I’m a Total Failure: Transform Multi-generational Guilt and Shame

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

Find Your G-Spot: Healthy versus Coercive Guilt

Find Your G-Spot

Find Your G-Spot

 

My clients report LOTS of guilt. Guilt over everything . . . being a rebellious teen (thirty years ago) . . . failing to protect their children from unforeseen tragedies . . . eating desserts . . . not living up to their potential . . . breaking someone’s heart . . . flying into rages . . . majoring in business instead of art. Some of this is healthy guilt. Most of it is coercive guilt.

It’s my fault: . . . I’m not more successful.

My dad died too young.

My parents split up.

My mother stayed in bed all the time.

My brother has so much trouble.

My husband doesn’t want me.

We had to file bankruptcy.

We lost the baby.

 Sometimes I try to argue with them. So, a five-year-old kid could cause his parents to divorce? So, you’re supposed to put your young life on hold to make sure your dad doesn’t die – even though he’s trashed his body and chased away his loved ones?

 Talk therapy only gets us so far: countering this kind of guilt with words is only partially helpful. We need the power-washer of EMDR to clean out old trauma channels in the brain that hold residue from our history and hold back the forward progress of our thinking.

But sometimes guilt is good. And we need to know the difference between guilt that helps versus guilt that hurts.

Healthy Guilt

Healthy Guilt steers us in the direction of becoming kinder, more responsible, more empathic, and more helpful. Guilt is good if it makes us better.

I wish I had not insulted his masculinity.

I wish I had handled my children more gently.

I could have helped that woman down the street with her car.

I should give more to charity.

Healthy Guilt brings awareness and changes our behavior in the future. It notices and then lets go. It illuminates a path not taken and creates experiential learning. It says: I’m human, I’m imperfect, and I’m learning. I believe Healthy Guilt comes from the higher self in connection with divine love.

But if it hangs on, keeps us awake at night, or paralyzes our ability to feel joy or to take action, guilt has morphed from healthy to coercive.

Coercive Guilt

Coercion involves force or threats – direct or indirect. So Coercive Guilt comes from some experience (past or present) in which we were induced to feel bad about ourselves for disappointing someone else. Coercive Guilt steers us toward depression, rigidity, anxiety, and less enjoyment of life. Coercive Guilt gets passed down the line, creating anxiety for younger generations. Guilt is bad if it is used to coerce others or make ourselves sick. Guilt is bad if it hangs on in spite of our changes, our apologies, our restitutions. Coercive Guilt comes from an outside influence that says we’ll never be enough, no matter how hard we work or how much we deny ourselves.

Coercive Guilt activates false family-of-origin beliefs.

  1. I’m a bad person.
  2. I make people angry, sad.
  3. I don’t give enough.
  4. I’m selfish and ungrateful.
  5. People who move far away from family are selfish and cold.
  6. If I take care of myself, I can’t be good (enough) to others.
  7. If I speak my truth, I will hurt people (and that would be bad).
  8. If I do what’s in my own best interest, I will have failed someone else.
  9. I should have known better. I should have seen it before.
  10. I’m not enough.

I wonder how the world would change if we all began to shed our coercive guilt. I wonder what would happen if we wrote about where it all started, how it’s limited our life adventures, and what we’d love to do if we weren’t so guilty.

Contact me if you’d like to target your Coercive Guilt with EMDR therapy or talk about re-writing your life story without all the apologies.

Contact Deborah

 

 

I Must be a Bad Person: Recovering from Religious Abuse

Something tells me I’m a very bad person.

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Under the bridge…..beneath, “It’s my fault,” lives a more troubling idea…It hides in us like a troll under a bridge. Anyone who’s survived religious abuse knows the old thought-training dies hard.

Jim teaches art to high-schoolers. He lives with his wife of thirty years – the wife who mothered their four children. He never admits being gay, but he says he once had a “sexual problem involving other men.”

Jim was raised Church of Christ. When he tells me this, I feel a rush of heat and emotion because I, too, was raised Church of Christ. I know what this means. Religious abuse trains our own thoughts to condemn us for growing up. Religious abuse teaches us to fear our own bodies, thoughts, feelings, and needs.

We meet because of Jim’s panic attacks, which have resurfaced after 20 years of dormancy. He has them at the oddest times: once, on the highway in his Toyota, another dozen times at home, doing nothing in particular.

Jim tells me his father hit him with a belt for, “saying my thoughts out loud.” Sex was completely ignored in his fundamentalist family and his parents led a Bible study group on the evils of homosexuality.

I call this spiritual/religious abuse. I call this sadistic parenting. I call this major childhood trauma. I suggest Jim has PTSD. We start EMDR therapy. I ask Jim about his worst memories. He says, “My father barging in on me in the bathroom and beating me in the shower with his belt.”

