Before continuing our discussion of guilt, I would like to send you a message of hope that is rooted in my own life.
In raising my three children, I carried a great deal of guilt about my mistakes. Like some of you, I desperately wished for do-overs.
I write this on the birthday of my eldest son, who survived many errors that I made during his teenage years. He grew up to be one of my favorite people, and we have an excellent, fun relationship now. I’ve talked with him about mistakes that have haunted me for years. It turns out that he didn’t even notice half of them, and he graciously forgave the other half. (At least that’s what he says, so I’m going with that!)
I feel overwhelming gratitude for my three kids and my relationship with each of them. Yet there were tough times when it was hard to stay in perspective. I’m here to support you through times like that.
So, to honor my son’s birthday, I send you this message: Have faith that your bond will hold strong through times of adversity — and continue throughout your lives. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness and family connection.
Okay, where were we? Oh yes, guilt. If you finished the Guiltbusters exercise from my last post, I hope it was helpful! But if your guilt feelings didn’t magically disappear, don’t worry. It’s a process. It’s not surprising if, from time to time, old guilt feelings arise and threaten your effectiveness as a parent. So let’s give you another tool.
I once know a counselor who, like me, was prone to metaphors. She told her clients that we all need to develop an “inner windshield” against attempts by others to undermine us. I loved that metaphor, and it has proven helpful for my clients and for me.
Today I want to take it one step further. Sometimes we need an inner windshield against our own painful thoughts. Especially guilt. So, today’s exercise is to erect such a windshield. It builds on the Guiltbusters exercise featured in my last two posts.
The Inner Windshield Exercise
PURPOSE: To protect yourself from destructive guilt by creating a mental windshield. The windshield consists of a well-considered conclusion. Whenever guilt seems to distract you from action, you’ll repeat that conclusion to yourself.
Step One. Review, carefully and critically, the plan that you developed in the Guiltbuster exercise. Is there anything that you would like to change or add? Continue to revise and supplement until you are satisfied that it is a complete and sound plan of action. Then proceed to Step Two.
Step Two. State your satisfaction with the plan in a single sentence. We’ll call it your “shield sentence.” Write it down. Then follow that sentence with this one: “Guilt serves no one.”
“This issue is being handled constructively. Guilt serves no one.”
“I am doing my very best to correct my errors. Guilt serves no one.”
“I am focused on being effective now. Guilt serves no one.”
Step Three. Keep working on your shield sentence until it perfectly expresses your trust in your plan. If you find yourself going back to your plan to revise it, that’s just fine. In fact, that’s very good! You want it to be heartfelt, a statement that you believe in through and through. It should state a principle that you will stand up for and and defend — even against yourself.
Step Four. Make a progress chart. I know that sounds corny. It may remind you of the “star charts” that your first grade teacher made. Remember those colorful little star stickers? This is absolutely the same idea – goofy as it may sound. You don’t actually need to run out and buy star stickers. But it might be fun . . . .
You can chart your progress in any juvenile or sophisticated way you wish. But you must do it. Why? Because it’s step four. You’ve worked very hard on converting guilt to action. You deserve to see your progress in a tangible form.
Create a way to track (a) the times that you used your windshield statements to dispel guilty thoughts or feelings and (b) the length of time, in seconds or minutes, that it took before you redirected yourself into action mode.
Now make the chart to record your results. For example, you could give yourself a gold star every time you shift from guilt to action in less than one minute. Then a silver star if it took less than three minutes, a red star if less than five minutes, and so on.
Step Five. Every week, rate your satisfaction with your progress, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10 or on any scale that you devise.
Step Six. (Optional) Please return to this blog and let me know what you learned. It could help your fellow parents and help me to improve the exercise.
See you soon. Have fun with the sticky stars!