Enough guilt Already
Two days of rest after a trip and I don’t feel a bit guilty. I used to be pretty anxious when I didn’t accomplish much in a day. Ok, fine, I still get like that sometimes. Relaxing is not my strong suit. But resting? I’m a napping Queen. Guilt is such a funny thing. It’s tied to all kinds of fears and emotions.
I’ve had many a Mom at my table saying, “But I feel guilty,” if I don’t do this thing or that or accomplish this or that. I admitted mine from the early child rearing years when I heard the condemning voice in my head saying, “You are a bad Mom,” when I didn’t respond perfectly to my young son. (http://open-wound.com/reframing/)
It was a damn lie. Because no matter how you feel, guilt is a fact, or a falsehood. We are either guilty or not guilty. I was guilty that day of losing my temper. I needed to make up for it, (Parenting, the ultimate learning on the job!) but that alone didn’t make me a universally bad Mom!
Do you remember being a kid, and getting lined up in a row with an adult trying to figure out “who did what,” in sibling or friend rivalry? Or an accident? Maybe like me, you have done the same thing to your kids. At the end of the inquest, someone was getting punished, right? My sisters and I were totally stubborn on this one and wouldn’t own up to anything.
In hindsight, I was just downright afraid. Afraid of disappointing Mom & Dad. It may sound nutty, since parents always complain about childish attitudes, but kids worship their parents and want them to think well of them. They want to be all good all the time and consistently feel as if they are the apple of our eyes. It’s why I’m so hip on a gentle touch. (http://open-wound.com/go-gently/)
In the “Guilt” chapter of Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Power of the Other, he says the “source of guilt feelings is the fear of the loss of love.” (Henry is a leadership and development expert with a doctorate in clinical psychology.)
“One of the most misunderstood aspects of guilt is that it is basically about separation from love. Guilt and the resulting fear from guilt, are not about “feeling bad” about oneself. They are basically about being separated from love. If people know they are loved, they are not afraid of their “badness.” They feel accepted and safe and do not have to feel “good” about themselves. Love does that. Love is everything.”
On the other hand, good parents aren’t looking for someone to blame or to punish when we line up the lovelies. We are looking for lessons to teach. That is why discipline in anger is always a no-no. Helping the kids recognize their own “badness,” without making them feel as if they are losing love, is key. The final expression of, “you are enough,” is the goal. Yes, we are trying to teach personal responsibility as well. I like what is called “reality discipline.” Basically it is letting the chips fall where they may at times so they can learn what helps them and what hurts them. But we don’t need to encourage feelings of guilt. Just truth. You are not a perfect being and I love you!
They need to know how to recognize true guilt when they are adults, and must learn to decide what type of people they want to be. They also need to learn the trifecta of genuine sorrow for hurting others, the ability to apologize and live with the consequences of their actions. No problem, right?
Keeping the definition of guilt as a fact or a falsehood in the forefront of my mind helps me when I have a sense of guilt but I’m really “not guilty.” That is a vital skill in the arena of interpersonal relationships.
I was asked a question once, probably in therapy. It was, “If you invited a friend over and they got in an accident on the way to your house, would you feel guilty?” It’s a good one to think about.
Henry also said, “In helping people grow in the area of guilt feelings, don’t try to make them feel good about themselves. Help them get connected to love. Feeling bad is not something to overcome. It is a symptom of disconnection from love. Internal isolation. If you find people who feel “bad” about themselves, find the isolated part of their heart and give them grace, love and connection. If you do that, you will cure a lot of the guilt. (Power of the Other: The startling effect other people have on you, from the boardroom to the bedroom and beyond – and what to do about it, paraphrase)
It sure is something to think about.