Parenting / Relationships / Special Needs Parenting

The Shame-Blame Trap for Special Needs Parents

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When something is hard, we naturally want to blame someone else or blame ourselves (which is called shame). Neither is helpful though.

When you get in this shame-blame trap, your thoughts often vacillate between blame and shame. “It is their fault…no, it must be my fault…no, it’s their fault”, etc. Thoughts can become increasingly negative and irrational. It is a trap because neither blaming someone else or blaming yourself helps you to solve a problem.

Here is a list that I made the other day of how I perceived that my son Luke was ruining my life. I wrote it down so that I could get all the ugliness out of me. I hope that seeing this list will help validate some of the awful thoughts you may be having. Writing it all down for me and telling someone else about these thoughts really allowed me to open up to the feelings that I was having. It allowed me to grieve a little more, process my grief, and move on afterwards.

All the reasons why Luke has ruined my life:

  1. He doesn’t eat normal food. This makes it extremely hard for me to help him be healthy. And that is one of my jobs to keep him healthy. So he makes me feel like a failure. 
  2. He tears apart my house. I can’t keep it clean and organized. So I feel like a failure. 
  3. No other kids want to play with him. So I am lonely. 
  4. He doesn’t sleep well. This affects my sleep. 
  5. When we started worrying about him being autistic was around the same time that my thyroid stopped working. I’m still on thyroid medication. He is ruining my body. I can’t handle all the stress.
  6. Thyroid functioning problems produce acne. So he is the cause of a lot of my hormonal acne problems.
  7. I can’t communicate with him. This makes me sad. It makes my life with him (every single hour) hard. 
  8. I can’t play with him very well. So we have nothing to do together. 
  9. I am only happy when I am not around him. When I have time to myself or when Luke is at school or sleeping, I am happy. 
  10. Thus, it is clear that he is ruining my life. I know that it is just my attitude and that I could look at how he is blessing my life. But you also have to admit that he makes my life difficult and for that I don’t like him. 
  11. Luke and his many problems puts a TON of stress on me. I need to teach him how to drink out of a cup, and be potty trained, and sleep, and talk, and eat, and not scream. If I wasn’t so stressed, then my relationship with my husband might be better because I could be more happy and loving. If I wasn’t so stressed then my husband would like me more. So Luke is ruining my romantic relationship too. Thus he is ruining my life. 
  12. Someday I might look back and say that he taught me a lot, but right now I am just going through hell really really slowly. 
  13. If Luke was gone or normal, it would be SO much easier to take the kids places like the library or parks or the children’s museum. We could go to things more and not just sit at home going CRAZY and waiting for Dad to come home. But with Luke how he is, it takes a LOT of effort and preparation to go anywhere fun by myself. 
  14. If Luke were normal, we would have more money. I would not have to spend thousands of dollars on him and his therapies and supplements and doctor’s appointments.
  15. If Luke were normal, I wouldn’t have to stress about little things like whether the WiFi gets turned off at night! 
  16. If Luke were normal, then maybe I could have more kids. But because of him, I can’t. Thus he is ruining my life. 
  17. Luke has put me through trauma. I have been in a heightened sense of stress for 2 1/2 years. It wears on my body and mind.
  18. Luke has shown me the dark side of life and the dark side of me. Sometimes no one is there for you. Sometimes you cry and no one comes. Sometimes bad things happen and there is no silver lining. I don’t trust people anymore like I did before. I hate a lot of people. I don’t like to be mean, but I am sometimes. Luke has awakened the darkness inside me and it is scary.

All the Reasons why I am to blame for my hardships with my son:

  1. If I had a better attitude, this wouldn’t be so hard. I am making things harder for myself.
  2. If I was a better mom, my son would eat better and try new foods.
  3. If I had been better and more consistent at doing the therapies when he was younger, Luke would be higher functioning now.
  4. Sometimes I look around me and see other autistic kids that are doing “better” than my son – they are higher functioning, they eat better, they talk better, etc. I use these things as weapons against myself to show that I am failing.
  5. If I was better, then Luke would be potty trained already.
  6. If I was better, then Luke would take his foul-tasting supplements that are supposed to help him.
  7. If I was better, then I wouldn’t have so many hateful thoughts towards so many people!
  8. Sometimes other people like to tell me that vaccines caused my son’s autism. I don’t think this is true, but in weak moments when I will believe almost anything, I feel a LOT of shame for giving him immunizations.

None of the reasons for blaming my son or shaming myself are necessarily true or helpful, but it feels good to get them out on paper. If they are written down, then I can go back to them when I am in a clearer mind and look at them. These sorts of thoughts can also be great to talk about with a therapist! I will definitely be going over some of these thoughts with my therapist soon.


The best thing that you can do when all these irrational, awful thoughts start coming is to just make peace with them. It’s okay. Sometimes you blame others. Sometimes you shame yourself. It’s okay. It will pass. You will feel better. Everyone has thoughts like these. These thoughts prove that you are human and not a perfect robot. You will work through these thoughts and become a better person because of them.

It is also helpful to remember that your special needs child has their agency. You cannot FORCE them to make progress. Sure, you can try everything you can, but ultimately, it is their decision. With that in mind, try not to blame yourself for their lack of progress. Just do your best and have peace about it.

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