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Understanding Allergy Parent Guilt

dad comforting son

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.

You see, our mind is a threat-seeking machine. It wants to locate and decrease all threats while increasing safety and predictability. And in order to help achieve that goal, our mind looks for answers and predictable patterns.

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 minds 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 allergy parent 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.

One key tool that helps us from being pushed around by our feelings of guilt is CURIOSITY.

Exploring our feelings helps us develop a new perspective and a new relationship with them. Therefore, by getting curious about our guilt, 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 redirect it into more mindful and purposeful thoughts and actions: 

  • Explore its purpose: What else do my guilt feelings want me to know or do differently going forward that may help me and my child feel more empowered to navigate life with this diagnosis? 

  • Identify what's fueling it: What’s at the core of the anxiety I’m feeling that may be fueling my guilt feelings?

  • Notice related emotions: What other emotions/feelings are connected to my guilt feelings? How do they impact the guilt? 

  • Create a new narrative: Can I use this new understanding of my guilt feelings to create a new narrative that isn't based on the need to make myself feel bad about actions I took or didn't take?   

  • Take action / make choices: What actions can I take to help support this new, more workable narrative about my feelings of guilt? What information and guidance will help me better navigate this guilt feeling?

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: 

Final Thoughts...

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. 


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