Guilty or not guilty — how do we know?
We’re also pretty good at times at “guilting” friends, loved ones and even strangers into the proverbial “guilt trip” when we want things to go our way: “How could you be so selfish when I want things to go this way?” Have a familiar ring?
As with most conundrums in life, there’s guilt and then there’s guilt; making the distinction between the two can make a big difference in our lives.
There is an newish saying that may be helpful: “Feel the guilt, and do it anyway.” We’d be well advised to try this one for size once a while.
Take for example the lonely parent whose child has long been her “world.” The son or daughter has unknowingly sacrificed their young adult life out of guilt — curtailing dating interests, breaking plans with friends — because they don’t want to leave poor mom home alone on a Saturday night.
This is a perfect example of “feel the guilt and do it anyway.” This is a time in the life of a young adult when breaking free, finding one’s individualism is critical.
Mom must find a way to face her life transitions and her fears of living alone — to stop prevailing on her son or daughter (see “Necessary Losses” by Judith Viorst).
Another example of “feel the guilt and do it anyway” comes with a couple and their new baby. How hard it is in the early days, and even as the baby grows, for a couple to give themselves permission to go on date nights.
The feelings of guilt can be overwhelming at the thought of “leaving poor Ashley” alone in her crib and having to wake up to a babysitter. Leaving the baby at home with a stranger — such a wrench!
It’s so important to remember, however, that babies also enjoy socializing, playing and being with others. Mom and dad must remember they are not leaving their baby forever, just a few hours!
On the flip side there are many examples of, let’s say, well-deserved guilt.
A husband promises to leave the office on Valentine’ Day to join his wife for dinner becomes waylaid by friends to stay at the office and watch the last minutes of the game on TV.
His wife sits at home having spent the day preparing a beautiful meal for the two of them, unaware that her husband is taking time away from her on such a special night. The husband tells himself that he will leave soon, that his wife will be OK, but the time slips away. He is unaware of her growing suffering and anxiety.
When he finally arrives home an hour past the agreed time, he is greeted with tears of worry and bursts of anger. He is accused of “not caring enough about his wife to leave the office on time.”
Here is where a dose of good old-fashioned guilt might be just the thing.