Pack Your Bags, We’re Going on A Guilt Trip.
Have you ever felt like this is someone’s motto? Or that you suffer under so much guilt that there is a stack of heavy emotional luggage by your front door?
Guilt is an emotion. It has a specific place in our lives and is appropriate at certain times. Guilt is the feeling we have when we have done something wrong or failed in an obligation.
Feeling guilt is like carrying a heavy suitcase. Once you have this suitcase, you have to carry it wherever you go until you can get rid of it. So, as you can imagine, carrying around guilt is a burdensome task that most of us try to shed quickly, even if it means we welcome another negative emotion like anger, bitterness or resentment.
There are two ways guilt shows up in friendships:
- You use guilt to motivate others.
- You respond to guilt used by others.
Why Does Guilting Work?
Living inside discomfort and awkwardness is very challenging. I question myself, I feel alone, I feel sad and afraid. Knowing that I have upset someone, knowing that someone does not approve of me and what I have chosen, knowing that these feelings won’t go away until I give in…that is why guilting works.
When I put my well-being, my happiness, my self-esteem into my friend’s hand, she becomes responsible for me. Instead of me being responsible for me. So, if I do something she does not like or say “no” to something she asks or wants, the way she responds to me determines what I do next. This means she has more control over the flavor of my mood and my daily happiness than I do (because I gave it to her).
- I change my schedule to accommodate her, otherwise she will be upset.
- I say “yes” to too many activities when I know I do not have the time. I don’t want to argue about it.
- I include a friend on all my activities because she makes me feel guilty if I don’t.
- I don’t say what I really think and feel to avoid feeling guilty about hurting someone’s feelings.
The Removal Of Love, Approval or Affection
Two common responses when someone does not do what we would like for them to do is to remove something they find valuable or attacking the person’s character. So, until my friend says yes to my subtle demand, I might
- withdraw my love, affection or availability from her.
- withdraw my approval so that she questions her actions/decisions.
- put an edge in my voice or become a bit icy so that she feels the coldness of my behavior to her.
- show my disapproval in my facial expressions, nonverbal language (sighs, huffs, raised eye brows, eye rolling).
If I can hurt her enough with my words, then I have succeeded in making her question herself enough so that her “no” turns to a “yes”. My criticism is strong enough to hit her in a spot that makes her feel insecure or disappointing.
- You are so ___________. (forgetful, selfish).
Dealing With A Guilting Friend
It is easy to fall prey to guilt so that I can find quick relief from being alone, shunned, emotionally punished, shamed or hurt. However, there is a cost to my giving in, a high cost.
When I give in and act out of guilt, I give small parts of myself away to this person. Inside, my heart and my spirit lose stability because I have not stuck to my no, my instincts, my own wants, desires, beliefs – I have set those aside to avoid feeling guilty. So I gain relief from guilt, but forfeit self-respect.
There are a few things to do within a friendship like this:
- Practice. The more you practice handling difficult feelings while honoring who you are, the easier it gets. You also become more aware of when guilt and manipulation are used to get you to do what someone else wants.
- Make sure you have healthy friends that encourage honesty and balance in a relationship. A friendship like this allows each person to speak their honest thoughts and works with a “No” answer.
- Honestly evaluate this friendship. Without honesty and balance, is this really a friendship? Is this a place you feel honored, encouraged and accepted?
- Be aware of where you falter. We all have weak moments and give in to being guilted. Review the situation, have someone to talk to that can support you as you practice.
- Confront. We grimace at this and the discomfort it can bring, but talking to your friend is one way to keep the relationship honest.
The Lighter Suitcase
To take responsibility for my own okay-ness is a bigger task than most people think. It means that I do not use guilt to motivate people to take care of me, but that I accept who and what they are right at that moment. Even if I disagree or wish I could get my way, even if they withdraw their love or approval, I hold onto who I am. This is hard and often challenges me to actively withstand someone being unhappy or disapproving.
When I am not “for sale” and there is no haggling over my choices, I am free to be responsible for my own happiness. I do not give anyone else the responsibility of keeping me happy, secure, whole. My own actions help me lighten the load in my friendships, allowing me to be me, you to be you in a space full of safety, openness, goodness, forgiveness and acceptance.