Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in 1950, at a time when little was known about this neurological disorder. Remarkably, she became a renowned animal scientist, an author, and a professor at Colorado State University. In a particularly poignant scene from the HBO film that was made about her life, the doctor who diagnosed her condition callously explained to her mother that autism was caused by a mother’s coldness to her child.
At around the same time, another nonscientific theory was circulating in psychiatric literature about the cause of schizophrenia. This theory was so popular that someone invented a fancy adjective to identify the supposed culprit. Schizophrenia, it was asserted, was caused by “schizophrenogenic” mothers. Of course, later research debunked the notion that anyone—including mothers—had the power to cause schizophrenia in their offspring. Instead, it was linked to a neurochemical problem.
Because we mothers are good at blaming ourselves for everything under the sun, I hardly think we need the assistance of the medical community to make us feel guiltier than we already do. Of course, mothers aren't the only ones who heap blame on themselves. As Erma Bombeck once famously quipped, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” It’s also the thing that keeps on stealing—our peace.
So how can we get free of the guilt?
Studies have shown that those who have a strong internal sense of control—people who think their actions cause much of what happens around them—have far greater stress responses in the midst of uncontrollable events than those who do not. So if you are a person who feels in charge of your life, you are at risk for greater stress because you will have a tendency to take responsibility for things outside your control.
Let’s stop accepting blame for things we haven’t a hope of controlling. While we’re at it, let’s stop kidding ourselves that we are in charge of the universe. Instead, let’s remember who is, calling on his name and trusting in his care.