Do you find yourself ruminating about choices you avoided making on behalf of your child or is your mind second-guessing certain choices you actually made, with all kinds of commentary about how you could have done it differently? And if that weren’t enough, is your mind berating you about all the ways that you are letting down your neuro-typical children or even your significant other, because you are so devoted to your special needs child? When the mind is talking, no one is allowed to win.
The mind loves to play quarter back from the sidelines. As you face weighty decisions on behalf of your child, the mind sets the unattainable standards that you should be this all-knowing caregiver with perfect 20/20 insight who can predict every single contingency in advance. Participating in these kinds of unrealistic self-expectations is a form of magical thinking that does not enhance your life. Magical thinking happens when the ego believes that the laws of the universe can be bent at will to control for outcomes.
Your mind seizes on a strategy to convince you that you can exercise control over a circumstance that by definition can’t be controlled. The way in which your child’s life lawfully unfolds is not within your sphere of control. When my son Mark was four years old, I passionately advocated for him to receive an immune system transplant. This treatment held out the promise of benefitting his autism and his severe immune deficiency. Unfortunately, for Mark, the treatment also precipitated mania. Out of the nineteen children with autism who were being treated at a major children’s hospital, Mark was the only child who developed mania, as a side effect to the treatment. My Ego-mind said that I was to blame for Mark’s later diagnosis of bipolar disorder. My Ego-mind said that I was responsible for my son’s suffering related to his life-long mental illness.
These kind of conclusions need to be examined and challenged. This kind of unnecessary guilt is part of victim consciousness; the belief that events are happening to you rather than for you.
Toxic guilt happens when the Ego-mind judges and second-guesses your actions and then labels then as deficient in some way and then your Ego ties you to a toxic storyline that drags you into lower energies, such as despondency, grief, fear, unworthiness, powerlessness, etc. From there, your Ego often pushes you to overcompensate and atone for your “so-called mistakes” by over-doing, over-caring and over-committing, all at the expense of the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual parts of yourself. I refer to this trap as the supermom syndrome.
Underpinning toxic guilt is the unhealthy belief that you are required to earn other people’s grace and love, including your children’s grace and love, via the performance of compulsive deeds, obligation and duties! It’s time to vote NO to that way of life! No more “shoulding” all over yourself! Unless you learn to kick toxic guilt to the curb, it can lead to compassion fatigue and from there to burnout and eventually to unwittingly sacrificing your health and wellness.
Mom guilt is harmful because it creates an irrational response to parenting that sets up a burden of over-responsibility, over-care and over-identification with your child’s pain, at the expense of your own well being! Inappropriate guilt is driven by the belief that you are required to take on and carry your child’s baggage, while sacrificing yourself in the process.
A wise healer once asked me, “Karen, why do you keep breaking your own arm in response to your son going through life with a broken arm?” That question stopped me in my tracks and precipitated a light bulb moment. It doesn’t serve anyone’s highest good for you to assume the mantel of your child’s pain and then to allow that pain to define you and even worse, to invite that pain to have permanent residency, so that it can destroy you. And yet… that’s the exact trap that I fell into as an empathic Mom.
Toxic guilt is also a form of enmeshment. Enmeshment is over-connectedness that produces a fusion or blurring of the boundaries, that interferes with you and your child having a strong sense of separate self-identities. As an empathic Mom witnessing your child struggle, you may feel sad and helpless, prompting you to be seduced into the lure of fused boundaries. Now is not the time for the ego to chime in about how bad, wrong, and broken you are. Due to your emotional sensitivity, you may be someone who has a tendency to form enmeshed boundaries.
During childhood, you may have learned that you were responsible for fixing, pleasing, appeasing or compensating for your own caregiver. The good news is that you now have the opportunity to make a different choice by setting clear energetic boundaries. The following is a helpful question that will support you in setting healthy boundaries: who is experiencing the challenge, problem or issue?
Caregiver guilt is also a form of survivor guilt. Your mind may be unconsciously broadcasting a message that says that you don’t have the right to feel joyful and lighthearted because your child is feeling the weight of the world on his or her shoulders. Paradoxically, by learning to support yourself with high vibrational practices, you place yourself in the most advantageous position to assist your child. If caregiver guilt drives you to create a pattern of self-denial, both you and your child are placed at risk of being crushed under that weight.
- It's crucial to learn what wasn't your fault.
- It's time you treated yourself with the same self-love, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness that you would willingly offer to someone else who was in your shoes.
- Beginning today, unconditionally forgive yourself for any "so called missteps" of the past.
- Gain awareness over your self-talk and consciously choose thoughts that gradually support you in feeling better.
- Show up to the present moment rather than living from an outdated template.
- Make healthy boundary setting a priority. You deserve to be a joyful Mom!
- Make yourself a priority in your own life!
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