What is a guilt trip?
Google defines it as: “An experience of feeling guilty about something, esp. when such guilt is excessive, self-indulgent, or unfounded”.
I define it comically today as “An experience Andrew Dawson had often during his dysfunctional childhood.”
I don’t believe God can ever be present in a guilt trip. Guilt is a tool used by those who wish to selfishly gain off the manipulation of another. Those that fall prey to guilt trips and give what the other person is asking of them are people like me that were never able to establish healthy boundaries in life.
In the alcoholic family I grew up in, there were no boundaries. There was no unconditional love. Things got done more than not with a combination of fear, control, and guilt. I was not able to say no as a child to my father or mother on anything. The sports I partook in, the classes I signed up for, the places we went out to dinner, the vacations we took, the food that was put on my plate, I had no voice in any of it. When I spoke up and tried to establish my voice and a boundary, a guilt trip was usually the result.
When one spends the first 18 years of their life with guilt, it stands to reason that responding to it favorably for someone else’s benefit will continue to occur until one heals from where it started. Until the age of 39 years old, I could easily be guilted into doing just about anything for someone.
I fought very hard as a child for approval and I shouldn’t have. All I wanted as a child was for my mother and father to tell me they loved me and were proud of me for me. I wanted to be good enough just as I was. Why wasn’t sixth place out of 25 in my sectionals swim meet good enough? Why wasn’t the B in school ok? Ironically, they were. I just couldn’t tell myself that then. I listened to my mother and father about how I had to try harder.
Sadly, what I didn’t know then, was that they were just replaying the tapes from their childhood. They were only teaching me what they had learned themselves. And I’m sure their parent’s parents were the same and so on and so forth. Someone had to break the pattern and learn what unconditional love was all about. And at the age of 39 I was exactly like my parents.
I was guilting others to get what I wanted and being guilted by others into what they wanted.
“Will you do this for me. Please? You know that I’m so good to you…”
“Will you loan me some money? You have way more than I do, don’t be selfish…”
“Why don’t you buy dinner for us? You earn more money than me…”
“Can you clean my car for me? You don’t have anything better to do since you’re not working like I am…”
These are just a few of the guilt trips that I’ve experienced. Each one of them I’ve given into. Why? Because I didn’t feel like I was worthy and deserving of unconditional love. I never had it. I only got conditional based love. If I did those things, then I was given a hug, an embrace, and a thank you. If I was lucky, I got a “I love you for that”. That’s all I knew.
I didn’t know that it was ok to say no and that I could still be loved by the person I was saying no to. I didn’t know that there were people out there that might ask if I could do something for them but not put any condition on the end of the request. I didn’t know that those same people would be ok if I said no and still love me just the same. I didn’t know any of that because I was replaying the same tapes with my parents again and again in relationship after relationship.
The saying is true that when the pain gets great enough that a person will take action. For me it took a lot of physical, mental, and emotional pain. It took a lot of fighting and anger. It took a lot of my happiness.
And there came a day when I finally said “ENOUGH!” “Enough of the guilt, enough of the manipulation, enough of the conditional based love. My pain had manifested so great that the price of continuing in the same patterns from my childhood was greater than what I was getting from it. So I faced the people that were doing it to me and said goodbye. Who I was really saying goodbye to were my sick parents. And suddenly I found myself alone and just about friendless.
I had brought into my life so many people that were begging me to work through these issues with my Mom and Dad and finally I did. And I did the one thing that I needed to after I had done the massive cleaning of my house of friends. I spent time with me. I learned how to like me. I learned how to love me. I learned who I was, what I liked, and what I wanted. I realized that I would never be able to have a healthy friendship or partnership with anyone unless I had a healthy one with myself and was able to set boundaries with everyone else.
These past nine months have been a huge learning curve for me. I’ve had to say “no” so many times when my mind was saying yes to people giving me guilt trips. My landlord has asked me many times to take care of his dog when he was running off to do something else or had fallen asleep on the couch and didn’t want to get up. I know today that his dog is not MY responsibility. I took responsibility for so many other people’s things. Their animals, their money issues, their health issues, and so much more. I’m not responsible for making anyone else happy or sad. I’m not responsible for someone else’s life. I’m not responsible for someone else’s responsibilities. I’m responsible for me. Strike that. God is responsible for me and I’m responsible for serving God as best as I can.
Don’t get me wrong. I will help out those that need help and are ailing on some level. But I allow God to guide me now and not my brain which gave into all the guilt consistently my whole life.
Would I walk my roommate’s dog if he was sick? Of course.
There’s a fine line between selflessly helping someone who needs help versus being guilted into helping someone else’s selfish nature out.
The only way I’ve been successful in not falling prey anymore to these guilt trips is to developing that loving relationship with myself and learning about what is ok and what is not. I used to always be on the go and never slowed down to even think about any of this. Thankfully my body responded with enough pain that forced me to slow down and reflect on the state of my life.
I’m still in a learning process. I know I’ve grown though. And I’m very thankful for the progress I’ve made and the boundaries I have put in place.
While saying “No!” is still rather new and difficult, I know the more I practice it, the easier it will become to not pack my bags anymore and go on that guilt trip.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson