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
16 responses to “Dominated by Guilt”
I love how you expressed how difficult it can be for some people to show their true desires. Like when you said “it’s tough, tough, tough because she can’t bear the idea of letting someone down” It can be really tough to let people you care about down, but sometimes it has to be done so you can lift yourself up.
I like that perspective, Alicia. Thanks for sharing that insight!
I’m glad …. for you, Rachel!
Guilt is a very selfish thing, isn’t it? I think it can be tricky to detect and devastating when you do. But most importantly, it can be liberating when you understand how to stop the cycle. Believing that you deserve to be treated better is key. I feel for Allie. To give her friends the benefit of a doubt, perhaps they are clueless. The uncomfortable feeling of having to speak up is much less than the turmoil she is feeling when she doesn’t.
WOW! As I read your words, all I could think was wow, wow, wow! Thanks for showing me that angle!
Guilt, what a weapon! I took my granddaughter to school this morning and she was expressing her anger with her family. I said if you could wave a magic wand and change things, what would you do? She said she would be perfect. Oh, how that broke my heart. In essence, she was saying if she would be perfect, others would be happy with her. I thought the same thing when I was her age. It’s a good way to grow to become codependent. I said, “Oh honey you are perfect, it’s not about you, it’s about them.” I assured her it’s something I am sure about but I can tell she’s not buying it yet. I will continue to listen.
Your granddaughter’s comment, although brief, had a world of meaning. And you picked that up. How wonderful … how warming. The world needs more grandmothers like you … no… it needs more people like you in it. Thanks Kellie!
It’s very difficult to start telling people “no” but it gets easier with practice, at least that’s been my experience. I was finally able to tell someone “no” when going along would have been more difficult than saying no. For anyone struggling with this, don’t wait for that happens because it might not.
Good advice. Thanks!
This is something I regularly struggle with. It is painful to think that I might be hurting someone feelings and would often rather just deal with whatever issue I might have with someone rather than confront it. The older I get the more complicated it gets as well. I have gotten better at saying no to things but the guilt is often still there and I feel like I might be looking like the bad guy, but I realize that is probably in my head. This is especially more difficult with family.
There are two kinds of guilt—the kind that we’ve been conditioned with that just hangs on for eons, nagging the h…. out of us, and then there’s the kind that’s legitimate. The goal is to get to know both intimately; deciding which to pay attention to and which to trash.
And, AND, family is where the conditioned guilt plays out, so naturally you say: “especially more difficult with family.”
It can be as difficult to be honest with yourself and recognize the pattern as it is with to confront the situation.
Thanks for offering that dimension to the issue. You’re right—it can be just as difficult to confront ourselves with honesty as it is to confront someone else. Thanks, Tina!
I think it can be even more difficult.
Our parent role model forms the adults a person unconsciously patterns their future behavior. Waking up to the fact that the behavior is unhealthy for both parties is one step. Understanding how to behave in a healthy pattern is another large step.
Yep, and that step seems as huge as from here to Pluto. Sigh…