Have you ever had this thought (or some version of it) about your child with Autism?
Thoughts centered around the belief that if your child was different, then your life would be better.
- Didn’t meltdown down in public
- Behaved in school
- Used their coping strategies
I sure have.
And one day, in a very heated moment, this thought fired out of my mouth like a missile directed at my son, Ben. 💣
I quickly and profusely apologized, and told him “I didn’t mean it.”
But that was a LIE.
The truth is: in those moments of anger, I believed my son’s disability controlled my life, and I resented him for it.
Cue the avalanche of shame:
He is Autistic and has severe OCD!
How can I get angry for him for repeating himself?
He can’t help it!
I am the worst!
If this sounds familiar, I want to tell you, it is NORMAL to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and yes, even resentful at times in the endless 24-7 marathon of raising a child with special needs.
But shame will not make you a better parent; it will make parenting harder and rob you of joy.
The good news is that you can avoid the endless shame spiral by stopping it in its tracks.
1️⃣ Recognize. The thoughts and emotions that you are shaming yourself about are not rational, they are emotional. Your rational thinking has been hijacked and toddler brain is running the show.
2️⃣ Regulate. Instead of ruminating on your thoughts, take some simple steps to down-regulate your nervous system from its stress response. Deep breaths, splashing cold water on your face, holding an ice cube are quick ways to bring some calm into your body. Have more time? Take a shower, get a big hug from a trusted person, talk to a friend who gets it.
3️⃣ Reframe. Once you have calmed your body and your rational thinking is back online, it is time to reframe your thoughts by asking yourself – “what did I really mean?” For me, “You are ruining my life,” really meant: “I wish you would stop interrupting me so that I can finish my work.”
4️⃣ Release. Now it is time to release the self-judgment. Instead of indulging in the shame game, it is time to give yourself grace by reminding yourself that emotional reactions are normal and that they do not mean anything about you or your love for your child.
5️⃣ Rinse & Repeat. Beware that these thoguths are not going to go away overnight. They will likely pop up again, especially when you are dysregulated. This means you have to do the work of catching these thoughts, calming your nervous system, and responding to these thoughts in ways serve you.