The Guilt Trap

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by DaisyFace, Jan 26, 2009.

  1. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Hello All--

    So many of us suffer from horrible guilt:

    I shoulda...

    I coulda...

    If only...

    Why didn't...

    Why did...

    I know that the advice is to "detach"...but that's so much easier said than done!

    I'm just wondering how do you "detach"? Even if you don't engage with your child--it's pretty hard to shut down the thought patterns.

    What do you do to keep yourself from falling into The Guilt Trap? (Or are there other parents still stuck in here with me...?)

  2. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    I'm still working on this one. Every so often, I beat myself up over something I did, didn't do, etc.

    I found it's much easier to detach when she doesn't live here. I know that isn't an option for many of us, though.
  3. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member


    Detaching is hard. You think you've got it down pat, then you get drawn right back in. Over and over again.

    The technique that works best for me is to ask "What are you (difficult child) going to do about it?" If difficult child isn't there, I ask, "So, I wonder how he's going to handle that?"

    It really was an eye opener when I started reframing things in my mind.

    Look at all of the phrases you mentioned. What do they have in common?

    "I shoulda"
    "I coulda"
    "Why didn't I"
    "Why did I"

    With each of those questions, you're making the problem your own, when it should rest with your difficult child. As for the WHY questions, difficult child's psychiatrist taught me that I must never never never step into the trap of asking difficult child "why". I will either get, "I dunno" or I will get a stupid answer that will just frustrate me more. Better just not to go there.

    In the archives there is a whole set of "Detachment 101" phrases compiled by board members. I have it printed out, and I refer to it whenever I find myself tempted to stick my nose in. with everything relating to our difficult children, this is way easier said than done.

  4. judi

    judi Active Member

    Detachment is not a skill that is learned and then forgotten - it is something most of us live with. Many of us live with guilt too of what we could have done differently. However, I liken my guilt relating to my son that if husband and I hadn't committed him, hadn't sent him to jail, hadn't sent him to Residential Treatment Center (RTC), hadn't offered counselling and hadn't provided medications, he may have been dead by now. We have no contact with our son at all and for that we do grieve.
  5. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Guilt slows you down, once you get past the "Can I learn from this?" point. When it gets to the stage where all you're doing is mentally going round in circles, you're not achieving anything constructive by continually keeping it all in your mind.

    If there's anything you still need to consider, then even as you push it to the back of your mind, you can know that your mind will continue to work on it subconsciouely and will tap you on the shoulder if it comes up with something you can use.

    Butyou need to be firm with yourself - first, analyse the situation. Could you have done things differently? Maybe. What would have happened if you had done things differently? Follow each of the possibilities through to all of the posible logical conclusions.
    Now think - is this ever likely to happen agai? If the answer is yes, then you need to make sure you remember the range of options and keep them mentally "on file" for implementation should they be needed. In that way, something positive will come of your previous mistake.

    If the answer is no, you're not likely to meet the same situation agian, then you need to forgive yourself for not being perfect, set it all aside, perhapds chalk it up to experience and fallibility, maybe share it as a story against yourself so others can learn from your mistakes - and then move on. Because you will have wrung form your mistake as much positive, constructive resource as possible. It won't fix a mistake, but it can help other people avoid making the same one.

    If you can ever turn a bad situation into a better one, you can reduce the guilt. But once you get to the point where you've done all you can, you have to be good to yourself. Because if you don't, you will be far more likely to make more mistakes.

    Think about it - if you want to move forward safely, you need to keep your mind on the job and your eyes on where you put your feet. You are more likely to put a foot wrong if you're still looking back over your shoulder.

    That's how I deal with guilt, anyway. Self-talk. Logic. OVer and over. And mental vigilance.

  6. Kjs

    Kjs Guest

    I feel so guilty every day. But I cannot live with difficult child running my life. For 14 years he would tell us where he is going, when he is going, how long he is staying. He would tell us when he is doing homework, when he is doing anything! We scheduled everything around HIS schedule.

