Multigenerational Guilt and Shame

It’s My Fault.

I’m a Failure.

If I weren’t so lazy, I’d be more financially stable.

If I was a better daughter, my parents would still be together.

If I were thinner, my husband would have sex with me.

If I weren’t so angry, I’d have friends.

If I’d worked harder in my 20s, I’d have a great career now.

I should’ve listened to my parents.

I should’ve gone to graduate school.

I should’ve practiced more.

I shouldn’t have married her.

I should have taken better care of myself.

If I had been a better person, he would still be here.

If I was a better person, God would hear me.

If I weren’t so nervous, I’d be more fun.

If I were a better mom, my child would do better in school.

If I were a better dad, my daughter wouldn’t have a drug problem.

If I had asked more questions, been a better listener, said the right things, he would still be alive.

I attended an EMDR workshop by Laurell Parnell, who said, “children absorb their parents’ emotions and take them directly into the nervous system.” When she said this, I instantly knew it was true before reading any scientific proof. I knew countless depressed adults who blamed themselves for the aching misery experienced by their parents…..and I knew I had been one of them. This made me wonder how much guilt and shame belongs to us as individuals, and how much belongs to our parents.

Think about it. Here’s an exercise to help you explore the guilt you may have inherited from generations past……and what to do with the smelly old trunkfulls of disappointment.

  1. Make a list of your parents’ regrets: Unresolved conflict, Failed careers, Disappointing Love Relationships, Bad treatment of their children……Allow yourself to guess, speculate, fictionalize, even if you don’t know for sure.
  2. For each of your parents’ regrets, jot down the emotion you
  3. Now make a list of your own regrets. Again, think about your relationships, your parenting, your young adult adventures, your failures. Notice why these experiences seem so negative to you now.
  4. If each piece of shame on your list was a pebbly stepping stone toward greater maturity, notice how different the world would look.
  5. Imagine what your parents were trying to learn when they were most upset. Developing empathy? Learning to let go? Learning to adjust their efforts? Finding a connection with their higher power?…..
  6. Imagine yourself standing on the shoulders of your parents, seeing more of the world than they could see. Imagine past generations of your family underneath your parents, holding them up. Think of how important their failures have been to each successive generation, allowing children to grasp more things in the distance than their parents could perceive.
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We keep evolving.

I imagine…..if every sin, mis-step, failure, crazy relationship, breakup, drunken fit, or lapsed exercise regimen was part of your becoming the complex individual you are today…..

…..you could relax a little.

…..you could look at your list as a series of learning experiences.

…..you could see failure as a search for your true self.

…..you could trust yourself and your struggles a little more.

You already know I’m a proponent of misbehavior. Breaking the rules and failing helps us become who we truly are. So, It’s My Fault can become, I Learned From It. And, I Should Have Known Better can become, I Did The Best I Could….And Look Where I Am Now!

Contact me if you’d like to talk about your guilt list. I’d love to see you transform it into the rich, multi-generational life history it was meant to be.

Contact Deborah