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Food Allergy Mom Guilt and the Necessity of Self-Compassion



[Written by Paige Freeman, PhD., a FAC Directory-listed therapy provider and FAC advisorMore information about Paige and her practice is at the end of this article]. 


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:

  • Introducing our child’s allergen too early

  • Introducing our child’s allergen too late

  • Introducing our child’s allergen the wrong way

  • Not being diligent enough

  • Being hypervigilant

  • Deciding to do OIT

  • Deciding to not do OIT

  • Going through a food challenge

  • Deciding against a food challenge

  • Not giving kids enough responsibility

  • Giving kids too much responsibility

  • Missing out on food-related activities

  • Potentially exposing our child to their allergen at a social event

  • Thinking we did something to cause the food allergy

  • Thinking we did not do enough to prevent food allergy

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.


Self-Compassion

The degree of vigilance necessary in the management of food allergies is exhausting, persistent, and in constant flux depending on the situation and your child’s developmental stage.  There will likely come a time when you miss something.  When that happens, it is of the utmost importance that you show yourself some compassion.  


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 emotions and missteps.  As you picture talking to your child the way you talk to yourself, ask yourself some questions:

  • What effect do your words have? 

  • Are your words motivating? 

  • Are your words helpful?  

  • How do your words affect their worldview and the way they conceptualize themself?

Notice, Name, and Normalize

So how do we develop self-compassion? Start with the below exercise when you are experiencing difficult emotions, thoughts and feelings.


Notice:

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? 


Name:

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”.


Normalize:

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”


Final words

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 toward healing and living a purposeful life.

 

Paige L. Freeman, Ph.D.

Dr. Freeman is a psychologist in Houston, Texas, and she practices telehealth in 29 states. She enjoys working with food allergy parents and adolescents in her practice. She is a food allergy mom herself, and likes writing about the psychosocial effects of food allergies on both individuals and the family system. To learn more go to paigefreemanphd.com or email paigefreeman@paigefreemanphd.com.

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