Since we're a month or so into the new year, with resolutions that may already be fading, let's talk about guilt.
It's one of the most powerful---and sometimes destructive---emotions we can experience. Often it comes from others, but sometimes it's self-inflicted, and can encompass unrealistic demands on oneself as well as regrets.
Guilt and regret are really two sides of the same coin. Guilt is imposed on you by others---social conventions, political correctness, etc. Regret is the guilt you impose on yourself, often serving as your worst, most unrealistic critic. (Oh, those painful "Would-haves/Should-haves"!).
But it's debilitating, whatever form it takes. And perhaps, if we recognize it in its many manifestations, we can shake off a bit of its negative burden on our lives, both in how we react to it, and in how we unconsciously use it on others.
Mother Guilt, of course, is the ne plus ultra of guilt. It's a way to make kids behave, and it starts early. "Clean your plate, because children are starving in . . . wherever." And the child learns to overeat, so as not to disappoint Mama. And gets obese down the road because he/she has learned to let his/her emotions rule at the supper table, instead of his/her stomach.
My nutty mother (see JUST FOR FUN) had a difference approach. She never put too much food on our plates, telling us we could always take more if we wanted. And her mantra was: "Eat what you can, and what you can't we'll can." She was a remarkably non-guilt-inducing mother, for which I will always be grateful. We obeyed because she made it fun, or because she was firm in her demands, NOT because she made us feel guilty.
Keep that in mind when you're raising your kids, people. If they tend to say "I'm sorry" too often (even when it's scarcely necessary), it may mean that you're burdening them with lifelong guilt.
But of course just being a parent comes with its own brand of built-in guilt. If the child screws up, did we do the wrong thing? Was it somehow our fault? Makes for many sleepless nights, even if we are realistically "not guilty." And of course, in today's households, where both parents often have outside jobs, the guilt is multiplied. So we coddle our kids, buy them too much stuff, let them get away with all sorts of errant behavior. And then feel even more guilt, seeing the self-involved, thoughtless children we've created!
(Note to first-time new mothers, or mothers-to-be----please DON'T feel guilty in the first few weeks with the baby, when you're not getting enough sleep and the kid won't settle down, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and a bit pissed off is NORMAL! You look at the kid through bleary 4 A.M. eyes and wonder why you ruined your life. Trust me. Around three months, when the kid smiles at you and is suddenly a human being not a noisy blob, you will know exactly WHY you're happy to have the kid!)
But the sense of guilt manifests itself in the larger social world, as well. Because of Political Correctness, a lockstep code of conduct largely unknown in former times, we don't want to appear judgmental. We don't want disapproval FROM others, so we don't want to disapprove OF others. We don't want to get sued. So---social cowards that we have become---we tolerate all kinds of anti-social behavior that our forebears would not have endured.
Political Correctness is really a passive/aggressive guilt trip. With a dual purpose. We not only make others feel guilty for saying/doing/expressing the WRONG thing (as we and society see it, of course), we get to feel so very noble that WE are in the right and they are not! And the hypocrisies abound. Smoking a cigarette is not only unhealthy, it's proponents are somehow EVIL. However, it's fine, and even cool, to smoke pot. Ugh!
And, these days, being "wrong" in society's eyes even extends to guilt by association! So if you express approval of someone on the WRONG side, you are equally guilty. Double Ugh!
I guess the life lesson of this blog is this: Regrets and guilts are wasted energy, and ultimately destructive
Learn to recognize when others are trying to use it on YOU, and refuse to be intimidated.
Make a conscious effort to note when YOU use it on others, and try a more positive approach.
And, most important of all, people, be kind to yourself! Don't take on needless guilt (unless you have a secret desire to be a martyr!). Don't burden yourself with imagined guilt. And if there IS something you're genuinely sorry about, resolve to do better next time.
Just don't use guilt as a crutch or a weapon.
Since I usually have a few silly anecdotes to accompany my blog entries, I thought I'd close with a couple of old memories.
Late '60s. We were wearing polyester. Also, newly invented pantyhose. I am in slacks. Polyester. PLUS full pantyhose underneath (knee-highs hadn't come along yet and we never wore shoes without stockings unless they were sandals or flip-flops). Sitting with the family in IHop. Eldest son, 10 or 11, sitting across from me. Usual large pot of coffee on the table. (Don't know whether IHop still does this, but it was a staple on every table in those days, without being ordered.) Woman with large shoulder bag passes our table and turns. Bag knocks over coffeepot, spilling it onto my lap. I am in extreme pain, because it is hot as hell. Jump up, run to ladies' room, pull down slacks and pantyhose. Really too late, because two layers of scalding hot polyester on my thigh have already kept the coffee on my skin long enough to create second-degree burns. (Large blisters for a week or so.) Off to hospital with husband. Leave kids at IHop to eat meal. (Eldest very responsible---had already allowed him to take care of brothers for a few hours at that point. And small note---husband took me to hospital, dropped me off at home after I was treated, and went to pick up kids. IHop had already presented boys with the bill for the food!!!)
The guilt part came when son, suffering from "should-haves", told me that he immediately thought to toss a glass of cold water on my lap, the minute the coffee hit (which of course would have negated the serious burn!). So why didn't he? Because he felt guilty about throwing something at his mother! (Of course we reassured him, and loved him all the more for his sensitivity.)
Final guilt memory. I was, for many years, strictly a night person. (Probably still am, but I've learned to adjust to my daily schedules.) Also had low metabolism and low blood sugar. Could barely function in the morning until I had my cup of coffee. Kids knew to sort of keep out of my way until then, because Mom was sort of scary before the coffee!.
One morning, when youngest son was about four, I staggered into the kitchen. Son rushed to the stove and turned on the burner. I saw a mug next to the stove, half filled with instant coffee and the rest with sugar. Almost to the top! He had even managed to fill the kettle with water. Talk about feeling guilty! From that point on, I managed to be a little more human to my kids, even before the coffee!
Guilt can be helpful, but more often destructive, Be aware of it and deal with it.