Guilt – the gift that keeps on giving

Recently, a fellow blogger (check her out at for her Views and Mews by Coffee Kat) wrote an excellent blog about guilt in friendships. Since a blog on guilt was in my queue, I decided to move up its priority while her blog was still fresh in my mind.

Sometime in my tween years, I ‘learned’ that guilt was a strong hold in the Catholic faith. I wasn’t raised in that faith, but I didn’t have reason to doubt the authenticity of that idea. Nonetheless, I suffered (and still suffer) from a lot of guilt. Back then, I felt it, but just didn’t really know what it was.

I am, by nature, both a giver and a people pleaser. As a child, I was not only the middle child but the only girl. I learned pretty quickly that my parents responded fastest to negative behaviors by their children, and those responses were never pleasant, so I learned how to try and be invisible. My mother, may she rest in peace, had a large wooden paddle – with her name engraved on it, no less – and she was not afraid to weld it. She was also quick to anger and believed in the idea of punishing first and asking questions later. I know my people-pleasing nature evolved during those years as a result.

But the Catholics are not the only ones who practice guilt. I’ve since come to understand that the ‘gift of guilt’ comes in any faith. It is a great tool for people who like to criticize or find fault in others, a great tool for people who want to express their disappointment. “If only you would……, then I…….”. In other words, what you say or don’t say, what you did or didn’t do is the reason I feel the way I do. How selfish is that? Any psychotherapist will be quick to tell us that our feelings are OUR responsibility, that our happiness lays in OUR hands. Of course, at the same time, they tell us that we are entitled to our feelings. Perhaps therein lay the conundrum?

It’s a long, often painful, process to walk away from the people who tend to heap guilt. I have no doubt that family is the first, and biggest, unit to hand out guilt like it’s a gift. They tell you that the negativity they share with you about your words and/or actions is “for your own good”. What that really means is that they want you to adapt your behavior to fit a mold of how they want you to behave. It’s not that wanting us to change, if there is a none-self-centered reason, isn’t a bad thing. Maybe we’re not aware of a way we behave that is harmful to others. But there surely are better ways to tell us so than through the gift of guilt?

I am probably always going to be a slow learner in recognizing that the guilt card is being continually played. It takes me a while to truly see how another is manipulating me for their own benefit and that our relationship exists primarily for that reason. But I’m doing it – and I’m encouraging you ALL to take a look at those relationships in which you always feel defensive and prepared for attack. And when the “light bulb” lights and you see it, be aware for guilt to be heaped upon you once you are no longer front and center in fulfilling another’s needs by overlooking your own. I still feel a small amount of guilt for friendships I’ve walked away from once it became obvious that they would remain the same, no matter how much I tried to change them. But I’ll take the small and occasional guilt feelings as a positive exchange for not having the weight of making sure their needs are met and getting nothing in return.

Guilt is, in my opinion the “gift that keeps on giving”. Once you start to accept it, it becomes more and more difficult to say, “Thank you but no thank you” and stop accepting it. But your happiness comes from within you (or so those therapists say) and you deserve to be happy in your relationships.

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