Tag Archives: guilt

Shaming Others: “What is wrong with you? You are good for nothing!”

"Blue Tune" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People who live with a sense of deep shame can become consumed by despair as a result of the feeling that they are flawed and unworthy. Excessive shame is difficult to bear, and often leads to self-destructive behavior, addiction, depression, and in some cases, suicide.

Even when people who feel deep shame are doing well, they may continue to expect others to be disappointed in them. Their shame sometimes leads to self-sabotaging behavior, which results in their getting the negative response they feel they deserve. Thus, it is difficult to deal with people whose reckless behavior is partly due to their belief that they do not deserve any better.

We want to motivate them to change by pointing out how mistaken their actions are. We want to set boundaries and protect ourselves from their reckless behavior. Yet we have to be careful that our intentions do not get expressed with contempt. Harmful behavior should be met with repercussions. We should set boundaries, enforce consequences, and communicate our disappointment, but it is not effective, helpful, or kind to shame and humiliate another person.

Expressing your own feelings about someone’s behavior while setting boundaries is fundamentally different from judging that person as a worthless individual: “What is wrong with you—you good for nothing!” Similarly, showing compassion while setting boundaries is very different from trying to artificially boost someone’s self-esteem with permissive indulgence.

Expressing disappointment in a situation should be factual rather than judgmental. Communicating your own feelings and intentions to set boundaries is more effective and humane than making negative or humiliating judgments:

“When you did such and such, I was disappointed and angry. I’m asking you to….”

“I can’t trust to you follow through at this point. So I will no longer….”

“I don’t think that my ‘help’ is really helping you. In fact it seems to be doing the opposite. So I can’t continue, but I truly wish the best for you.”

People who feel deep shame need to be loved, valued, and spoken to honestly rather than judged or coddled. They should be held accountable for their actions without being humiliated. Often a therapist can help them stop their negative self-criticism and restore in them a feeling of self-worth.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Triangulation: “Two of my best friends are telling me about how bad the other is and making me promise not to say anything, and then I feel guilty.”

"In the Loop" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

“In the Loop”—Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Next time one of your friends starts talking to you about another friend, you might just ask, “What would you like from me? How can I help you with this?” If they just want to vent and complain, then I would back away from the conversation because it’s just not going to make anyone’s life any better.

People “triangulate” when they bring a third person in the middle of their conflict in order to relieve their anxiety, not to improve the situation. Sometimes people allow themselves to be triangulated because they like the feeling of being included and needed. But triangulation usually involves taking sides and doesn’t end well. Listening to complaints is draining and fuels negativity.

Dealing with triangulation and dealing with derogatory gossip have much in common. Here are some ways you can respond:

1. Have empathy for the person being talked about. Take the other person’s side and play the devil’s advocate.

2. Respond with light-hearted humor.

3. Avoid getting in the middle. “I think it would be more effective if you talked to him about how you feel, rather than to me.” Or “I care about both of you and think it’s best not to get in the middle.”

4. Focus your attention on why your friend is preoccupied with talking about your other friend. “Why are you obsessed with Amanda? Maybe it would be better to focus on your own life.”

5. Be direct. “I’m uncomfortable listening to all this negativity about someone who’s not here to defend himself.”

6. Help your friend improve the situation: “Can you think of a diplomatic way to talk to her directly?” Or “Have you thought about how you may have participated in this situation?”

Part of friendship is helping with dilemmas, conflict, and relationships. However, if someone is not attempting to gain insight and improve the situation at hand, then that person may simply be using you to vent and avoid the difficult task of self-awareness and growth. In situations of attempted triangulation a friend should speak up and challenge the other person to be the best he or she can be.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication

www.sowhatireallymeant.com
@alisonpoulsen
https://www.facebook.com/dralisonpoulsen

Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Read “Triangulation: ‘My ex can’t stop complaining about me to my child. I feel like doing the same right back.’”

Adult with an abusive parent: “I have gotten to the point now that I cannot even handle a phone call from my 80-year old father.”

"Forlorn Heart" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Forlorn Heart” by Mimi Stuart ©


I have gotten to the point now that I cannot even handle a phone call from my 80 year old father. I keep telling myself I’m being silly but every time I have any contact it upsets me so much I get very anxious and can’t sleep. Ever since I can remember he has always criticized me and upset me. As a child he would single me out and rage at me and hit me. I wondered “why me?”

Now his health is deteriorating but he plays mind games where he sounds like he’s dying on the phone. My sister gets angry when I try to say that he was less than perfect. Other people who haven’t seen this side of him think I’m hard and uncaring and he plays on this. I feel very guilty writing this down as I keep thinking maybe I’m being too dramatic.

Anne

Dear Anne,

In essence, your father was abusive and he is continuing in that vein by trying to draw you in using guilt as a hook. You need to set a boundary, not only with him but with the others in your life as well.

Vicious cycle of abuse

Being raised with constant criticism and hostility often leads a person to grow up doubting his or her own value and need to be respected. That is why it is so hard to leave an abuser. Raised in an atmosphere of abuse, you wonder whether you deserve the mistreatment or whether you are simply “sensitive” and over-reacting if you cut the perpetrator out of your life. That self-doubt makes you a target for further abuse—by your father, your sister, other people, and even yourself.

