It's not all your fault

I had a session today with a person who feels like their loved ones addiction and/or lack of recovery is all their fault. If only they had done things differently...

I can't tell you how many times I've heard a family member say this to me, "If only I had done things differently, it's all my fault!" I said it myself for a long time as well. It's so easy to look back on the past with today's knowledge and think somehow you should have known then what you know now then you could change the past. Even though we know this is impossible, it doesn't stop us from blaming ourselves for all the problems and issues our addicted loved one has - especially if you're a parent of an addicted child.

I've spoken to parents that are smart, supportive, and concerned, and they've done everything they could for their child including providing all the professional help possible. In spite of all this, their child is still really troubled. And to make the situation worse, they blame themselves, feel guilty, feel they didn’t do enough and feel responsible for everything that's happened.

I know that I was willing to take the blame for all of my son's problems. If he was depressed, anxious, using drugs or alcohol, in trouble with the law, doing poorly in school or had some other problem, I was quick to blame myself, and question what I had done wrong. Interestingly enough though, I've never once taken responsibility for his successes. I've never said, "My son did this great thing...and it's all because of me!" It was only when things weren't going well that I felt responsible. Through the process of family recovery I found out that this wasn't the case.

The truth is, parents do have a major role/responsibility in their children’s development and well-being, but by no means are they fully in control of the outcome. When I work with parents on learning to “be kind to themselves,” I help them recognize that in addition to their home life, children are influenced by their peers, teachers, magazines, movies, television, music, celebrities and more. In addition, they are born with a genetic makeup and a unique personality. If there are mental health issues or addiction issues in their genetic background or history, they will be more prone to those kind of problems than their peers. If children experiences adverse childhood events, or trauma, which are often outside of a parents control, their chances of having mental health or substance abuse issues increases greatly. And then there is Social Media...Social Media has quickly become one of the strongest influences on the issues that affect your children today. It is also a major contributor to stress, depression, anxiety and drug/alcohol abuse.

So, yes, parents do have a crucial role in the well-being of their children, but not all of their problems are a result of parental mistakes. Even the best parenting can't prevent a child from experiencing problems. Every parent I have spoken with asks the same things that I used to ask myself - “could I have done more,” or “I should have done more” or “did I enable too much.” They've spent years doing everything they could for their child and I work to help relieve them of the guilt they feel. They will never know how things would have turned out if they had acted differently so it's best to try and let that go.

So what can you do instead? As parents, we need to learn how to communicate effectively, provide unconditional love, strengthen self-esteem and provide appropriate boundaries and consequences. At the same time, parents need to practice self-care, pursue their own interests and friendships, learn how to experience joy and meaning in their lives and not have their lives revolve around their children’s successes or failures.

If you'd like help learning new skills and strategies please email me at to get started.

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