Guilt. So much emotion is wrapped up in its five little letters. Just looking at the word conjures up for me images of all the things I feel bad about. Things from long ago. Things that have happened recently. Even as I sit here, right now I can think of things that I feel guilty about. Just being here at all, away from my family makes me anxious and guilt-ridden. I can picture all of the things that I am missing, all the things I usually do that someone else has to do instead. And that is just for starters. Don't get me started on all of the regrets from years ago and all of the ways I would do things differently if I could do it again today. Not to mention all of the people whom I have inevitably let down over the years! I start to feel breathless and panicky just thinking about it as I pile one guilty verdict on top of the last. My back is breaking from the burden of carrying around all of the guilt. I need to lay it down.
I have memories of guilt and worry from a very early age. I was the family peacemaker. Whether that role was given to me or I picked it up on my own is unclear to me, but the fact is, that is the way I felt. If a family member was upset, I needed to smooth things over. I never liked seeing anyone upset, so I would do what I could to make things right again. If everyone wasn't happy, I felt guilty about it, as if I should be able to make everything peaceful and harmonious.
As I grew up, I just naturally kept up that role in my relationships with friends, family, co-workers, boyfriends and eventually with my husband and my children. To this day I feel it is my place to keep things on an even keel. If I am at a party (or gathering of any kind) and I can see that a discussion is going in a bad direction, I will do what I can to steer it in another direction. I am constantly monitoring the body language and facial expressions of those around me, so that I can intercept a bad mood and turn it around. My children have learned this about me and use it to their full advantage. They know that a long face or a desolate sigh cannot be ignored by mom for very long. I like that I am perceptive and that I can 'feel' the emotions of others so well; that is actually a very positive trait. It is exhausting, however, and it always leaves me feeling guilty when I can't do it right. By right, I mean, when I can't make everyone happy, peaceful and harmonious.
How egotistical is it of me to think that it is my duty pacify everyone at all times? Who do I think I am anyway? When I really analyse this trait I realize that is actually is sort of a control issue with me - to feel that I need to control the moods of everyone around me. Am I really doing it so that others won't experience discomfort or is it so that I, myself, don't have to feel uncomfortable about their discomfort, or so that I can control the mood in the room? Either way it needs to stop. It is not healthy for me, plus, other people have to learn to handle their own blunders. I mean, what do I think they do when I'm not there? Oh, man, there's something else to feel guilty about - I can't be with everyone 100% of the time! Eee, gads!
Seriously, though, guilt is not a healthy motivator. A little guilt is not a bad motivator, I suppose; it serves a purpose in keeping the majority of us from becoming conscienceless sociopaths, bound for a life in prison. A lot of guilt, or misplaced guilt, is not good though. It keeps us from having a healthy amount of self-esteem and prevents us from separating our happiness from the happiness of others. We all need our own identities and should allow ourselves to feel things independent of what others are feeling. We can't control it all anyway, so why keep feeling guilty about it?
How to expunge ourselves of these interdependent guilt feelings? That is a hefty question. One that I believe can be solved by another little five letter word - MERCY. Jesus said this in his sermon on the mountain(Matthew 5) - Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy. I have always looked at that verse in an outward sense, as in having mercy or compassion on others. But, in reading it today I read a different spin on it. Compassion begins at home (in our own hearts) and we need to have mercy on ourselves; forgive ourselves for not being perfect; overlook the times we were unable to get it just right; give ourselves permission to be flawed and unable to make everyone happy all the time. We have to be able to extend mercy to ourselves before we can really show mercy to others, just as we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love others as Jesus asks us to. This is a very freeing though. Very freeing, indeed.
I am going to practice feeling merciful towards myself, even as I feel a twinge of guilt for not being with my daughter tonight when I know she could use her mommy.