Sunday, May 9, 2010

Guilt and it's not anyone's fault

I teach a NAMI Family to Family education course every fall. The course meets for 12 weekly 2 1/2 hr classes and the course is always full (20 participants). One of the goals of the course is to let family members know that mental illness is not their fault, that they need not have any guilt. To let go of that guilt they feel.

Try telling that to any mother from any culture and you' might be blue in the face before they let go of that guilt. Even though they come to understand that mental illness is partly genetic predisposition in nature, a biological process, they still view it as they gave their child those genes that are part of the cause, as if that it's their fault. No one has a choice in which genes they pass on to future generations. (At least not yet.) IT IS NOT ANYONE'S FAULT!

If only mothers (and fathers and siblings) could realize that it's more important to deal with the reality that their loved one has a treatable illness that is the fault of no one. People are born with all kinds of predispositions to illnesses such type 1 diabetes or muscular dystrophy and we don't blame them for this. It's the unfortunate luck of different combinations of different genes that are either on or off. We are just beginning to understand how this happens.

The important message I'm trying to get across to mothers (and all other caregivers) is to focus on the present and future and assist their loved one in how to effectively manage their mental illness so they can live a productive and happy life just as anyone else would. Don't dwell on the past that can't be changed; just accept it and move on. The sooner you do this, the sooner you learn everything you can about the illness and treatments and services available so your loved one can too and be on the road of recovery, a lifelong journey for many.

If you get stuck in the past your loved one is likely to also. What's the expression, "like mother like...."

This is all meant in the most loving and understanding way from a sibling who became the caregiver in her family. Happy Mother's Day.

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