I've got it. Most people do, for at least a little while every now and then. In fact, if someone doesn't have it -ever - that is when they become sociopaths. So, at the root, guilt has its place and is actually kind of good. It is what keeps our actions in check when we don't get caught. All it takes is one really strong feeling of guilt after doing something before you will never want to do it again, or anything else that will give you that awful feeling.
Sometimes guilt gets out of hand, though. When you doubt your actions, you feel guilty. When you contemplate too much how every action will affect every other person in the world, you feel guilty. When you think about everything you could have done, but didn't, or didn't even think about, you feel guilty.
This kind of guilt is insidious, because you think to yourself, "If I just do THIS one more thing, then I will stop feeling guilty."
It doesn't work that way in real life, though. Trust me on this one.
I have guilt about everything I do or don't do, from the time I wake up until well after I go to bed. In fact, when I feel especially bad about something, I will DREAM about how guilty I am. Of course, that is only when I am not dreaming about incessant fears (tornado dreams, where I SEE the twister heading right for me and I can't do a thing about it,) or my anger issues (I have woken myself up yelling at someone and woken DH up by smacking him in my sleep.) In general, it doesn't sound like I have very much control over my emotions at all. Actually, I try too hard to contain these emotions and that is why they come out in dreams. But anyway, back to the point. Guilt.
All day long I am haunted by the things I did or didn't do today, or yesterday, or last week, or last year.
Intelligence dictates that I should let it go. Sure. Like I haven't tried THAT before. It seems like as soon as I have dealt with something sufficiently and moved on, something else will replace it. Normally I like to tackle this sort of thing logically. I have found that acting on the things I CAN deal with help to eliminate the guilt of the things I CAN'T. For instance, if I am at the grocery store and I bump into a stranger. I can apologize and try to be more careful but I can't really change the way she feels. This is a sensible method that works 30% of the time. You do the math. If I can't really release all of it, it just keeps building up until I have more guilt than anything else.
The length of time since the offense doesn't really make much difference. The severity doesn't matter, either. I feel just as bad about not doing laundry as I do about the time I waited until after Christmas to break up with a guy because I liked his parents and didn't want to skip the holidays at their house. The difference, of course, is that I could go do laundry and feel better, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to erase that horrible feeling every time I look at the jewelry box the guy's father hand made and personalized for me.
The feeling of guilt doesn't always show up on its own. It tends to piggy-back on whatever else I am doing until it finds a nice place to WHAM! hit me in the chest. I will be sitting on the computer, for instance, reading comics or food blogs and feeling Contented. In sneaks Guilt to remind me that I should have started dinner an hour ago. How about when I really crave something sweet, and then I find a mini chocolate bar in the bottom of my purse. The Surprise of the unexpected treasure and the Enjoyment of the treat are both quickly replaced by Guilt for eating something that isn't good for me, especially when I should be losing as much weight as possible. And, who could ignore the "guilt" part of Guilty Pleasure, like when I am listening to Justin Timberlake and singing along? Guilt doesn't creep in with just the positive feelings either. Maybe, I have had a tough day at school, failed a test, and made a fool out of myself in front of the class. The waterworks will start up and just when I think I am starting to feel better about letting the feelings go, that's when Guilt sneaks in and asks me if it is really fair to be throwing a fit and making everyone else worry about me.
I think it becomes worse when I am trying to attempt to do nice things for myself, even if there is a good reason for it. That sounds pretty twisted, but there it is. Let's say I have to chop potatoes into triangles for one of my cooking classes, so I decide to have potato soup for dinner to give me an extra chance to practice. Can you believe that even though my kids and husband love potato soup and I needed to use the potatoes for something before they went bad, I feel guilty because I forced them all to have this meal for my own personal reasons? Yep. I know how sick that sounds.
I have even found ways to produce more guilt for myself on a daily basis, which sounds a whole lot like accidental masochism. I feel bad because my house is a wreck, the laundry has piled up, the kids are starving, and I have piles of homework to do. To combat this I try to organize my thoughts and needs to I can prioritize them. (Seems smart.) So, I will write a list and detail the things that need to be done. (Still ok at the start.) Before long, my list has stretched from a few little things to dozens of things. (Uh oh, feeling a little bad now.) The next step is to figure out what to do first and next and so on. (Warning! Warning! That sinking feeling is creeping in.) Before long I am thinking in my head about the things I need to do, the things I want to do, and comparing them to the things I have to do for others, and finally to the time I have available to do them. (SMACK! Right in the chest!) Often, this will be enough to paralyze me and prevent me from doing anything productive at all. Sure, it begins innocent enough, but the result is always the same. This whole procedure is repeated over and over again. From lists, to calendars, to menus, to shopping lists, my life is actually shaped by enumerating what I can't do. The balance is always to the negative so very little ends up getting done at all.
I think the biggest reason I feel this way is that for the last 7 years, I have been unable to do even the bare minimum that I feel is required by a member of household. Pain, fatigue, headaches, and depression have chipped away at everything I am and reduced me to a sad shadow of what I once was. I know there is an actual medical reason for my incapability to have the same level of energy and productivity that I did before but I still feel bad that I DON'T. It doesn't matter that I didn't do any of this on purpose, or even that the root of it is probably that I was trying to do too much with too little. At the end, all I can see it that I ended up trying to juggle but instead dropping all the balls.
That statement actually hits it right in the heart. I feel like I dropped the ball. It took so long for me to admit defeat that I by the time I asked for help, I was already buried in the pile of what I wasn't able to do. Now I can identify much more easily what I am and am not able to do. but, that doesn't release me from the guilt of not doing the rest. I am overly optimistic about planning and I usually end up disappointing myself in the end. No amount of personal experience seems to be able to keep my mind in check.
Hopefully, just by identifying the main cause of this, I can practice the procedure of living with and dealing with this insidious little monster.
Yep, there's that optimism again.