Have you ever walked by a pet store and seen puppies with big sad eyes? Ever been asked at the store for donations? How about combining the two? Ever seen a homeless guy on the corner asking for money while his cute mutt sits beside him? Did these situations ever get a reaction from you? Well, they get millions of people everyday to make choices, that have not been thought through. It’s a human condition/weakness known as guilt. In a very real way, it is our Kryptonite.
Guilt can drive people crazy. It can cause people to let others control their lives. It can make people buy a puppy from a pet shop, or just give a dollar at the grocery checkout. Guilt is a very powerful weapon that is best used on the unsuspecting and misinformed.
Why does it work so well? Because guilt is the negative (photo kind) form of compassion. Compassion is a great trait. It’s promoted through society as a representation of kindness, generosity, even love. While guilt is portrayed as a feeling you get when you’ve done something wrong. The problem is, this isn’t true.
People can’t stand the feeling of guilt and they’ll do extreme things to get rid of it. This often comes through playing a ‘compassionate’ role, giving money, buying the dog, etc.. These perceived acts of compassion make the guilty feeling go away. Then people can move on with their lives.
But what happens when the person is not asking for a dollar, but for your time and energy? What if they wanted your future? Countless people unwillingly make this trade-off to avoid guilt. They can work their whole lives to appease spouses/parents/siblings/grandparents, even ‘friends’. They are controlled by it, because they incorrectly connotate guilt to mean they’ve done something wrong.
Simply saying, don’t feel guilty, is not in any way realistic. Over time, however, if you don’t make choices based on guilty feelings, you start to see the big picture. You may always feel sad for the puppy in the shop, but you won’t feel guilty because you know buying one, will just put three more in the window.
Now when it comes to relationships, guilt is never part of a healthy one. However, I tend to see it used rampantly.
A: “I know your work has been keeping you busy a lot, but my birthday was last week, and it hurt my feelings that you forgot”
B: “You know that I’ve been busy, this is a huge breakthrough in my career. Could it for once not be all about you? I can’t believe you’d be harassing me with this right now. I’m barely remembering to eat, and then you want me to deal with every single thing you want… yada yada yada”
A: defends, defends, defends, and gives B anything they want in order to stop feeling guilty.
This, however, is a never ending cycle that slowly gives one person more and more control. If the person cares about you, though, this behavior is reversible. If you go to talk to them (spouse/parent/friend), write down specifically what you want to address. Then, when you hit a pity party sidetrack, you can just go back to the main issues.
Example: A, can instead counter with
A: “This isn’t about me, and it isn’t about you. This is about a relationship that won’t make it if there’s not effort from both sides.”
B: “Ya easy for you to say. You have no idea whit it’s like. Relationships are also about supporting each other, not attacking them.”
Again, B is trying to use guilt as a scapegoat. They are sidetracking and acting as if you injured them. Don’t Be Fooled. This is not how they feel. They know their in the wrong, but they think the only thing that matters, is convincing you your in the wrong.
So A should say:
A: “That’s exactly right. You need to be more supportive, and small acts go a long way…”
I could keep going, but I think you get my point. Don’t be suckered into a change of topic. Stick to your main points. Guilt is just a bad feeling, it doesn’t mean your doing something bad. If you feel guilty in a conversation, step back and collect your thoughts. Try writing out what their saying, what your saying, and what your trying to say. And even if they act like their Bambi, and your trying to shoot them, don’t buy it. Yes, sometimes you feel guilty because you did something wrong, but guilt also comes when you just think you’ve done something wrong.
Next time you feel guilty, analyze before you act, or you could end up actually doing something bad. Don’t fall prey to human Kryptonite. The farther you are from it, and the people who carry it, the faster you’ll be able to recover and think things through.