Learn to withstand someone who tries to give you a guilty conscience.
Some individuals have a tendency to place responsibility or guilt for things that go wrong outside themselves - they externalize.Others internalize they take on excessive guilt and responsibility. When two such individual come together they complement each other in the worst way possible.
The one who externalizes can easily continue their irresponsible path through their own life. The internalizing one gets help to push themselves even further down.
At the group level, there is a tendency for boys and men to externalize while girls and women tend to internalize. Therefore, it is common that in many romantic relationships women carry all too much guilt. The variances within these groups are of course greater than the variances between them.
These tendencies can become even more marked if a primary care provider was predisposed to not taking responsibility for themselves and their own life, but rather directly or indirectly placed the responsibility on you as a child. For many who easily feel guilty for everything, often for no actual reason, this pattern can originate in such guilt induction.
Feeling guilty about everything and anything - generational patterns?
This little vignette can serve as an illustration:
I have vacation soon, and I know that my mother wants me home for a visit.
I am looking forward to a movie I have plans to see with someone tonight, and I mention this when my mother calls. She says that she never went to the movies when she was young because she was helping her parents and mentions that she is a bit lonely, but everything is fine, except that she is troubled with back issues, of course. Then she tells me to have a good time.
After our conversation I am uneasy. I have a queasy feeling in my stomach, I am slightly irritated, and tears are brought to my eyes. I feel bad for my mother and I feel mean. Things are so hard for her and things have always been hard for her in her life.
If you try to hug grandma she turns into a piece of wood.
Maybe I should go home for the weekend after all. The tears that are pressing at my eyes do nothing besides once again drag me down into something heavy and indecisive. My unease won't go away. My jaw locks up and the gnawing feeling of guilt is intensified.
I begin to stress about all the things I should be doing that I don't manage to, and I feel at least one size too small. I cancel my movie plans, the person I was supposed to go with is probably happy about that and then I put off my vacation for a few days. I eat a little but get a feeling of extreme guilt from the food. And then I clean the apartment. My guilty conscience has gotten its claws into me and will not be washed away as easily.
The person described above is driven to actions without quite understanding why. What is really driving the guilt? What is happening internally that instigates the cleaning?
In this context we can find a satisfactory answer by positing that the mother is, in a subtle way, activating her daughter's feelings of guilt. When another person, in this case a mother, enters the role of victim, you are at the same time maneuvered into the role of aggressor. The one who is letting people down and the one who is guilty. The one who should suffer a guilty conscience.
Most often this is not a conscious act on the part of a parent. This is very seldom an act of evil intent and always happens for a reason. The mother wants well for her daughter and contributes in a positive way but has some baggage and blind spots which play out in these sorts of scenarios. Often due to earlier impacted care or contact needs. Without meaning for this to happen, the feeling of inadequacy and inferiority are carried into the next generation.
The greatest victory in a life must be managing to break such generationally connected patterns of obstructed love.
But the results are the same regardless. You are called upon as the carrier of baggage that is not your own and this creates inner conflict. In some cases, these mechanisms can manifest in a milder form, other times this baggage can develop into a pure, Sherpa dynamic. You become a hard-working servant in someone else’s life rather than a master of your own.
All too often such patterns affect not only you but can also affect others that you actually do have a responsibility to. Once you start taking responsibility for things that are not yours, your capacity to take care of your primary areas of responsibility is weakened. For example, your own life and happiness, or your own children.
What can you do when someone tries to give you a guilty conscience about everything?
One cannot really give another person a guilty conscience about everything. At the end of the day, you have to accept or refuse such an invitation. When someone plays on your guilt it is often an expression of that person's psychological defenses. Defense against taking full and complete responsibility for their own life. Defense against being clear and direct about what they feel and need. If you do not give in and say no thank you to the invitation to join the “dance” it will apply pressure to the other person's defense. It's about sorting through what is your own and what belongs to others.
We will, in the following text, suggest one way to take up these difficulties, inspired by Guy Winch and his books concerning healing emotional trauma. For some, communicating in this manner will still be out of reach. Read further, and it might still be able to help you sort through your own feelings and thoughts.
Tell your mother that you understand how important it is for her not to be alone.
Explain that, at the same time, when you are put under such indirect pressure you become irritated, even when you end up giving in to her desires. It feels as if you have no choice. That it does not feel OK to say no.
Explain that if things continue like this you are afraid it will serve only to create further distance in your relationship, and you want the opposite - just like her.
Ask if, instead, she can express her wishes directly rather than trying to play on your conscience - and that she respects and shows understanding that the things she wants do not always fit with you and your plans.
Explain that you will be more likely to do what she wants if she communicates more directly.
Further explain that you also have your own life and will not always be open to or even want to fulfill her desires. But that the times you choose to answer her requests positively you will do so with authenticity and your entire heart, something that will benefit both parties.
Then your mother can be certain that you actually want to be with her.
Withstand your own defense mechanisms
Refusing to partake in the “blame game” and also refusing to pull away and instead confront the situation will most likely create internal anxiety. Anxiety can trigger avoidance in such cases, through activation of your own psychological defenses and/or adaptation strategies. By beginning to doubt your own experience or placing the blame on yourself the anxiety connected to the inner protest against your mother will be alleviated. The price you pay in order to protect your mother against your internal protestations is consequently insecurity, guilt and loss of your own sense of self. Adaptation at the expense of authenticity.
Being able to tolerate your own anxiety and regulate it in other ways rather than just giving in will be essential.
Be prepared that little will change with her, at least not right away. Be prepared that she will become defensive, pretend she doesn't understand etc., and you will have to endure an obvious disagreement.
During such a process you can quickly reach a point where you doubt yourself. You may be tempted to give in to the tears that are pressing from within, devalue yourself and/or move into despair and hopelessness. You might start giving yourself a guilty conscience because you are exposing your mother to difficult emotions. It is exactly then it is important to mobilize your counterforces in order to stand steady. Everyone should take responsibility for their own emotions.
You can, for example, say: This what I am experiencing, for better or worse. This is my opinion independent of what your response is. You can choose to cling to your perception of reality but for me things are different. So, we will have to agree to disagree.
Feeling guilty about everything - have supportive thoughts
Remember that expecting something from someone and making demands is, in many ways, a respectful and loving act.
Remember this is a responsible act. You are taking responsibility for your feelings, needs and are giving words to something problematic within your relationship.
Remember that it would be a disservice to your mother to continue to give in to guilt, adapt to her needs and maintain a relationship on false premises.
Remind yourself that your intentions are good. You want something good to come from your actions. No matter how you twist and turn it, people have the right to try things like this.
If it feels difficult to do this it can be helpful to speak with a psychologist. Often, you will need some confirmation and help working with your own phobia of self-assertion, self-destruction and the need to protect others from difficult emotions to be able to stand steady during such a process. No one should have to go through life feeling guilty about everything. You can read more here about what you can expect when you contact us for therapy with a psychologist..
We wish you the best with this important project!