I say, “Let’s go with that.”

Through the EMDR process, Jim shares a series of negative beliefs that come with the memory.

  • It’s my fault.
  • I’m a bad person.
  • My body is shameful/bad.

EMDR allows Jim to integrate the old guilt and reflexive, automatic, child-brain thoughts with newer, adult-brain information.

  • I am basically good.
  • I do the best I can.
  • My body is normal/okay.
  • My kids love me.
  • I’m a good teacher.

Jim releases a flood of boyhood tears. His body relaxes. This takes about four sessions. I see his face change. I see his posture change. He gets taller. He tells me he’s painting again. After another four weeks, he is clear of panic symptoms.

“I’m freer now. I can simply be angry and sad about my past.” Jim no longer has to throw a tarp over his true feelings just because they are unsightly to his family.

He still has some emotional work ahead of him. Jim has to grapple with the fact that he has never been free to be truly himself – that he’s pretended to be hetero to protect himself from his father, their church, the elders, the larger culture that surrounded it all. Jim and his wife will need couples counseling to cut through the invisible fence of secrets that has stood between them and mystified them both. Who knows where this will lead….?

But at least the secrets can be unpacked and he knows they’re not his fault. Free of this blame, Jim has emotional options that didn’t exist last year. As he talks honestly with his wife, his depression lifts. Many tears are shed, but windows of possibility open to the sky. There is life after truth-telling: life after PTSD and loneliness and despair.

I ask him what he believes about himself. He says, “I’m loved.” He says, “I’m okay.” He says, “I’m growing.”

My novel, Wife Material, is also a story about religious/spiritual abuse. Call me if you’d like to talk about this kind of trauma or learn about how EMDR therapy can help you heal from it.

Contact Deborah

 

It Must be My Fault

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“It Must be My Fault”

Beth gets the guilt like a reflex if anything goes wrong…..Especially if it involves her partner or her kids.

“If Stuart’s in a bad mood, I assume it has something to do with me.”

She feels responsible for her divorce.

“If I had been calmer and less upset, we might have made it.”

Beth blames herself for her ex-husband’s affair, which ultimately led to their divorce. When she talks about this, huge tears form in her eyes. If only I had been less kid-focused, more marriage-focused, he wouldn’t have strayed.

“I’m a failure at love.”

As we explore her history, we find more events for which she believes she is responsible.

  • Her parents’ constant fighting.
  • Her younger sister’s illness and eventual death.
  • Her parents’ divorce when she was thirteen.
  • Her mother’s drinking problem.
  • Her father’s absence, remarriage, new family, and complete emotional cutoff from adolescent Beth.

As adults, we know she could never have caused her sister’s cancer, but she feels as though she did. Part of Beth’s brain, the part that recorded all the childhood traumas, got stuck in a loop of images, emotions, and body sensations many years ago. In fact, the neuro-cognitive self-blame loop formed before she could even talk……way back when Beth’s young parents were struggling to survive early job loss and financial devastation.

Children blame themselves for their parents’ suffering. Children absorb their parents’ emotions into their own nervous systems. Yes, children absorb guilt that belongs to someone else.

The guilt-and-self-blame loop triggers Beth to drink too much, eat too much, and feel like a failure. Beth needs help rewiring her brain circuitry. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy does this, literally, by jump-starting conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The talk between brain hemispheres actually produces new information.

Imagine the lids from two cans of paint – one red, one white. Now picture someone taking a brush and drawing it across both lids – back and forth, until you see lines of white in the red and lines of red in the white….and soon pink paint!

EMDR works like this…..the new information, like the pink paint created in this illustration, triggers neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other in a different way. New working groups of neurons form. These new neuron groups change the very route through which both old and new information travels, allowing it to produce new meaning and emotion as it picks up new data along its new route through the nervous system.

That new information leads to an emotional change – the ability to feel the truth in what our adult brains know to be true:

  • It’s not my fault.
  • I did the best I could.
  • I was a child.
  • I deserve love.

When I see this process unfolding in my clients, I watch them calm down. I watch them acquire new, imaginative ideas, parent more effectively, and become more spiritually centered.

Call me to find out more about EMDR therapy, calming down, and letting go of guilt.

Contact Deborah

Step Away From the Dog House: Love, Guilt, and Imperfection

Max says, “I need to get help or I’m going to lose my family.” Max feels like a failure as a mate and as a father. At age 45, he works 60 hours a week to provide his family’s comfortable lifestyle. He coaches kids’ soccer teams. He takes his wife on an annual cruise. He buys too many things for his two children. Max takes the blame for arguments between him and his wife. He says they’re his fault because he’s too sensitive, too self-absorbed. He says, “My wife is an angel to put up with me.”

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