As far back as I can remember I have been a student of “guilt”. I say “student” because guilt is a feeling that we are taught to feel. We aren’t born feeling this way. It is not a feel that is inherently natural that we develop. We learn this feeling, this way of responding, from being taught.
So, who taught me about feeling guilty? If I am going to be honest, I think it would be easier to say who didn’t teach me to feel guilty? Some of my teachers taught me to feel guilty without meaning to, while some taught me as a way to get what they wanted from me.
What is it my guilt teachers wanted? They wanted me to fit into the cookie cutter molds that would have me conform and not cause commotion. They wanted me to get things done so that their lives were easier. They wanted me to live the same kind of life that they had lived and continued to live. You see, that all makes things easier, right? Things are easier and then they’re quieter and then the boat stays calm and pointing in the direction that the captain wants it to go. The only problem with that was is that I didn’t get to be captain in that kind of scenario and that doesn’t sit right with me.
When I was growing up, I was taught that I could have it all. It took me 39 years to realize that this was a load of bologna. It took me 39 years of trying to be everything to everyone all of the time to realize that I couldn’t do it all. My goodness, when I think back to all of the time I spent on running myself ragged and feeling inadequate, I want to scream. The mountains and mountains of guilt that would sit on my chest, crushing me and leaving me breathless and unable to get out of bed in the morning. I was sold the notion that I could have it all if I worked hard enough, if I worked long enough, if I wanted it bad enough, and that if I didn’t achieve it all that I should be embarrassed and feel guilty.
This feeling of guilty swept into every aspect of my life…
I wanted to spend time working out and running – guilt!
I wanted to spend time away from the kids, alone with my husband – guilt!
I wanted to go on my trip with my girlfriends – guilt!
I didn’t want to allow my children to have every one of their heart’s desires – guilt
I didn’t want to spend time with family members who make me feel bad for being me – guilt!
I didn’t want to spend time with friends who don’t see me for me – guilt!
I didn’t want to volunteer my time to organizations that are unorganized- guilt!
I wanted to change my life’s work – guilt!
I wanted something more for my life than what others expect – guilt
Guilt was all around me and still continues to be. Someone was always unhappy with a choice that I made or a view that I had, and I felt guilty about it. I felt like I had let them down by choosing myself, my partner, my family, or my passion first. The thing is though, I allowed this feeling to come over me. I allowed the years of being taught to feel guilty overtake my thoughts and I let it seep.
So, why is guilt being imposed on us? I think that there are two main reasons, one is it makes others uncomfortable and two it makes others jealous. You’ll notice that both of the reasons have to do with the other people. They have nothing to do with the original person. Nothing! The other people are uncomfortable…the other people! The other people are jealous…again, the other people!
I had to teach myself to break the guilt cycle. I had to teach myself that someone else’s reaction, be it words, facial expressions, or body language was not mine to fix. I had to teach myself that I am only in charge of myself and that those are truly the only emotions and feelings that I can do anything about. I can’t change anyone else. I can’t worry about trying to minimize their reaction or take their feelings on for myself. Those things are not mine to be in charge of.
I can choose to do my best each day. I can choose to treat other the way I would like to be treated. I can choose to be grateful for all that I have and get to participate in. I can also choose not to listen to those who are trying to share their opinion of my actions, words, or choices. I can also choose to not allow myself to be surrounded by others who make me feel anything less than healthy, confident, and valued.