I may be the most guilt-ridden person out there. When I was little, if I even raised my voice or was short with my parents and ran to my room, no more than a few seconds passed before I was crying at their feet begging them to forgive me.
Yes, I was raised on guilt. It worked. My parents decided that instead of spanking my brother and myself, that they would love us so unconditionally that it would literally wrench our guts if we did anything to defy them (at least for me, I can’t speak for my brother). There are some things that I have done in my life that I have totally been forgiven for for years, but when I think about them I get sick to my stomach. I almost want to say that I would rather have felt physical pain than the emotional anguish caused by guilt. For example, in high school I lied to my parents about spending the night at a friend’s house when I was really trying to get in some extra time with my boyfriend. My mom and dad caught me, and when I got home, we sat down and talked about it. My mom was looking at me like she didn’t even know me and my dad kept saying how he couldn’t believe that I would ever be capable of lying to his face so convincingly. (Who can feel the weight of guilt piling up just from reading this?) The real kick in the gut: the next morning my dad was sitting outside and my mom told me to go speak to him. When I went to him I could tell he had been crying. He was so utterly disappointed in me. My dad, whom I have only see cry at his own parents’ funerals, was crying because I had lied to him. (Oh my gosh, I can’t even believe I am writing this–I am feeling those old feelings so strongly just by rehashing the story.) I am thankful that my parents raised me this way, though, because it had made me so much more conscientious of other people’s feelings (and guess what, I didn’t pretend to spend the night at a friend’s anymore unless I really was going to be with that friend). I have not done certain things because I was afraid of the guilt I would feel. For instance, I have never cheated on a boyfriend or my husband. I have never said anything behind anyone’s back that I wouldn’t say to their face. I have never intentionally put anyone in an uncomfortable situation. Other than a few passing moments in high school I have been a rule follower to the core–something that drives my husband nuts (ie-“But the sign says to exit to the right, Honey…”).
The big drawback to having an extremely guilty conscience is that I put myself through hell over minor issues. Sometimes I even feel strange (I can only describe it as feeling like a bad person, like I did something wrong) for no reason. Then, because I feel that way, I try to think about what it is that’s making me feel bad and I will actually dig so deep that I find something I can scrutinize enough to make me feel guilty. I feel guilty about things that most people wouldn’t even think twice about–then, because I feel guilty, the only way to feel better is to “come clean” so I usually apologize or confess to someone and confuse them or make something out of nothing.
This has been the biggest battle that I have had to fight with myself in my life. I am constantly trying to work through my feelings of guilt in order to function normally in society. I still hate getting presents because if I don’t love the gift, but I do the polite thing and tell the gift-giver that I do love it (“really, really, I always wanted the K-Fed CD!”), I feel guilty for having deceived them. But honestly, would the person rather I pretend to like their gift or tell them the truth and embarrass everyone involved? My best birthday growing up was in 4th grade because I remembered that I actually loved every gift I got so I didn’t have to tell anyone a white lie. It was the least stressed I ever was at a birthday party. Do you see how ridiculous this is?? It’s a struggle also because it has manifested into anxiety in adulthood, but I also work on controlling that, mostly with biting my nails…
I just hope that other young girls don’t go through this. It is really difficult and can hurt your self-esteem if you’re constantly judging yourself for past actions. Feeling bad and guilty can translate directly into “I am a bad person” or “I’m not worthy of these people’s love”. For me, it translated into being walked on by a lot of different people in my life, mostly boys. I think that as women, we tend to be extra sensitive and empathetic, so perhaps we are more prone to guilty feelings. Granted, guilt is good and it helps us act decently toward one another, but for me, there is a fine line between real guilt and created guilt. I actually used to wish that I could care so little for others that I could easily dump a boyfriend or tell a “friend” what I really thought about her selfish actions. But no, I was the one who would rather be dumped than anguish over hurting a boy’s feelings by breaking up with him. Unfortunately for me, I have had a boyfriend or two that knew this about me and preyed on it. Once I told my boyfriend that our relationship was fading and I thought we should break up. He turned it around to make me feel like the relationship was failing because of me and that I was giving up on us. He convinced me to stay in the relationship, otherwise he had implied that it would be my fault for giving up and hurting him. Wouldn’t you know…he had been cheating on me! Why he didn’t take the out when I gave him the chance will always boggle my mind….but that’s for another post to be titled “Men Who Need to Have the Upper-hand”.
If you are struggling with guilty feelings like me, here is what I try to do: I ask myself if the issue is something to really feel guilty about. Did I hurt someone? Is the damage irreparable? If I haven’t hurt anyone, would apologizing or confessing the truth hurt the person more than them just not even realizing what I did? Most times, the person I think I have offended isn’t even aware of the situation. If I bring it to their attention I actually create a hostile environment (and then I am actually being selfish because by making myself feel better by relieving my own guilt, I have hurt another person emotionally–I feel better, but now they feel worse). So try to analyze your guilty feelings in a different way–try to think about why you are feeling bad. Is it really because of something you did or is it another reason? Life is too short to go through it feeling guilty.