Saturday, July 5, 2008

How to Deal With the Guilt While Looking Into the Past

From The Emotional Incest Syndrome” by Patricia Love with Jo Robinson.. Exploring the dynamics of covert (emotional or non-sexual but gender-related) incest.

From pages 136 -139:

For some Chosen Children, guilt, not anxiety, keeps them from gaining a more accurate view of their childhood. This is often true of those who grew up worshiping a parent. How can they go from thinking a parent was the most wonderful mother or father on earth to seeing the parent as the source of their misery? How can they be angry at a parent who sacrificed so much for them? How can a relationship that usually felt so good be classified as bad? ...

...If you feel guilty for seeing the negative side of a parent, removing this barrier will hasten your recovery. But how do you do this? It's been my experience that learning more about the complicated psychology of guilt helps reduce its impact. In it's simplest form, guilt is a painful but short-lived phenomenon designed to jolt you into awareness that your behavior is not consistent with your beliefs. [Blog host note: This is much like the definition of cognitive dissonance, and guilt could well be an indicator of cognitive dissonance at work.] It's a voice from your conscience advising you to either (1) reexamine your beliefs or (2) alter your behavior so that the two of them line up...

[I]t's the adult who creates the parent-child alliance. A child can't be blamed for wanting preferential treatment from a parent; it's a survival mechanism built into all children: in times of scarcity, being first in line can mean the difference between life and death. A wise parent ignores the child's plea for a place of prominence and keeps all children on the same plane. No child is given preferential treatment or is asked to play the role of surrogate spouse. Ultimately, it's the parent's responsibility to create a balanced family system, not the child's responsibility to suppress a natural and understandable desire to be a Chosen Child.

Ironically, many Chosen Children discover that letting go of this misplaced sense of guilt for what went on in the family makes them feel anxious; it's a Catch-22. Once they place the responsibility where it really belongs – squarely in the lap of the parent – they may experience a surge of anxiety for having “bad thoughts” about the caretaker. Here's the internal logic: “If I was not responsible for being the Chosen Child, then my mother and father were to blame. It makes me feel anxious to see my parents in a negative light, however, because my unconscious mind assumes they are still responsible for my well-being. Even though I am 20 or 40 or even 70 years old and have outlived both my parents, I am still fearful of abandonment. It may be better to accept the guilt for what went wrong in my family than to blame my parents and stir up my anxiety.”

For many people, this complicated and erroneous belief system stands in the way of recovery. Understanding the way the unconscious mind operates is a first step to letting go of the unnecessary burden. Here, once again, is the faulty train of logic:

  1. When children are young, they feel responsible for the tension in the family because of the false belief that they are in control of the situation.

  2. In later years, if they try to change this belief and assign full responsibility to their parents, they feel anxious.

  3. The underlying cause of this anxiety is the erroneous belief in their adult years.

If the thought of identifying the mistakes your parents made in raising you makes you feel guilty or anxious, you need to revise your belief system. You were not to blame for what went on in the family, and you have nothing to fear for placing the responsibility for where it really belongs. You are now capable of taking care of yourself. And remember that you don't have to confront your parents or disassociate from them to recover from emotional incest. You just need to remove some of the mythology that keeps you from seeing and experiencing the truth.

Excerpt from
Dr. Patricia Love's

The Emotional Incest Syndrome:
What to Do When a Parent's Love Rule's Your Life
Bantam Books, 1990