Friday, 15 July 2011

Guilt and other negative emotions...

OK, if you have read my other blogs you will know I wasn't in best shape when falling pregnant with my first daughter so I ended up feeling guilty throughout a lot of my pregnancy and beyond.  

At the time I would have probably told friends and family that people are making me feel guilty but now, a couple of years on and another fetus gestating away I realise now that it wasn't other people inflicting that emotion on me, I own my own mind and feel my own feelings...

Now most Mum's have either felt guilt, been made to feel guilty or been accused of making another mother feel guilty. From breastfeeding to disposable nappies there is lots to feel guilty about when becoming a mother.

I have 'been made to feel guilty' when pregnant although I now realise it was not guilt, it was anger at the situation I was in, I felt powerless and instead that anger manifested itself into guilt, shame and anger at the people 'making me feel guilty' when in fact all they were doing was giving me the facts so we could decide which was the best way to manage the problems I was having &  to help me to reduce the same problem arising in subsequent pregnancies. 

I have now learnt that others cannot make me feel guilty. People can state facts that may reinforce things I had already been worried about but the guilt is all my own. A great example of this was when my daughter was about 6 months old. I was shattered as she had been waking up between 8 and 10 times a night to feed, a friend told me to try controlled crying and explained how it was to be done, she said she had trained all her children to sleep like this and it worked. I was dubious as I hated to hear my daughter cry, I never tried it as I just knew it wasn't for us. A few weeks later I saw the same friend & she asked how the sleep was going, I told her pretty much the same to which she exclaimed "what the controlled crying didn't work?!" I told her we didn't do it as it didn't sit right with me. I was then told that babies who do not sleep have problems when they get to school age and grow up spoiled and hard work. Yet, despite her lecture I didn't feel an ounce of guilt, I felt she was wrong. I did go home and google risks of controlled crying and soon realised that I was right to trust my heart on that one.

So why do people accuse others of making them feel guilt?

I believe that 'guilt' is a misplaced emotion. It can cover a range of things. Anger towards someone giving you information, jealousy at  their knowledge or worry that you have not 'done the right thing' when your child is concerned.

When anyone suffers from a sad event, whether that be a bereavement or some sad/worrying news, the cycle of acceptance can come in to play (see below diagram):
 I think this explains why when someone gives you bad news you can often 'shoot the messenger' as you are in the 'anger/aggression' stage that follows the denial and non accepting part of the cycle. 

So for example, if you were to say to a pregnant woman who smokes 20 a day ''that could be killing or harming your unborn child'' chances are (if she was unaware of the effects of the habit on her baby) she would enter this cycle with something along the lines of ''No I am not'' (denial) you then may state some fact or give her a leaflet explaining it in more detail which may then be followed by an outburst of ''leave me alone and stop judging me, stop trying to make me feel guilty''. When left to her own devices she may then reflect, read the leaflet, feel angry no one had told her before, she may feel sorry for herself (depression continues anger and denial). She may then decide to cut down or give up smoking (bargaining), then feel a bit better (acceptance). Then after giving up and making the decision to do so she should be back to her 'normal' happy self.

The above scenario can be placed in most situations where guilt rears its ugly head.

So what should you do if you are accused of 'making someone feel guilty'?

Firstly, I always take a breather from the situation, and look at the whole picture. I always ask myself the following questions:

- Do I know what I am saying is facts or opinions?
- How does telling my friend about this 'help' them?
- Could she be feeling anger at her situation?

If what you are saying is not research based but somehting someone else has told you, then tell them you will look into it more or tell them about the source of the information. Think deeply about what you are saying to them can it actually 'help' them? Is it worth telling a formula feeding mother the risks of formula feed ung unless she is pregnant or dishing out advice to pregnant women? Put yourself in her shoes, could she have just felt undermined and judged by what you have said? Let her rant and have her say. If you know what you are telling her to be true then use tactful, respectful phrases such as 'I know this may be hard for you, I do not want you to feel bad but I think sharing this information could help you because...' avoid statements such as 'well its the truth!' getting annoyed at their anger is not constructive, they need you to be supportive & accepting of their feelings. However, if they deliberately insult you (i.e. 'oh look at the breastapo!') then tell them you are offended and you are only trying to help.

What do I do if I start to feel guilty when a friend or someone else says something that I feel bad about?

Again, stand back. Ask them questions:
- Is there any research to back up what you are saying?
- Where can I go to find out more?
- Why are you telling me this?

If they say what they are saying is opinion based or non-researched, suggest you talk about this another time when there are more facts, you can then research it yourself. If she is telling you something to help you then try your best to accept what she is saying, it may be hard, tell her you find it hard if that's the case, confide in your feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, what have you but try not to shoot the messenger. She is probably finding the conversation hard enough without also being shouted at or called a liar. Obviously there are some Mums out there who do seem to revel in other peoples misery but life is nicer when we give people the benefit of the doubt.

If you find there is a particular person who seems to constantly undermine your parenting, that can be hard. Ask them why they parent the way they do, you never know, you may learn something and have more in common in the future. Parents can be passionate, I find the more informed a mother is, the more passionate she is. I know now, that at times my own passion has upset others, with knowledge needs to come tact and also acceptance in that some people just cannot be 'helped'.

So what next?

Well, that's up to the individual. I am hoping to all who have read this may think before they speak but still speak, accept others advice without using words such a 'breastfeeding-mafia' or similar when faced with facts. Realise that we internalise our own emotions & people cannot 'make' you feel anything but instead only magnify what you already felt somewhere already...