Guilt, just like anger, is often used as a tool to manipulate.
Last week I offered one reason why we refrain from speaking up or confronting another person. It’s the fear of igniting a thunderstorm.
Another reason is guilt. One of my teenage clients, Allie, put it perfectly:
“I don’t know how to stand up for myself without feeling really bad afterward. I worry about hurting someone’s feelings.”
Allie may be a teenager, but her concern is universal—she’s just not alone in this. Many, many people of every age—myself included—have trouble with this one.
Dru also suffered, and grew, through her struggle with this issue. You can read about it here.
Allie wants to get a handle on this tendency because it sets her up to be taken advantage of. For example, friends frequently ask her for rides. During Christmas break she was driving people around for hours. She always says yes even when she doesn’t really want to.
Her friends may be happy with this arrangement, but Allie isn’t. “My gas gets used up!” she said in exasperation.
In our session, we talked about the common sense of asking her friends to help out with the gas, or merely opt to use the “no” word. She gets it, but it’s tough, tough, tough because she can’t bear the idea of letting someone down. A certain sad expression is all it takes.
We explored where her problem first took root. “My mom would act hurt if I didn’t give in to what she wanted,” she said. So understandably, Allie learned to water herself down and become putty in the hands of others. She tells me she’s so used to focusing on what others want that “I don’t even know what I want half the time.” Sad.
What I told Allie, was the same thing I told Dru:
Hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. Being denied, stopped or corrected is a part of life and necessary for teaching us our limits and how to be sensitive and respectful to others. We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts or angry outbursts.
Names are changed to honor confidentiality