could potentially give clinicians an opportunity to intervene.