Allergy moms: I have some not so great news. No matter how hard you try, how diligent you are, or how many plans you have- at some point your child will likely be exposed to their allergen. You are not going to navigate this journey perfectly, no matter how many precautions you put in place. And for many of us, even if we were to get it perfect we would still beat ourselves up. (For a deeper dive on this, read my friend Heather Hewett’s Allergic Living article here.)
Here are just a few things allergy moms feel bad about:
Do you notice a theme here? So many times in our allergy world, there are no good solutions because there are pros and cons to almost every decision. Adding to this is a lack of consistent messaging about how to manage food allergies and an overload of input from social media on the multitude of different ways families handle their own allergies.
Compassion is defined as being moved by the suffering of others.
Self-compassion is recognizing that your suffering is difficult and acknowledging the pain.
You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. If self-compassion is difficult for you, I’d like for you to think for a minute about how you talk to your child about their difficult thoughts and emotions, or about a mistake they have made.
Now imagine talking to your child in the same manner you talk to yourself about those same thoughts and emotions and missteps. As you picture talking to your child the way you talk to yourself, ask yourself some questions:
Notice, Name and Normalize
Get curious about what your mind is telling you. Observe the thoughts, emotions, memories, etc. that are coming up. It is helpful to complete the sentence, “I notice my mind is telling me…” (Remember that you are observing your thoughts, not judging them).
Also notice what is going on in your body. Does your chest feel full? Do you have a lump in your throat? Are your shoulders tight? Butterflies in your stomach?
Put a name to what is happening. Maybe emotions of shame, guilt, anger, vulnerability, or self doubt are showing up. Maybe it is a feeling of deep tiredness. Maybe it is a memory of helplessness. Maybe the only thing you are experiencing is pain in your lower back.
Whatever it is, after you notice what is happening in your mind and body, then name it. For example, “I am noticing my chest feels heavy”, “I am noticing deep shame”, or “I am noticing regret”.
And then acknowledge the difficulty of it. Acknowledge that it is painful. Naming this can be as simple as, “This is difficult” or “This is exhausting”.
When we are in the midst of suffering, it is helpful to remember that suffering is a part of the human condition. Our highly evolved brains are hard-wired for suffering, and the more we try to avoid experiencing discomfort, the more it sticks around.
Although our specific circumstances are not always the same, humans have the shared struggle of deeply painful experiences. In the food allergy space, there are many moms out there feeling very similarly to you. And it is very difficult.
So when normalizing you may say to yourself, “This is painful and hard, and difficult emotions are a universal human experience” or “Humans are hard-wired to suffer sometimes. It is normal”
Remember that this food allergy journey is very challenging, and painful emotions including guilt are common. Please be kind to yourself. You are navigating something that is very difficult, and some self-compassion can go a long way towards healing and living a purposeful life.
Looking for more on this and related topics? Check out:
Remember, support is out there if you need it!
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Ever notice that we live by rules? I'm not talking about societal rules such as laws, but internal rules, or beliefs and guidelines we've created for ourselves to live by. We typically develop these internal rules/beliefs through experiences we've had, or to help us achieve or avoid things.
You'll likely identify these internal rules by the language you use when thinking of them. "Should, ought to, must, right or wrong, good or bad, always or never" are common words and phrases that let us know that we're connecting with these internal rules/beliefs.
But internal rules and beliefs are useful, right?
Maybe. They can be useful, guiding us towards things that matter to us in life. BUT, they can also be unhelpful, leading us to veer off track. It's this unhelpfulness that I want to explore - with a simple, practical strategy to help navigate these unhelpful internal rules and beliefs.
Quality of Life Impacts of Unhelpful Internal Beliefs
Our internal rules and beliefs can act as guides for how we navigate life. Let's look at some non-allergy examples first:
Just like the rules of the road that guide us in driving, these internal rules/beliefs guide our behaviors and how we navigate life. Think of them like guard rails on the highway. When the internal rules/beliefs are helpful, they're like guard rails separated by many lanes - there's so much space to move around, and there may even be portions of the road where there aren't any guard rails limiting us!
But when these internal rules/beliefs are unhelpful, they can feel like guard rails on a one-lane highway - keeping you confined to a very small space.
Before we explore examples of unhelpful allergy-specific internal rules/beliefs and what to do with them, I need to cover one more topic: How rigid or flexible our internal beliefs are.
How Rigid Or Flexible Are Your Internal Beliefs?
Using the guard rail metaphor, let's apply it to bowling. Have you ever gone "bumper bowling" with the guard rails up so that the bowling ball doesn't go into the gutter?
In my experiences with bumper bowling, sometimes I've played with hard, rigid metal bumpers and other times with softer, inflatable-looking bumpers. With the hard, rigid metal bumpers, my ball would typically bounce off of them so much so that it would overcorrect itself, bounce to the other side of the lane, and then bounce back again. It looked like it was erratically bouncing back and forth with no real hope of hitting a pin! But when I've played with the softer, more flexible bumpers, while my ball would still bounce off of the bumpers, it actually seemed to have a chance to actually move down the lane with hope of hitting a pin.
What this example is getting at is that our internal rules/beliefs (guard rails) can be rigid or flexible, which impacts the actions we take and our quality of life.
With rigid internal rules/beliefs, we often find ourselves avoiding experiences and limiting ourselves because they don't leave much room for exploration, possibilities, and other perspectives. Things need to be a certain way and align with these internal rules, otherwise it's too risky, scary, uncomfortable, and likely unattainable (or so we believe). The rigid nature of these rules is MEANT to help us feel less anxious and more certain about things, but often times, it ends up doing the opposite and creating more discomfort in our lives.
