Am I To Blame?

There is no question the stigma of mental illness is alive and well, even as many of us work hard to eradicate it.  Sharing our stories, and being candid about our mental health issues, goes a long way toward changing our preconceived notions.

But sharing isn’t easy for those with OCD (or other mental health issues) or their families. It’s a catch 22 situation: We can reduce stigma by sharing, but it’s hard to share because of the stigma. While there are those with OCD who are very open about their struggles, there are also those who do whatever they can do hide their pain, and then others on various points of the continuum.

When I was a teenager, there was a woman who used to wander the streets of our neighborhood, talking and mumbling to herself. She had long gray unkempt hair, and always seemed confused and disoriented. There were all kinds of rumors circulating about her, but the story that stuck in my mind is that she was kept in the basement of her home and tortured as a child. To summarize: her parents made her that way.

Fast forward thirty plus years, and I am now the parent of a son with obsessive-compulsive disorder. While intellectually I know I didn’t “make him that way,” I sometimes wonder if I should have done this instead of that, or perhaps reacted to a particular situation differently. The truth is that the cause(s) of OCD are not clear-cut, and seem to involve a host of factors. Maybe the way I raised my son was wrong? Maybe, to some degree, I am to blame for his having OCD?

Of course this type of reasoning discourages families, in particular parents, from sharing. If you feel your child’s illness is your fault, or if you believe others will assume you are a bad parent, you’re not going to be too eager to tell your story.

I know thinking this way is counter-productive, and I try not to dwell on these doubts and insecurities. It does no one any good. The best I can do at this point is to have open and honest communication with my son (so that he can reassure me that no, of course it’s not my fault 🙂 ), learn from my mistakes, and keep trying to be the best parent I can be. Time and energy used to assign blame can be better expended on continuing to fight the stigma of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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14 Responses to Am I To Blame?

  1. 71º & Sunny says:

    Janet – excellent post. I recently did a post about guilt, and that was the same conclusion I have come to. Blame (including self-blame) is pretty much a waste of time and energy. It does nothing but keep us from dealing with the matters at hand.

    As parents, I think we can ALL look back and see where we could have done some things better. Even so, who’s to say that any of that was the cause of any specific thing. But you know, I think the real measure of a good parent is a parent that deals with the issues they are presented with today. Clearly, you are doing that. You have been, and continue to be, an enormous support for your son. Your son is doing well now, yes, in large part to his hard work, but also in part to your selfless efforts on his behalf. You rock mom!

  2. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Sunny. You are right….guilt and motherhood go hand in hand, but it’s how we deal with “now” that matters. Next time I start blaming myself, I will come back and read your comment again :). Thanks for the boost!

  3. Tina Barbour says:

    Janet, No, you did not cause your son’s OCD. No one is a perfect parent, but there are genetic and physical causes of OCD that have nothing to do with parenting. And if there was ever a supportive parent of a child with OCD, it’s YOU.

    As much of a challenge my parents were, I don’t blame them for my OCD and depression. They could have handled them differently, but they didn’t cause them.

    As always, you’ve written a thought-provoking post! 🙂

  4. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks, Tina. I guess thinking back there are always things I could have handles differently, not only with my son but with my other children as well. But I will continue to focus on NOW. Thanks for the support!

  5. For me, self-blame was a huge struggle–why didn’t I get treatment sooner? Why did I stay with the same therapist for 6 years, even though she knew little about OCD? It was a long process of learning to let myself feel the pain of this, and not jumping in with a whole chain of analyzing, because the analysis kept me stuck in a loop.

  6. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks for your insights. I can see how all that analyzing could get you stuck in a loop, which of course is the last thing you want. I don’t focus on it a lot; just now and then the questions nag at me. Then again I don’t have OCD 🙂 so it’s a lot easier for me to just “let it go.” I’m glad you were able to deal with the self-blame issue!

  7. krystallynn says:

    I can’t tell you how much I worried that I would “give” my children OCD. I was thinking more genetics though, I really don’t know if it would be possible to give someone OCD.(?)
    I know I was brought up in a really extreme family environment where my parents fought constantly and I didn’t have a voice. If I did express myself, I was made fun of and humiliated. I guess I have, maybe wrongly, blamed some childhood anxiety on my parents because of the volatile environment but only in the sense that I look back and say, Ok, they were wrong to treat their children that way, I will not follow in their footsteps and do a repeat of the same to my children, I will learn and do better. My having OCD had to be hard on my kids but my husband and I totally communicated to them about OCD and sometimes if I had a bad day I had to let them know I loved them, mama was just having a bad day and we talked it out.
    I don’t know if there is a parent in the world who doesn’t have something they would change. Except my mom. The interesting thing is that when I have talked to my mother about the fighting and all, she says “she enjoyed it” and will not even go anywhere near feeling regret for putting her kids through that.
    Dan is so blessed to have you for him are such an advocate for him and for all of us out here in the world with OCD.
    Thank you.

  8. ocdtalk says:

    Thank YOU, Krystallynn. And that’s an interesting story about your mom… it makes me realize that it’s not the mistakes we’ve made that matter as much as how we deal with them. An apology, or at the very least, an acknowledgement of what happened in the past can go a long way toward healing. Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Michelle says:

    Oh have I been there! I have two sons with schizophrenia, and my mind wants to take me in the direction of self-blame on a daily basis. Resist! There is a strong, strong genetic component to these illnesses. It is not your fault.

    And yes — let’s fight the stigma! I’ll be right by your side!

  10. Thanks so much for your comment on my guest post this morning at Things I Can’t Say.
    Did you know that originally they thought that autism was caused by unloving mothers? Thankfully, we’ve moved beyond that sort of thinking. Certainly don’t blame yourself for his OCD! It sounds like you are a great parent.

    • ocdtalk says:

      Thanks Lisa! Yes, I did know that about autism. Can you imagine being in that position? To have a child with autism, and then be blamed for it by professionals? Wow….glad those days are over.

  11. PAZ says:

    Good post! My brother has OCD. I’m glad you commented on my post on Canvas because now I found this blog!

  12. ocdtalk says:

    Thanks, PAZ! Glad I found your blog also!

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