Some Things to Do if You or Your Child is Experiencing Guilt

Posted on October 23, 2013, in Guilt

If guilt is not the result of an action precipitated by you or your child, it is often is the result of feeling powerless and having to deal with your own vulnerability. It can also result from feeling ashamed, which stems from a belief that we should be a perfect child or parent; a result of factors beyond our control, like what others did at the time. It can also be the result of our mid-brain response to this threatening and terrifying experience. We have no ability to control our mid-brain response. We may wish we did not respond the way we did. Try to answer the following questions.

How to Relieve Guilt

  • Identify what about this situation makes you feel the most powerless/helpless.
  • Identify the personal reactions you had about this situation that caused you to feel ashamed.
  • Answer the following about these two issues:
    • Realistically, was there anything you could have done to foresee this happening?
    • Do you believe you should have been able to do something to prevent this?
    • What prevented you from acting differently?
    • Have you asked yourself what your condition was at the time? Were you hungry? tired?
    • Did other conditions at the time distract you or prevent you from acting or responding differently?
    • Have you considered that how the brain responds to extreme stress and trauma determines your initial responses and you had no conscious control to determine your responses? (You weren’t trained and conditioned to respond to situations like this.)
    • Have you considered the fact that trauma distorts the events of the actual situation and that we reacted to these distortions, not necessarily the reality of what actually happened?
    • Where is the evidence that if you responded differently the outcome would have been different?
    • Have you considered that a trauma is called a “trauma” because it is a situation we can never be fully prepared for and that it terrifies us in such a way that we are left feeling powerless and uncertain as to what to do?
    • Are you taking this one experience and condemning your entire life?
    • Have you focused on the positive reactions of your behavior during this time? What are those positive reactions?
    • Can you accept that your guilt may be a way to avoid your own vulnerability? We can’t prevent everything that happens.
    • Can you accept that the choices you have available to you now are related to how you are going to respond, or fight to survive this terrible experience?
  • After answering all those questions, is there information you need to forgive yourself? How can you obtain this information?
  • If you were helping a friend who was feeling guilty what would you tell the friend to help them? Can you take the same advice?
  • If you continue to blame yourself, ask yourself, “How am I helping my child by punishing myself?” How would you help your child by forgiving yourself?
  • If your guilt persists, you owe it your child, your family, and yourself to seek help from a trauma specialist.

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