If we are going to be kind, let it be out of simple generosity, not because we fear guilt or retribution.
~J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace
Often people who are exceptionally considerate feel guilty for disappointing others even if their own actions are appropriate. In these cases, feelings of guilt are excessive. Much of their guilt is simply a learned response.
Excessive or inappropriate guilty feelings hurt people by causing them to experience unnecessary stress, to ignore their own needs, and to surrender their personal power. Also people who are overly concerned with never disappointing others become prey to manipulative people.
Guilty feelings are like having a cold. If you didn’t know what the symptoms meant, you’d probably think you were dying. Once you know that you simply have a cold, then the symptoms become more annoying than frightening.
It’s similar when you experience guilt — it feels that you must be doing something horribly wrong in disappointing another person. However, when you realize that you were simply raised to consider other people’s feelings as more important than your own, you can then learn to ignore the inappropriate guilty feelings.
How do you respond to someone’s unfair expectations of you?
Say, for example, someone implies that you should do something to make him happy regardless of what you want. You then can respond in a matter-of-fact way, “Hey you might like that, but I wouldn’t be happy. So, that wouldn’t work, now would it?” Or “I’ve got too much going on, but good luck.” You can even smile and simply drop the dread of hurting him. He’ll survive. The anxiety will pass and he will be less likely to ask in the future.
Don’t expect others to know what you want. Some people are more self-centered; some people are more considerate. In either case, you should not count on someone else to take care of your needs and desires. You have to take care of them yourself by direct, immediate, and matter-of-fact communication. Do not equivocate. Otherwise people end up playing guessing games with a few guilt trips thrown in.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD