Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It Is My Fault After All

I got an American Psychiatric News Alert yesterday in my email about a study titled "Anxious Parents Can Transmit Anxiety to Children, Twin Study Shows". It said:

"In summary, the association between parental and offspring anxiety remains after accounting for genetic transmission. These results are consistent with a direct, environmentally mediated effect of parent anxiety on offspring anxiety or could reflect anxious adolescents eliciting anxiety in their parent."

You will have to read the study I have linked to above to fully understand it (it was pretty complicated to weed through) but my personal takeaway was that the anxiety I exhibited as Thomas grew up, shaped how anxious he is now. Yes, there are genetic transmissions of anxiety but there is also environmental and I'll be the first to tell you that the environment that Thomas grew up in was a highly anxious environment.

I suppose you could have called me a "helicopter parent" though I tried so hard not to be like that. He was my only child, though, and the fears and anxieties from my own childhood no doubt bled through into my parenting style. Because he was my only child, he was my focus and all I wanted, more than anything, was to protect him from the world. I may have made a mistake in doing that.

Then there was me. Just me. I was anxious. All the time. I had regular panic attacks, I holed up in my house, often with the curtains closed, I couldn't go out grocery shopping without feeling like everyone was looking at me and judging me. The list goes on and on. I'm sure, at the time, I felt like I hid it well. I tried but failed because my anxiety was more powerful than my strength to stop it. All of this, no doubt, shaped Thomas into the young man he is--anxious and afraid.

So, this begs the question, if it's my fault, if I passed on the genetic propensity for anxiety and then I reinforced it by exhibiting anxious behaviors in front of him, how much of who he is today, the anxious side of him, is because of me?

After reading the study, I'm feeling pretty guilty right about now. The problem is, hindsight is 20/20 and Lord knows, if I could go back, I would certainly do a lot of things differently. As I type this, fresh in my mind are times when I exhibited anxious behaviors around Thomas and no doubt caused him anxiety. Oh yes, I will own my part in who he is today but that doesn't change the guilt I feel about what I've done to him. Without serious anxiety, his paranoia would be lower, he'd feel more brave to go out and experience  life, he could go to work without worry, he could make phone calls to get an appointment to get his haircut...

...he could do so much more.

The question is, though, what can I do about it now? The damage is done. To some degree it still gets reinforced in him by me too. I am far less anxious than I used to be, for sure, but it still affects me from time to time. This is the million dollar question that all of us parents ask ourselves as we raise our children and now when they're grown. What could I have done differently? Why couldn't I have been a better parent? Both of which are loaded with a healthy amount of guilt and remorse.

I don't really have the answer to this. I do, however, have a study that implicates me as an anxious mom and points a finger directly at me and who I was and how I treated Thomas as my kid. I feel horribly guilty because I wish I had done things differently for Thomas knowing what I know now but what's happened has happened and now my job is to try to make it right for him. I'll keep him in therapy, I'll model better behavior, I'll give him strength in his times of anxious weakness and when all of that fails I will be by his side if he chooses to take an anti-anxiety pill. I love him to death and I can't fix the past. I will, however, do everything I can to make his future more promising.

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