When our internal rules/beliefs are more flexible, we're more willing to test the waters outside of our comfort zone to see what happens. We're also more willing to see things from more than one perspective, which potentially leads to changing our internal rules/beliefs to be more workable ones for ourselves, our goals, and our lives in general. While the flexibility of these rules/beliefs may initially scare us because it feels so uncertain, the flexibility helps us to develop life skills that get us through the discomfort and uncertainty life throws our way - and that helps us develop competence and confidence in ourselves!
Now, let's put this all together with allergy-specific examples!
Noticing Your Unhelpful Allergy Beliefs
Many of the internal allergy rules/beliefs we've developed are likely rigid ones, which doesn't leave much room for anything less than perfection.
Let's look at these examples of unhelpful allergy rules/beliefs and potential outcomes of living by these rules - and as you read them, I encourage you to think about the rigid rules/beliefs you may have developed:
Now, let's use these rigid allergy belief examples above and turn them into more flexible internal beliefs.
A Practical Tool For Changing Unhelpful Beliefs
So what's the simple, practical tool that helps us change our rigid rules/beliefs into more flexible and workable ones?
LANGUAGE, or the words we choose to use, even in our own mind!
You'll see we can turn a rigid belief into a more flexible one by simply changing the words or phrases used - because language matters when it comes to how we internal rule-making!
While there is a lot of room for very calculated and precise rules in allergy life (and life in general), not EVERY internal allergy rule/belief has to be so rigid. And in fact, the more rigid we tend to be, the more potential there is that these rules/beliefs will negatively impact our quality of life.
Other FAC posts that may help:
Remember, support is out there if you need it! Don't forget to check out the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, the Food Allergy Behavioral Health Resource section, and the allergy-specific therapeutic worksheets. And if you're an allergy-informed therapy provider, then visit the Provider page!
----> And don't forget to sign up to receive helpful allergy psychosocial tips and updates via email! Subscribers also get the free "Allergy Anxiety and Overwhelm Mini Guide".
Don't be shy - reach out and say hi! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this post and other FAC content.
When we receive our child's allergy or medical diagnosis, we typically experience a variety of emotions - usually some that are pretty intense. It's while we are in that hurricane of emotions that our mind tries to become the anchor, looking for ways to make sense of this new diagnosis that we never wanted in the first place.
So when our child receives their allergy or medical diagnosis, we want to know WHY. “How did this food allergy or health condition develop? What caused it? How can I avoid more allergies or health complications from developing and keep my child safe at all times?”
But sometimes, the answer to why the allergy or medical condition developed is that there is no specific cause. Given that our mind wants actual answers, it often struggles to deal with that explanation. Therefore, this lack of clarity definitely doesn't make our mind feel safe because it leaves us with EVEN MORE uncertainty and unpredictability.
In the face of that ongoing uncertainty, parents tend to keep searching for answers. Our mind tells us that there just has to be some stone left unturned that explains WHY our child developed the allergy or medical condition!
It's in this quest to answer that elusive WHY that some parents engage in the “blame game” - blaming themselves for the allergy or health condition. This, of course, only enhances the feelings of guilt.
Since guilt is a behavior-focused emotion, it often leads us to believe that we did something wrong or bad. Therefore, playing the blame game leads us to believe that we must have done something (or NOT done something) that led to this diagnosis. Somehow, it must be our fault, even if there's no evidence to prove it.
Even without evidence to prove that the allergy or medical condition developed because of something we did or didn’t do, this answer somehow provides the certainty parents are looking for. It’s AN answer even if it’s not THE answer.
But then this faulty assumption leads to this unhelpful thought: "If I somehow made the allergy or medical condition develop, then I can prevent another allergy, an allergic reaction, or more complications from occurring by eliminating ALL risks for my child."
And it’s this uncomfortable belief that tends to send parents into an unhelpful pattern of control-seeking and over-avoidance, which leads to ongoing and quality of life-impacting anxiety and overwhelm (because we just can’t control everything!)
While guilt can push us towards unhelpful assumptions and thought patterns in service of finding certainty, predictability and safety, it’s important to notice when this is happening. It’s easy to stay stuck in this unhelpful guilt loop, but it is absolutely possible to experience guilt and not let it push you into the blame game.
Exploring our feelings helps us develop a new perspective and a new relationship with them. Therefore, by getting curious about our guilt, it helps us exit the blame game and the unhelpful loop of regret, and develop an understanding of why else it might be popping up.
Exercise to Try: Get Curious With Your Allergy Parent Guilt
Rather than focusing on finding a cause of the guilt, use these questions below to help you begin to view guilt differently and to redirect it into more mindful and purposeful thoughts and actions:
And if you find that this exercise uncovers elevated anxiety that your guilt feelings have been saving you from, here are some allergy anxiety-focused tools and information that you may find helpful:
All emotions are part of the human experience, even the ones we don't enjoy, such as guilt. Rather than get upset with the emotion and aim to keep yourself from ever feeling it again (because you'll spend tons of energy working toward that unrealistic goal), work towards exploring and understanding its purpose. THEN, you'll be able to find a way to work with or around it rather than being kept captive by it.
And if you're needing more allergy-related psychosocial support, don't forget to check out the Food Allergy Counselor Directory, the Exploring Food Allergy Families podcast, the Food Allergy Behavioral Health Resource section, the allergy-specific therapeutic worksheets, and to sign up for weekly allergy life, mindset and anxiety tips via FAC Corner emails!
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