I had a deep conversation about guilt that has me thinking about things from different perspectives. My dad always asks me, “Why do you feel guilty?”
Good question Dad.
I grew up with expectations. When those expectations weren’t met, I then experienced guilt. Guilt is shrouded in shoulds. And when you don’t do something you should the guilt comes roaring in. But where do the shoulds come from?
Death, Sex and Money had an episode with Ellen Burnstein. She talked about shoulds and always gave herself a Shouldless day every month. Shoulds were her ego and brain telling her what needs to get done. Expectations placed on herself by herself after interpreting needs and expectation from the people in her circle. When she didn’t live up to those expectations then the guilt would creep in. That’s why Shouldless days were so decedent to her. An entire day free of expectations and shoulds. Sounds like heaven.
Okay, Ellen, that makes sense. The automatic response from me is to eliminate a life without expectations from others. Sounds like a dream except how am I going to keep my family afloat when I don’t meet my work expectations and obligations? As much as retirement is my dream come true, I am not able to swing the no paycheck part yet. Quite frankly, I haven’t met many people who can do that yet. So work is a SHOULD. I should go to work and do my best so I can get paid. WWMRD? What would Mister Rogers Do? I think I will call it an obligation. I agreed to work every day and in exchange, I will receive a paycheck. No guilt, no should. Should is gone.
There is a situation where I think, “I should call this person”, but the strain and stress of it holds me back. I feel calmer and more at peace when I don’t. So why do I think this? Easy – expectations of society saying “Respect your elders.” Guilt appears. What if this person dies and I don’t make amends? Go away guilt, you have no idea how traumatic it is for me. Dear society, you haven’t experienced the same reality as me so – no, you don’t get a say. The telephone works both way. WWMRD? I think he would wish them well, not speak badly about them and be understanding of my fear. He would expect me to be kind but also be kind to myself because I matter too. So calling this person is a SHOULD. I should call this person but it always hurts me. I agree that I matter and do not have to feel obligated. Should is gone.
I have an ugly situation where I think things about a friend but I am not 100% sure they are true. I can just go by the results of several incidents and it feels true. I want to believe I am wrong. Because of this, I think I should apologize. By doing that I let go of my boundaries that I worked so hard to build. In this case, I want to see actions not words. But I should let it flow under the bridge because they are going through a really tough time. Guilt appears. If I do that, nothing will ever change and the same thing will keep happening as it has for years. WWMRD? He would not harbour ill feelings and would say prayers and send love to this person. Let them know he loves them and is there for them when they have it figured out. He would remind me that I matter too and this isn’t okay for me. That is why I have boundaries. So apologizing is a SHOULD. I should call this person but I am not respected – ever. I am last on their list and the first person to be cut out. I agree with Mister Rogers, I matter and do not have to feel guilty or obligated. Should is gone.
I suppose, in the end, all that matters is if I hold onto resentment and ill feelings. That is no way to live. Goodbye guilt, goodbye shoulds, I send you on your way and wish you well. Asking WWMRD always brings me peace. Thanks, Fred, you are one of the best helpers.