On Friday I posted a response to a reader who asked for help with managing her guilt. She’s feeling guilty about the fallout from her divorce. Yet her husband drank heavily and refused to give up his contact with a woman he’d become very close to. When I was a DoorMat I lived with lots of guilt. The few times I turned down requests for my help, guilty feelings pervaded my existence.
After my divorce I had a boyfriend who blamed me for all the wrong HE did. It was MY fault when he misinterpreted things I said that were clear and full of loving intentions. It was MY fault that he didn’t show up when he said he would. He had many problems that were beyond my control and were there long before he met me. I knew that on a rational level. But insecurity makes the nicest of us irrational.
I’d apologize profusely while a voice in the back of my head asked why? I’d done nothing wrong!
In retrospect, I see that my insecurity pushed me to be perfect, which is impossible to be. Yet I gave it the ol’ DoorMat shot, especially with my guy. I was afraid to lose the good stuff I thought we had. He was hot! Cute, great body, and amazing under the sheets. My need to please and be perfect made me try to fix situations that I didn’t break. Perhaps my guilty reader feels the same way. Developing better self-esteem woke me up.
Stomping out guilt requires assessing what you did that makes you guilty—in a way that’s fair to you! It also requires ACCEPTING that you can only be responsible for your own behavior.
That’s hard for many of us! The ingrained desire to please creates guilt habits. People like to blame their bad behavior or troubles on others. Some ACT as if they like you better if you accept the guilt they throw on you! But their behavior is NOT your fault. Some men blame their abusive conduct on the women they hurt. “If YOU hadn’t done this or that, I wouldn’t have to hit you.” NO ONE has the right to abuse anyone, physically or mentally! Or blame you for what is really their fault.
So what’s a guilty girl or guy to do?? Stop accepting guilt carte blanche!
It’s hard to break guilt habits, but you can. It’s YOUR choice to let guilt ruin your day so practice choosing not to! If someone blames their troubles or unhappiness on you, do you reassure yourself or wallow in bad feelings, even if you don’t understand how you’re responsible? Consciously evaluate whatever makes you feel guilty, let go of thinking about what you get for taking blame or how the person will like you more, and objectively decide if you realistically deserve it.
Not giving someone their way when you have no obligation to isn’t wrong, unless what they think is more important to you than your view.
Be honest about whether or not guilt is warranted. Pay attention to what triggers it and change your perception of the situation. If someone tries to instill guilt, remember that you’re a good person who can’t do it all. Guilt is self-punishment. Love yourself enough to skip that! If you feel guilt brewing, ask yourself:
• Did I purposely hurt them? If the answer is no, assess why you feel so guilty. Not jumping when someone wants something from you doesn’t make you wrong or bad.
• Was what I did in my best interest? Often people would prefer you do what’s in their best interest. But that doesn’t make you wrong when you take care of you.
• Did I try my best? If that wasn’t enough to satisfy someone, oh well! That’s all you can do. And you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t be what others would like you to be.
• Was I truly wrong or is someone trying to make me feel that way? I’ve found selfish people are first to call others selfish – to guilt them into giving in to their requests. Be objective instead of worrying so much. Not doing it his/her way doesn’t call for guilt.
• Have I done something that warrants ruining my day with guilt? Did you commit a crime? Screw someone over? If your intentions were good and you accept you can’t be everything to everyone, there’s no need to suffer for not being perfect in someone else’s eyes. Guilt won’t make the person more satisfied or undo a situation, so move on from it!
When you forget to do something, don’t have time to help a friend, say something inappropriate, or do anything that brings on the ol’ guilt vibes, put it into perspective:
• Feel bad it happened for the moment.
• Apologize if necessary.
• Forgive yourself for being human.
• Let it go.
When I left DoorMatville, I also cut back dramatically on guilt. If I do something I think was wrong, I apologize and it’s over. I know I’m a good person who doesn’t purposely try to hurt others. Sometimes we goof or have less than stellar judgment. That doesn’t make you a bad person. Now when someone tries to put blame on me for something I know I wasn’t responsible for, I refuse to feel guilty. I’ve actually asked, “Why do you think I should feel guilty when you….?” If I accidentally do something wrong, I apologize but refuse further punishment.
I won’t give someone the power over my joy anymore. DoorMat days are over!
You can’t be everything for everyone, including yourself. Stopping guilt in its tracks is a loving act that makes your perception most important. If you can’t see how you’re at fault, affirm, “I did nothing wrong and shouldn’t feel guilty.” As you trust your judgment more, you’ll have fewer reasons to go there. Accept that you’re a good person and don’t owe everybody what they’d like. Forgive your mistakes.
Let guilt take a back seat to self-love. That keeps you keeps your happiness factor at a smiling kind of level.