I sense that one of the most powerful forces in our relationships, by which important decisions are often made, is guilt. Guilt comes in all forms—Jewish and Catholic varieties, special familial brands, and catch-alls like codependency. I don’t do guilt. I wasn’t raised with it, and I see no purpose in it. Of the mistakes my mother made raising me, taking me on guilt trips wasn’t one. She grew up in a household that had more guilt than oxygen, as perpetrated by her mother. She was determined I wouldn’t feel that, and I didn’t. I’ve taken the observer’s view of guilt, exploring it from the outside, mainly though listening to friends, colleagues and family who are suffering through it.I’ve drawn some conclusions in my study and I believe guilt serves two dysfunctional purposes, spinning out a tangled web of maladaptive behavior in its wake. It’s unnecessary and paralyzing, and today I want to help you free yourself from it. I can promise you that letting go of guilt will open up a world of clarity, and inspire a sense of confidence in your decision making. You will breathe and sleep easier. For reals. Oh, and you won’t lose your ethics or morals in the process. Those aren’t actually propelled or strengthened by guilt, though we often live with that fiction.
Guilt is a way for a person or group to exert power over another. It’s an extremely potent emotion that takes hold and strongly influences behaviors, obsesses minds and weighs down emotions. It has a paralytic effect that’s incredibly uncomfortable. It’s an effective tool of emotional manipulation (or warfare, in extreme cases), because it leaves its victim vulnerable, desperate for a solution to end the effect. The guilt perpetrator is able to easily exploit the victim to suit their own ends. Perps know guilt makes people feel tiny and bad, making them feel powerful, and in control. It’s a device of the insecure, damaged, cruel and unenlightened. It’s entirely wrong, and entirely unfair.
My aforementioned grandmother is a like, a fifth-level black belt in emotional warfare, guilt her favored weaponry. We lived on an opposite coast, in the farthest continental corner from her my whole life. Even from 3000 miles, she’d attempt to stick me with one of her throwing stars, ending letters with laments about how she “sure wishes she could see me more, she never gets to see me, she’s so out of touch with my life”. I’d feel a small prick in my chest, like I had done something wrong, by being born on the west coast. My mom would quickly snatch the letter away and tell me that I shouldn’t pay attention to those words, that I was certainly doing enough through writing back, engaging in weekly phone calls and two week summer visits each year. I took her word for it, and didn’t allow the words to penetrate my feelings. And still, my grandmother tried to get me within her grasp, because she is a black hole of need, a primitive personality with no capacity for nuanced emotion, a veritable insect. Oh, oh, oh she’ll chew you up! She’s vampiric, insatiable need, and miserable, and no one can help her. I see the negative impact she’s had on the lives of people closest to her and it’s staggering how much power one person can have. Fuck guilt.