    Needless to say, that at age 14, difficult child does nothing to help out around the house, and for me to ask just starts a fight.

    difficult child, so far is a good kid. Not into the partying styles his friends all seem to be in right now. So, I feel guilty that due to that, should he be able to do as he pleases as long as he is a good clean kid??

    I am trying so hard to pull away. but, honestly - I MISS the closeness. I want the closeness. But MY life is a wreck. He thinks I am the meanest person in the world.
    Today I told him, and wrote them out what I expect from him.

    He started yelling and said that is all "bogus". He asked me why? I don't know why. I don't know how to explain it. I told him he is PART of a family, he is not THE family. But I know this will cause some not so good feelings towards me and that hurts. If only I didn't have to work - if only I was there all the time - if only I could start over. If only...
  7. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Kjs - does he know what "bogus" means? It sounds to me that he is trying to object to your asserting controls of any kind, rather than objecting specifically to what you are trying to ask of him.

    What would happen if you asked him to be more specific about his objections - "son, in what way is this 'bogus'? Please help me understand what your specific objection is to this."
    There still could be room for negotiation, even as you try to put some rules in place firmly. And if you can help him understand that what you want is important, has good reasons, is perfectly logical - you might get more compliance. Your difficult child is a bit like mine in that respect; organised, methodical, dislikes change, dislikes someone else imposing their will.

    You have no reason to feel guilty about any of this. He is arguing about it NOT because you are wrong, only because you are in charge.

    A big difference. Keep telling yourself, you have no reason at all to feel guilty. I think he's just learned how to wound you most effectively, how to best get under your skin and deflect you. He's had the best teacher in this, from your recent posts.

    Hang in there. Be strong. You're a good mother.

  8. lizzie09

    lizzie09 lizzie

    Detachment? Always difficult.
  9. flutterbee

    flutterbee Guest

    None of us are perfect. I'm sure there are many of us who would do things differently if given the chance to go back in time. But, you do the best you know how and keep learning and plugging along.

    I have the woulda, coulda, shoulda's...but I also know that I've invested so much in my difficult child and I'm not going to beat myself up for being human and, as such, prone to mistakes. I've always done the best I can. That's all we would expect of anyone else; why expect more from yourself?
  10. aeroeng

    aeroeng Mom of Three

    Once when I was a teen, a fellow class mate would ask questions about why we existed and is there a god. I talked with him the best I could. A few years later he was insane and living as a homeless alcoholic on the streets. For years I felt guilty. He was reaching out. I should have done something. I should have seen it. After a few decades of guilt I asked myself. "What would, could or should you have done?" "Why should a 17 year old have the knowledge to know what to do?" I could not come up with a good answer and realized I really did the best I could and guilt would not fix anything.

    Now that I have my own difficult child I really don't believe the "would, could or should route" is useful at all. I have used normal discipline techniques. I have sought out medical help (not happy with it but sought it). I have read dozens of books, and I have learned a lot about my own son. As frustrating as it is, I really can't do any thing more. I believe that as long as I keep trying and fighting looking for a solution, I am a good parent. (tired, frustrated, angry, crying parent, but still a good one).

    Find something that has a parental meaning to you and simply hold it and tell yourself that if you child was a normal one you would be a normal parent. But the pain and frustration is not because of you it is because god knew you were strong enough.

    Good luck, we are with you.
  11. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Daisy, I'm still working on it.
    Kjs, I love the bogus remark. Teens love that word.

    All I can say is that it takes practice, practice, practice.

    And some days are easier than others.
  12. janebrain

    janebrain New Member

    I think what helps me with the guilt thing is to realize that the guilt is a hindrance to doing the right things--it keeps me from setting boundaries and being a good parent. So, from a practical standpoint it is unhealthy.
  13. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Thanks everyone--

    And thanks for the link, Lizzy!

