In last week’s blog, I reflected on the pressure parents put on themselves to maintain the perception everything is perfect in their home by referencing the fictitious television family, Ozzie and Harriet, as some faux standard of the perfect family dynamic. Today, every family is struggling with something. The real pressure is based on the fear someone may discover the family’s little secret and pull the mask off.
Parents confronted with the painful discovery of a child’s addiction, often react with emotions of guilt, fear, and shame. It starts with fear as parents become fearful of what will happen now, what happens when the world finds out, and what does this mean to all our hopes, dreams, and expectations for our child? Unfortunately, this is not looking at the problem per se, but is a reaction focused at outcomes. A fearful mindset results in emotion filled reactions, often lacking knowledge and insight necessary to effectively define a healthy, balanced response to the problem.
Guilt feeds on parents’ fear. When children get in trouble or do something wrong, a parents’ greatest fear is being seen as faulty, inadequate parents. Sensing they we may have failed as parents often leads to overreactions and coverups. Guilt causes a parent say, “I must have done something wrong.” It overwhelms them. Parents go back in their mind to try and figure out how they could have done things different to prevent it or assess how they could have possibly missed a clue, as though they must have made a parenting mistake that caused this.
I went through my own assessment process when I found out my son had a serious heroin addiction. I was convinced I did something wrong or failed my son. My guilt became the motivator for how I engaged the situation. Immediately, I committed all my time and energy to my son’s recovery. My reaction to the issue was to compensate for my potential past failings and make up for them by investing everything into his recovery.
This didn’t make the situation any better. It actually made things worse as I brought my own toxic fear based, guilt driven energy into an already difficult situation. My son didn’t need me involved so I could make up for my previous parenting deficiencies, he needed a healthy, balanced dad focusing on providing him what he needed most from me to walk with him in this situation. As I assuaged my feelings of guilt, my behaviors were more about me in his addiction, not actually helping him with his addiction.
The third destructive emotion is shame. Guilt tells us, “I must have done something wrong.” Shame says, “something must be wrong with me.” When parents talk about overcoming shame, they are actually acknowledging their own perception of the possibility something is inherently wrong with them for this to happen. While we blame an ignorant, judgemental public for our feelings of shame, it is really our own recriminations of failure that makes us wonder what’s wrong with me that this happened? Despite the best effort and intention, our shame reminds of our weaknesses and faults and it is because of them we may have caused this outcome.
Fear, guilt and shame are toxic emotions. These emotions cannot be the motivational driver for helping our children; or, from which our future decisions and behaviors are defined. They often interrupt the ability to do what is best for their child as these responses are often about our interests, not theirs. Once a parent better understands the underlying source and nature of their child’s addiction struggle, they are better positioned to help their child get the best assistance they need. This takes time, courage, patience, knowledge and insight. All of which cannot occur in a reactive mindset. In this space of intellectual responsiveness parents are better positioned to receive the support and education most needed to help them work through the situation as a family. After all, addiction is a family problem.
Next week, I will transition from the concepts of fear, shame and guilt and focus on unconditional love and forgiveness. I will share how these emotions are the foundation for facilitating productive outcomes and interactions with our addicted child and their struggles.
In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. What issues are confronting you today? Where are you currently experiencing fear and shame relating to the struggles in your life? I have some pretty cool tools to guide you and would love to help. Please let me know: dave@100Pedals.com.