Guilt

“I knew that her injury wasn't our fault at all but you still feel guilty that it happened.”

The majority of the parents we spoke to in the development of this resource reported that they had, at some stage, felt guilty about what had happened to their child. Some felt guilty that they were there when the burn occurred and could have perhaps done something differently to prevent it or to treat the injury. Others felt guilty that they were not there but thought they should have been. Regardless of their whereabouts when the injury occurred, most parents felt that they “should” have better protected their child.

“He was too little to have had any kind of control. I'm supposed to protect him. I'm supposed to look after him. That’s my job. It was completely my fault because I'm the parent and it’s my responsibility even if I didn't do the injury causing.”

Why do these thoughts occur?

Telling ourselves “I should…” or “I shouldn't…” and trying to take responsibility for what happened can be understood as an attempt to increase our sense of control or the predictability of situations. In general, people like to see order in the world and it is difficult to accept that sometimes unexpected or unpredictable things occur, especially when these are negative events. Attempting to take responsibility for what happened, whilst believing that events can be controlled or predicted, can lead to feelings of guilt, a desire to avoid reminders and, in some instances, to feelings of depression

“If I’d have done something differently then this might never have happened.”

It is worrying to think that unpleasant events can happen to any one of us. If they do happen, we often ask “why me?” These thoughts can also be maintained by an underlying belief that if we do bad things, bad things will happen to us, and if we do good things, good things will happen to us. Finding that the reverse of this can be true (that if we do good things, bad things can still happen to us or a child we love) can seem unfair and shatter our view of a ‘just world’. Alternatively, we may have always felt that the world is an unfair and unjust place and this experience has simply reinforced that view.

“In those early days you just need to talk to somebody, be it family or anyone. Ease yourself of that guilt just by talking about it.”

The reality is that accidents, by definition, are unfortunate incidents that happen unexpectedly and unintentionally. Coming to terms with this is not always easy as we strive to feel that we have some control over the world we live in. Accepting that some events are uncontrollable, or that any one of us can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, may mean that we have to accept that traumatic events can occur at random. Although this might be scary, acknowledging and accepting this helps you to let go of unhelpful thoughts about being responsible and the associated feelings of guilt.

“I try and normalise it for myself because, you know, I never want to be around her treating it like it was something bad. I mean, obviously it was a bad thing that happened but we can’t change it so we’ll just get on with it.”

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