Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guilt - a "Not Nice" word

Growing up, if I didn't want to finish everything on my plate, I got the "There are starving children in China who would love to have what you plan on throwing away" comment from my mother. Ah....guilt!! Isn't it amazing how we have all been subjected to it in one form or another? Why is it so effective? Sometimes it's self-induced. Sometimes others try (and succeed) to "guiltify" us. Now if I go back to the things I've read, I'll realize that ALL guilt is self-induced. Whether it's because we don't want to disappoint others or we don't want to disappoint ourselves, almost all of us are subject to feelings of guilt. (Many of you know my feelings about the word "disappoint". But that's a subject of another blog entry). But why is guilt so controlling? I will never forget the time when my daughter turned to me and said, "All my life, I have tried to do what pleases either you or Dad. It's time I did what pleases me." She meant no disrepect. In fact, what she was telling me was that she respected me, but she also wanted to respect herself by honoring what her true wants were. And shouldn't we all just want that for the ones we love - to follow and do what their true wants are? I'm proud that she "stood up" for what was important to her. And it's made me much more aware of not laying down guilt trips. When your little ones start to practice words that they hear from others, there are times you have to tell them that a word they just repeated was a "not nice" word. Maybe the word "guilt" should be one of 'em.


Anonymous said...

I agree with that! Very well put! I was the same way as your Daughter. Always doing things to please other people. Especially my parents. And as you get older it doesn't stop. It's hard to reverse what you've been doing your whole childhood. It's hard to show that independent side to those that you must please. It also leads to self esteem issues as well. Like you're a bad person if you do something different then what others expect from you. I really could relate to this post and you really wrote it well.

Leanne said...

I so agree with your post. I constantly try and find a way to deal with the guilt I put on myself. Your story of your daughter reminds me of that old saying (do you know it? How does it go?). . . that parenting is the best job in the world, and if you do it right - eventually you'll get fired. I'd like to "anti-guilt" when raising my daughters. I'll feel so GUILTY if I put GUILT on them. (Oh, boy...that's crazy.) ;)

bill said...


Very impressed with you spirit and energy. Keep it up. And always remember
"Illegitimis nil Carborundum"

Peggy said...

Ah....One of the best Latin phrases ever!!!

Anonymous said...

I like that quote, Leanne, and I had never heard it, but it makes perfect sense. Kids thrive off of pleasing you from the very start- it's how they learn right and wrong - but then at some point, they have to decide for themselves. It only took me about 27 years. :) But still, I struggle with it in almost every interaction. I second-guess if someone took me the wrong way, or if I offended. I think that's the insecurity piece, too. I used to be much more secure as a teenager because I didn't care what others thought! I sometimes wish that I could be that carefree state again, but it's hard when you are an adult with a family and a profession.

Now Mom, I like what you say about guilt being taught as a "not nice" word, but who's going to actually teach it to the kid? The guilt-laying parent? Let's be honest, it's usually being laid down by the mom (sorry, Mom), so she's very well not going to turn around and say "See this emotion I've just made you feel, honey? That's called 'guilt'and it's a 'not nice' feeling." :) I think guilt is used out of desperation many times, a last resort, and power tool, and sometimes the guilt-layer doesn't even realize their doing it because it's part of how they're programmed. I struggle with that with Cormick because I know so much of being a good person is teaching kids that their actions affect others' emotions. I try to teach him the consequences (that I would be sad if he chose to not share a toy with me), but I don't want to guilt him into making a different decision. But if you don't use those emotions, how will he learn to share? IS that guilt? And if so, when do you stop using it to teach?

Mom, great food for thought, and well-written, too!

Peggy said...

Maybe if a "parental unit" decides that they will teach their kids that guilt is a "not nice" word, they will think about whether or not their actions in raising/teaching their kids are actions to instill guilt, thus reprogramming themselves. I think teaching your child consequences just teaches them empathy, not guilt.