How to Let Go of Guilt & the Fear That You’re Not Good Enough
Why Healing Ourselves Is the Most Loving Act We Can Do for Those Around Us
by Jessica Gammell-Bennett
When was the last time you felt guilty and inadequate as a parent? A year ago? Last week? This morning? We’ve all been there.
You get a call from your child’s teacher, and they want to set up a conference about his behavior. And you can’t help but wonder what you could have done differently.
Your teenage daughter is not happy, and you just know it’s your fault.
Your son is struggling to make friends. If only you had been more attentive.
Your toddler fell out of a high chair and hit his head. In the middle of a restaurant. With patrons all around. And you just…
That last example is mine.
We were just finishing up lunch and getting ready to leave when, my rambunctious toddler tried to climb out of his high chair and fell backward, hitting his head on the floor. SPLAT.
As I grabbed him up into my arms and headed for the car, one lovely waiter offered to bring some ice. One woman followed me out to tell me that I should call 911 because his brain was probably swelling. “I’m taking him to the ER” was all I could utter.
Less than an hour later, my son was running around the exam room of the ER, trying to play with the instruments. They kept us for a couple of hours and said that he wasn’t showing any signs of a concussion.
As I thought back on the horrific scene, I remembered the eyes of the fellow patrons, with their hands to their mouths, shaking their heads in condemnation.
I had carried my son out of there in shame. I replayed the moment continuously in my head, hearing the sound of his head hitting the floor over and over again.
If banging my head against the wall could have erased the memory, I would gladly have done so.
Instead, to save my own sanity, I devised six steps that helped me let go of the guilt and even equipped me to handle future guilt trips.
Here are six steps that you can use to let go of guilt:
1) Identify the guilt trigger:
As the scene replayed repeatedly in my head, the trigger for my guilt became obvious: my son’s fall made me feel like I had failed as a parent. The fact that it was in such a public way only added insult to injury.
In analyzing this process, I have learned that identifying the trigger was the first step towards getting past the guilt.
2) When in doubt, reach out:
I decided to reach out on Facebook, posting about the incident to see if any of my friends had experienced this before. The stories and support came pouring in.
Apparently every one of my friends who had raised children had a story of their own to share. They assured me that “shit happens,” and the most important thing was that my son was fine now.
While Facebook and other social media platforms are notorious for generating ill-will, I discovered that they can also serve to support us when we need reassurance. I learned that when I am in doubt, I can reach out.
3) Recognize a thought pattern and change it:
Buoyed by support, I realized I needed to change my thought patterns, so I employed a technique that is called ‘Thought Records’ in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The main idea of this technique is to evaluate arguments for and against a thought next to each other.
In this instance, whenever I had the thought “I’m an incompetent mother,” I would then think of the times I caught my son, an avid climber before he fell. I would think of the times I had advocated for my son, who was born with medical special needs and had successfully gotten him the best possible care.
The restaurant scene stopped playing in my head. I learned that I could recognize a thought pattern and change it.
4) Recognize when your ego has exerted its influence:
What made me more prone to guilt and shame in my parenting, while others could say “shit happens”?
For this, I turned to the book The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D. where she says
“None of us likes to be perceived as an incompetent parent. Our ego needs to be seen as a superlative parent. Anytime we feel less perfect than what we wish to be, we experience anxiety because we believe we have “fallen” in the eyes of others.”
Could the words have been more apropos? I learned that I could recognize when my ego had exerted its influence.
5) Find your center:
I’m a Reiki therapist and teacher, so my go-to when I want to get back to the center is to do Reiki, but I also spend time in nature with my family, exercise with my son in the stroller, meditate before he wakes up, and take baths with healing salts after he goes to bed (not all on the same day).
After the incident, I learned that connecting to my center gave me the quiet space that I needed to stop the guilty chatter and connect to the truth of who I am.
6) If possible, remove yourself from the environment that makes you feel guilty:
Two weeks later, we returned to the same restaurant. The waitress, who knew us, said “oh, I feel so bad for you. People think you’re a bad mom, and you’re not.”
When we tried to order a half order of our favorite dish for our son like we always had, we were told they wouldn’t make it for us. When we asked to speak to the owner, we were told he was too busy.
By this time, I had arrived at the following conclusion: I am a competent parent. I had learned that it doesn’t matter what others think. So we left and found another restaurant.