My friend Ardis calls it, “Something’s wrong and it’s me.” It’s a reflex – a default setting. When things go wrong, when people are disappointed or have conflict, when life doesn’t go as planned; we assume that we’re to blame. Being wrong feels like guilt at best and shame at worst (Guilt = I did bad. Shame = I am bad).
There are two types of guilt – rational and irrational. Rational guilt is simply our conscience letting us know that we messed up. This creates opportunities to make amends and we’ll get to that just as soon as we’re done beating the hell out of ourselves (the losing battle of our self control).
Irrational guilt occurs when we haven’t done anything wrong but we’re uncomfortable with our feelings and the way things are. It’s an emotional set up in which we take ownership of other people’s problems, wants, needs and feelings. We’re playing the same roles we were assigned in our families of origin. We learned to be extremely attentive to others and to give to them without being asked. This level of awareness requires that we ignore our own needs.
We are caregivers. We maintain the weight of the world on our shoulders, walk on eggshells, and strive for standards that are unattainable. We resent ourselves for falling short and having limits. We exhaust ourselves doing for others and when things don’t turn out the way we intend them to we’re crushed. We’re dismayed. Why couldn’t we do it all? (We know nobody can but we secretly believe ourselves exceptions to the rule).
We feel like failures when we can’t make everyone happy. And there it is:
We believe ourselves responsible for how other adults feel. Did they get what they wanted? Did we give enough? Were we there for them? We’re unable to locate where we failed and still the guilt comes. We judge ourselves not by our contributions, nor by the process, but by the outcomes. We choose not to acknowledge that whenever two or more people are involved, we no longer have control of the outcome.
We find ourselves wondering why folks don’t simply do what we suggest (tell them to do). Truth to tell, we don’t trust them to take care of anything, including themselves. We’re control freaks because we’re afraid. We’re on the edge of our seats worrying about having enough and being enough. We’re anticipating and preparing and making sure we have everything covered. We live in fear of future regrets and seek to be above reproach. We say that we’re “tired” but in truth we’re drained emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.
We are aware of what others expect yet unclear of what we expect from ourselves. For caregivers, these are one and the same. Whatever you need, however and whenever you need it, we’ll provide it. Would you like it on a silver platter? Coming right up! We’re the folks you turn to for anything and we ask so little in return.
Deep down within us is a voice that pleads/angrily demands, “When do I get mine?” We’re waiting for someone to give it to us instead of going out and getting it. We’re afraid to make ourselves a priority in our own lives.
It was a rude awakening for me to realize that I am responsible for what others expect of me. Whatever I repeatedly do, folks naturally expect I’ll continue to do. For much of my life I did not understand that there’s a huge difference between caring for someone and taking care of someone. Today I accept that the only person I have to manage is me. This leaves me free to love others without the pressure of taking responsibility for their happiness.