    I wonder if we would feel less guilty if we felt that we had more of the "answers"? Right now, so much of what we do is trial and error--and if it ends up being wrong, we doubt our abilities as parents.

    Marguerite--I always love your posts, so thorough and well-written. And I think you are right, if I can learn something from my mistake--I feel better. I do need to learn how to get out of the guilt trap when my mind just starts going round and round.

    And round...

    And round...

  14. Ropefree

    Ropefree Banned

    Daisyface: Hi! I think the main thing that shows learning in adults is the awareness that we are responcible for our part. And as we are not really perfict and do not know it all we find ourselves in some moments unaware or unprepared to tactfully avoid,prevent, or be on target through an oppertunity to learn something.

    I am not savy to the detachment teachings refered to by others. I think I understand what they refer to in terms of givng onesself permission to accept whatever is in the past and rise to the occation of today with as much objectivity as you can muster.

    On this board I thing the most emotionally burdened moments center on that time when as a parent WE WANT HELP. It is as if our own need for better understanding, information, diagnosis, treatment, a nap, the safe place for our child that is not with us right now....that these make us crazy with emotional pain.
    We are human. Not only do we not have all the answers, eyes in the back of our heads (despite the rumors), and some of us utterly lack instinct, sometimes we are just distracted ourselves and miss.
    The most painful guilt is when we wish we had the answer (or whatever) and we can do nothing nothing at all. Or the most painfull guilt is when we did know what we needed to know but we did the thing that was wronge and we had that "i knew it " feeling to begin with and we did the wrong anyway. The most painful guilt is the one that absorbs the colors of our moment, any moment.
    I think of that picadillo for parents when we want our child arrested, or committed for observation, have plenty of guilt type feeling.
  15. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    O you are SO right!

    The night our difficult child was admitted to psychiatric hospital--I think I just went numb with emotional exhaustion. She had been SO scary, so diffcult to deal with, I needed her to be admitted to get help--but I also felt like I had "abandoned my post" as a mother, and that by letting my child be locked away in a room with locks, and bars, and guards that I was committing the worst form of child abandonment and abuse.

    Ropefree--My worst guilt, is something that you actually touched on in response to my thread about taping difficult child with surveillance cameras. You wrote about how we had not been adequately protecting DS from his older sister...and THAT, truthfully, has been one of my biggest sources of guilt all these years. That I am not providing a good life for my son because of all of the focus that is placed on difficult child.

    And that I will end up "ruining" another one of my children....

    I'm sorry....I have started to cry as I am typing this....I just don't know at else to say right now
  16. Ropefree

    Ropefree Banned

    Daisyface: First of all you are clearly vividly a caring parent and the behavior your son exhibits shares that as he has learned, as many children do, to participate in the family to support the families needs and do what needs doing even when one (or more) family member can not or will not do their part.

    He does know his sister has problems and I bet he does love her dispite her abuses of him. No doubt he "gets" what the problem is and does his level best to cope withwhat is so reflecting the loving care he has recieved from you and as he witnesses his father as you cope and learn together how to make your family work.

    When you installed the cameras (brilliant move, by the way) you took ANOTHER improtant carefull step to make your family a safe place and as a person who has read about your effort I find your choices are inspiring in their careful embrace of this situation.
    One of my sweethearts had an adult daughter whose oldest son was autistic. And he was a very tall fellow, where as she and her second son were tiny people. From the time the younger was three he would follow his mothers example and block his far larger and older brother from going outside or whatever while calling for help over his shoulder. That tall autistic brother as a teen was over six feet tall and his obsession was cutting platic hangers into exact legth rods with any cutting tool he could acquire.When visiting one day I watched in utter astonishment while this tiny woman who was over a foot shorter than her six foot plus autistic son literally climbed her son like a tree to get high enough to take the knive he had out of his hand which he had exstended to hold the knife as far from her reach as he could.

    The county she lived in was just warming up to the idea of providing her with assistance!

