Guilt is my Middle Name

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I’m sorry this is late. I got caught in one of those computer quicksand storms where every time I correct a mistake six more appear. Now I could have published it on time with mistakes, but I am too proud.

Guilt is My Middle Name

I feel guilty about so many things! Sometimes I feel that if there is a word for something, I feel guilty about it.

Now I know that I can’t possibly do that many things to feel guilty about in a day. Therefore it must be a “feeling” flashback to one of the innumerable times I was told as a child that it was my fault, that I was bad for doing or saying or thinking such things, that I should be ashamed of myself. Those messages were repeated so often that they coalesced into a basic belief about myself. I’ve known for decades that it’s hooey, but the feelings still flood over me.

Here’s what inspired me to write about guilt. For the last few days I have been upset by something I wrote in the last post. What popped into my mind was “OMG, I lied. I wrote something that wasn’t true. What should I do? Say nothing, and hope nobody notices? Confess and apologize? Or just explain?” I’m choosing to explain.

See if you can spot the lie – um, inaccuracy – in this paragraph. I don’t imagine you can.

“My horse’s name was Badger. He was a beautiful dark brown, nicely proportioned, and very mellow. We rode on trails in the park, some paved, some dirt. There were native flowers in bloom and also “exotic” ones like climbing nasturtiums. There were stretches where I had to duck to avoid low-hanging branches. All we did was walk, but I didn’t care because I could pay closer attention to the plants and sunlight and the smell of the horses.”

But I know. I didn’t smell the horses because my sense of smell is going south. I no longer can smell flowers or cheeses or cat boxes. I also often smell things that aren’t there and most of the time I can’t identify the odor. It feels like something unpleasant that I have never smelled before. It’s all just a normal part of aging. <sigh>

All horses have a strong, distinctive smell, even when they have just been washed. I was around horses a lot when I was a kid, and I loved their smell and loved the way I smelled after I had hung out with them. These experiences were in the forefront of my mind when I wrote that paragraph and I came from that place, not the present.

Was it a lie? To me, a lie is something untrue said on purpose to protect oneself or deceive somebody else. So no, not a lie. A falsehood? Certainly. An error? Certainly. An inaccuracy? Certainly. Something to feel guilty about? Certainly not!

Guilt is such a big issue for me. I bet I could spent a whole year writing about it. But I have a short attention span, and luckily other things would catch my interest!

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13 thoughts on “Guilt is my Middle Name

  1. I feel guilt all the time about everything. I’m just starting to realize this and learn where it comes from. Messages from childhood, certainly. Today is my 20th wedding anniversary and I feel tremendous guilt for not even wanting to acknowledge or celebrate it with my husband, who has had been emotionally abusive and unbelievably unfaithful the entire marriage. What are we celebrating? Anyways, the voices of my childhood have been flooding in…be grateful for what you have, don’t be over dramatic, you are well taken care of, many sacrifices are made for you….these are all probably messages that have kept me in this situation all this time. I never knew I was allowed a voice or deserved to be loved or cherished, exclusively! I am now just learning this is how I have thought my whole life. I was trained to feel guilt and acquiesce. Guilt is so overwhelming and paralyzing. I think I too would feel guilt over that inaccuracy. I am very strongly against lying if any kind for myself.. But when I read your explanation it made total sense to me that you automatically wrote that not thinking about its inaccuracy. In that moment you were in your childhood mind. Your imagination probably allowed you to actually be smelling the horses! I hope though, that the admission and explanation you wrote have relieved your feelings of guilt and you can move on feeling ok about it!

    1. Yeah, I’ve moved on to obsess about other things. Like the ants that have invaded my house. I feel awful about killing them, but don’t know how to get them safely outside. I get them down to 3 or 4 and then when I next look there are hundreds.

      I can see the connection between what you were told as a child — be grateful you have food every day, be grateful you get clothes to wear, a school to go to, etc., and all this is provided by the cult. So you are totally dependent on the cult and cannot think or act for yourself. In return they get to abuse and torture you. And your husband? You probably don’t think you are worth anything better. I imagine you are afraid of him, as well as the thought of having to take care of yourself. Who ever taught us to be independent? Nobody, that is who. It makes me so mad.

      1. You are exactly right on all those points about my husband. It makes me asp mad too. But then, I feel like I can’t be angry…I was taught that’s never allowed or tolerated. I feel trapped.

        1. I’ll tell you a secret. You don’t belong to them, you belong to you. So if you want, you can make a new rule and stop using theirs! Amazing thought, isn’t it?

          So you are allowed to be angry. Your husband probably wouldn’t tolerate it, true. But you have choices: you could not tell him you were angry. You could tell somebody else. You could call a hot line and be angry there. If you are scared to do that, you could chose a different name when you talk to them.

          Just to know that you can allow yourself to be angry might make a difference.

    1. Survivor guilt! Years ago I co-led a workshop called “Guilt after Killing.” There were about 40 people there, including people who served in various wars. It was so powerful!!! I don’t think anybody came out not feeling terribly guilty, but sitting in a room with all those people cracked open the silence around the issue.

      And survivor guilt can come from something we know we had no hand in, but simply knowing I came through, and others didn’t, is devastating.

        1. There is a classic book “Survivor Guilt” by Aphrodite Matsakis. I checked and it is on Amazon. There are several other books with the same title, but I am not familiar with them. Maybe it would be helpful to you.

    1. Heh. It is such a drag. So much wasted time trying to figure out if I really did something wrong this time. I’m sorry others have to put up with it, too.

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