Saturday, November 15, 2014

This shouldn't make me feel guilty!

About 20 years ago, I was in a confused and somewhat depressed place in my life and made an appointment with a mental health counselor. This woman was great, cutting through all the crap in my head and getting to the point that was bothering me, namely the guilt I was feeling because of events happening in my life. I paid her $80 to tell me the best advice I have probably ever gotten, that I was the only one who could make me feel guilty.

I couldn’t believe it. I had a choice in feeling guilty or not? But didn’t that make me a self-centered, uncaring person? Wouldn’t people dislike me? Maybe, but she assured me that I would learn to like myself if I let go of the guilt, that I would feel empowered and self-assured.
It’s true, isn’t it? We allow people to make us feel guilty. These feelings start when we are young, and they seem to just snowball as we get older.
One of the first people in our lives to make us feel guilty is our parents. When we are young, parents make statements like “I’m so disappointed in you” or “I can’t believe you did this to me.” It’s hard living up to the expectations our parents have for us. If we choose a path they didn’t envision for us, we might live the rest of our lives hearing about how we failed them.

My mom always jokingly told me when I was growing up that she wanted me to be a pharmacist so I could afford to put her in a nice nursing home when she’s ready to go there. When I decided to be a teacher, her hopes of a nice nursing home went out the window. I joke and tell her that on my salary, she will get a single-wide trailer in my backyard. She just smiles, but what is she really saying in that smile? 
Various religions also use guilt for leverage, which is ironic. Since the Bible says our sins were wiped away when Jesus died, we are not supposed to feel guilt. I attended a few churches in the past that left me feeling apologetic because I didn’t give my entire 10% tithe and didn’t go down to the altar at the end of the service even after singing “Just As I Am” several times. Once I missed a couple of Sunday services, and the deacon actually asked where I had been and why hadn’t I been in church. Did he realize what he said?

Since I’m a parent, I can honestly say that there is nothing and no one who can make a person feel more guilt than her children. When they were growing up, I never thought I was a good enough mom and that I should do everything for them. Now that they're adults, I find myself with those same feelings of inadequacy every day because now I can see exactly what I should have done. That old hind-sight stuff stinks. I decided that I’m going to keep the guilt I have about the mistakes I made in parenting. I’ve tried to let this particular guilt go, but I don’t see it leaving; it's just too big.
I’m sure all employees feel guilt at some point. How can a doctor make a mistake with a patient's health and not feel remorse? I used to feel guilty when I didn’t get papers graded as quickly as the kids thought I should. If I didn’t have a dynamite lesson planned, in my mind I was a total failure and the worst teacher ever. When my students did poorly on a test, it must have been my fault.  How much of this is in my own head and how much did the kids even care? In my last year of my career, I believe I have a handle on the work guilt.

My husband said that we are all motivated by guilt. Otherwise, we’d tell the whole world to go to hell. He might be right. Guilt makes me want to do better, to make amends, to clear my conscience, so can’t some guilt be good?
What started my trip down guilty lane? I was considering not writing a post this week because I’m really slammed for time. I have research papers and journals to grade. I’m teaching a book next week that I’ve never even read. I’m going out of town tomorrow when I should stay home and clean my dirty house.  I’m feeling the stress, but I didn’t want to let down my readers. I actually felt guilty about not writing, but since I’m the only one who can make me feel guilty, I decided not to even consider the guilt and just write the damn post.

So here’s to guilt and to my therapeutic venting! Thank you.