    Far from feeling badly about YOUR limits to fortell the future or to see through walls
    or to lack perseption of the impact of your other child ...what I feel reading your posts (as with so many who seek refuge here) is how unbelievable the stress levels are for families and how creative and imaginative the solutions are that mothers and fathers devise to create a safe place for these unpredictable family members.

    What is true for me as a parent, and perhaps is true for you is that actually we ourselves need time we do not have enough of to desolve and resolve and solve the impact of the stress we ourselves live under like a crissis that never ends and has precious few lulls (and please, God, when that lull finds me let me have a nap)
    yes, taking care so that the person in our life:child,parent,husband, whomever does not so distract all attention that the non-chaotic people we are caring for have their needs met,too.
    Needs, wants, and habits are very differant issues. Ideally everyones needs are met as there is enough for everyone (or there isn't and traditionally it is mom who goes without)
    wants are earned by possitive behavior and limited to availability even then.
    Habits are either what works for the safe loving care of the group (the family) or they are subject to be changed.
    I tend to beat myself up emotionally by my own bad habits of mind...which, happily, I am aware of when I am and then I stop doing that.
    What is beautiful to see in you is that you are invested emotionally in the family you love and that you have the intention and the will to manifest the solutions that will continue to improve the environment of your family allowing them and you to share as much of lifes pleasures as you can muster.
    This new information that acts to allow you the oppertunity to take some of the burden off your son and honor and cherish the quality of devotions that he shows in his ways of coping also allows you to ask him to forgive you for whatever abuse and to help in a new way so that as a family you are all aware and caring for one anothers safty first.
    This is how life is. It is sometimes very ackward and challenging and filled with unexpected everyday heros.
    Please accept my apologise for anything I may have offered that seemed to hurt you in anyway. You know you did not teach your daughter to plague her younger brother. And no one blames you, I hope, for never imagining what was going on with that. Now you know and now the habits change. Yippy!
    cyber hug and cyber hanky for your tears, my cyber friend. Thank you for all you do.
  17. janebrain

    janebrain New Member

    I too have a child whose sibling abused her and we didn't know. I mean I knew she could be mean and I knew she was very jealous but I didn't realize the extent of the abuse until we sent her (difficult child 1) to an Residential Treatment Center (RTC) and then the dtr who'd been abused opened up about it.

    My younger dtr has been in therapy for 4 yrs now and her way of coping used to be to dissociate but she is doing much better now.

    I do know the guilt you feel--I was so focused on difficult child 1 and all her problems that I neglected to protect and nuture my easy child dtr. She was well behaved and did well in school so I figured she was okay and nothing could be further from the truth. Her therapist does EMDR therapy with her and she is having to process a lot of painful memories of the abuse and also feeling abandoned by me, like she didn't count.

    At some point the blinders came off and I could see it was time to put easy child first. That was when I really got strong and was able to quit enabling difficult child--in fact she was 18 by then and I kicked her out. I told easy child that difficult child would never live with us again and I have kept my word. I also saw that I would have to acknowledge what I did wrong and go from there. It was not going to do my easy child any good to have me depressed and upset over the past. She needed me to be strong and firm and there for her and she needed to see that I would stand up for her now.

    I know how hard it is--you are now on the right path though. You know the full extent of what is happening and you can protect your other child.

  18. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    I had to take a break from the computer and collect myself...

    Thank you all for your responses. I was going to say "You have no idea how much appreciate this support"--but after getting to know this group--it is clear that you all know EXACTLY how much it means to have another parent tell you that everything is OK.

    Thank you! A thousand times....


    (Ropefree--I did not take offense to anything that you said in that other thread. I think you were exactly right...and I actually had my husband read what you wrote. He agreed with you 100%.

    Thank you for your response is a beautiful post! I will cherish your words of comfort and support.)
  19. I think we also need to remember that detachment is not always about guilt; but sometimes acceptance too.