John Gray with Anat Baniel: Tip 7 - What to Do About Feeling Guilty When You Have a Child With Special Needs
Guilt is a very natural feeling. It is actually a remarkable human capacity. It allows us to gauge our actions, guides us to more loving and responsible behaviors, and helps us refrain from destructive behaviors that might hurt ourselves or others. However, guilt can also be misdirected and done in automatic, irrational ways that are debilitating to our ability to function powerfully in life.
In my practice, I often see parents who feel guilty for their child's special challenges. Rarely, if ever, are the parents responsible in any way. And even if they have contributed to their child's condition, such as in the case of drug use during pregnancy, now these feelings can get in the way of parents' ability to connect with and be most helpful to their child in overcoming their limitations.
So, I asked John Gray what his thoughts are on helping parents move past feeling guilty for their child's special challenges.
Here is his response:
One of the greatest challenges in life is to overcome feelings of guilt, particularly if you have a child with special needs. We wonder: Gee, did I somehow cause this? In the vast majority of cases, we didn't, but we think that maybe we're responsible. This feeling of guilt is irrational and it can pull us down.
Or, we might be blaming our partner. Blame and guilt -- not a healthy place to be in. And, actually, it's a place in our brain that is called the reptilian brain, activating the back part of our brain where we have little consciousness. (We tend to respond in fight or flight, which limits our creativity and our ability to connect with our children, see them where they are, and be most helpful.) It just sits there and pulls us down.
There is a way to pull that blood flow up to the front part of the brain and heal guilt, and that's through forgiveness. The way we can do this is start with experiences from our childhood. Write in a journal about anyone (or at least some of the important people in your life) that disappointed you, betrayed you, or frustrated you in childhood or later in life. The earlier you can go back the better, because children are designed to forgive their parents.
If you can express feelings like anger, sadness, fear and frustration, then you can forgive them. (It might take more than one try. It might come in bits and pieces. Start forgiving them where it is easiest and work your way towards the more painful parts.) As you start working on forgiving your parents, and bringing up those feelings that need to be released through forgiveness, then your ability to forgive yourself dramatically increases.
To forgive ourselves is no easy task. We have to rediscover our innocence. If we have the opportunity, as children, to have parents who can say that they are sorry for things, then we learn to forgive them and forgive ourselves. But, if parents don't take responsibility, then children end up blaming themselves for their problems. And this is really important to realize because when you feel guilty for your child's special challenges, your child will then tend to blame themselves for somehow being wrong or bad.
So, part of learning to forgive ourselves is learning to forgive our parents. Then we can forgive ourselves. We can restore the innocence that we all have as human beings, that we're here doing our best and that's all we can do.
If your children know that you're doing your best to be there for them, that's the greatest gift that you can give. You don't have to be perfect -- you just have to show up.
It is remarkable to see the transformation not only in the parents, but also in their child when parents become aware of their feelings of guilt and then learn to free themselves from these feelings. I'd like to share a story of what happened when a parent moved past her guilt.
Zoe Becomes a Happy Child
Zoe was 2 years old when I saw her the first time. She had suffered brain damage at birth and wasn't able to do much. Her mother, Sharon, was flooded with feelings of guilt: "Maybe I shouldn't have had champagne at my birthday celebration... and I shouldn't have taken dance classes so late into my pregnancy..."
To try and "make up" for the perceived wrong she felt she had inflicted on her child, Sharon found herself working with and "drilling" her daughter for hours every day trying to get her to crawl, sit, talk and more. These feelings of guilt were also felt by Zoe, most likely making Zoe feel like something was wrong with her.
My colleagues and I gently began introducing Sharon to the possibility that there was nothing that she had done to cause Zoe's condition. We supported her and urged her to replace her feelings of guilt with interest and sensitivity to what Zoe's experience was in the here and now.
Sharon also quickly picked up on tools (The Nine Essentials) for working with Zoe. The transformation both in Sharon and in Zoe needed to be seen to be believed! The first thing that Sharon shared with us was how happy Zoe had immediately become. The other changes started coming soon after.
Today, about a year later, Zoe has started crawling, she is talking and she is able to use her arms much better. There is a lot more work to do. However, both Zoe and her mom are feeling so much happier, and their heart connection is uninterrupted by unnecessary feelings of guilt.
WATCH: Managing Guilt - Forgiving Ourselves
Tip #7 From John Gray
Watch for our next video blog Tip #8 With John Gray: Men and Women Manage Stress Differently
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For more information on the Anat Baniel Method: www.anatbanielmethod.com
Learn more about John Gray's work: www.marsvenus.com