Your father continues to be manipulative, selfish, demanding and demeaning, and does not consider what is best for you. Unfortunately, when you have such a parent, it is more difficult to learn to value your own health and wellbeing. Now is the time to do so.

Misplaced guilt

The root of your guilty feelings appears to have little to do with what is best for your emotional and physical welfare. You probably learned to be accommodating as a way to handle the abuse targeted at you. Standing up for yourself probably would have incurred increased hostility. So you learned to become compliant as a defense against further abuse. You may also be subconsciously still seeking the love, acceptance, and protection you did not receive in your childhood.

It is this misplaced guilt and a subconscious desire for parental love that is hurting you now. I think it’s time to set aside your guilt and listen to your inner voice that wants to protect you. You must not allow that inner voice to be drowned out by the voices of your father, your sister and others who have not witnessed your very personal abuse at the hands of your father.

Setting boundaries guilt-free

It is clear from what you say that you need to set boundaries in your life. Where you set those boundaries is up to you. Just don’t let guilt be your guide.

You may want to avoid all contact with your father. Or you may want to send an occasional card. Or you could make a phone call and be direct: “Don’t suggest my taking care of you. As a young girl, I felt scared and anxious around you because you criticized me, shouted at me and hit me. As a result, I can’t be with you. I am simply not available.”

Whether you ever talk to your father again, have limited contact, or confront him openly, the most important step for you is to own the fact that you will not subject yourself to any more abuse from him or from others. You do not need the approval or understanding of your sister or others. Ironically, not until you stop hoping that those who disagree will support you, will they probably stop giving you hard time, and with time they may come to respect you for it.

If your sister or others ask you why you don’t visit your father, simply say, “My experience with him was very different from yours,” and leave it at that. Avoid arguing about the facts and getting into the weeds. Do not let them put you on the defensive.

Eventually, you may learn to understand that your father was incapable of being loving and that his abuse was an unconscious response to his own failures, fears and complexes – not yours. You may even forgive him.Yet understanding and forgiveness do not entail subjecting yourself to further abuse.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Rebuilding your Life: ‘How do I silence their abusive voices in my head, stop being hard on myself and start living?’”

Read “Abusive emails from an ex: ‘I keep defending myself against never-ending false, accusatory emails from my ex-husband, because I want to stay on good terms.’”

Read “Ending an Abusive Relationship: ‘I feel guilty leaving my abusive partner, because I have compassion for him.’”

“You like going surfing more than you like me!”

"L'Amour dans l'eau" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“L’Amour dans l’eau” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So… what I really meant was…

“Let’s spend some time together. I know you love surfing and I don’t want to take that away from you. But I would love to spend a little quality time with you. How about going out to dinner or having a picnic at the beach tonight?”

It’s easy to manipulate someone into spending more time with you, but you won’t enjoy your time together using guilt and complaints to coerce him or her to do so. You want your partner to be fully present and appreciate spending time with you. So entice your partner with a positive suggestion. Remember that it’s an opportunity to spend time together not a burden. You will be more effective if you show compassion while reminding him how important it is for you to enjoy time together.

Balancing individual pursuits and togetherness

It’s important to balance spending time together with pursuing your passions. Brain research shows that desire and passion for your partner fades if you spend all your time together. However, if you spend too little time together, you risk drifting apart and losing your energetic linkage. The ideal balance differs from person to person. To avoid ongoing disappointment and frustration, it’s best to find out what that balance is for each of you before making a long-term commitment.

In any relationship, there will be periods of time where things get out of balance. Candid discussions about this balance are key to avoiding becoming too onesided. Yet such discussions are most effective when each person shows compassion for the other person’s desires and needs while discussing his or her own wishes.

Responding to your partner

While you do not want to develop a pattern of being manipulated by the use of guilt or complaints, it is important to have empathy for your partner’s position and to respond to him or her without getting angry, defensive, or become compliant. You can be compassionate without being controlled.

Have a conversation with your partner and take into consideration your partner’s desires. Find out how he or she envisions spending more time together. Consider whether you are neglecting your partner. If so, discuss with him or her when you could spend more time together and plan to do so. You might also suggest that more positive communication would be more inviting, and perhaps to leave comparisons between your love of surfing and the relationship aside.

Responding to controlling behavior

If the complaint is unwarranted, you might just say, “I love surfing. I hope you want me to do something that makes me happy. I want the same for you.”

When someone is generally controlling and feels threatened easily because of his or her own insecurities, it’s best not to become emotionally reactive. You shouldn’t become hostile, churlish, or apologetic. Instead, keep your cool, and perhaps say, “I love you, but surfing is great exercise, feeds my soul, keeps me balanced and connects me with nature. Loving someone means supporting their passions not restricting them.”

Not buying into his or her emotional heat is key. Keep calm and reasonable yet do not allow yourself to be controlled by his or her fears. If you do, you are walking down the path of emotional fusion toward resentment. Consideration in a relationship is necessary but you shouldn’t start giving up reasonable things that you love to do and you shouldn’t want your partner to do the same.

When people are not differentiated, they lack emotional separation. As a result control and manipulation increase, which leads to greater conflict or over-accommodation at the cost of one’s own desires going underground. Both are unhealthy for the long-term enjoyment of a relationship.

Successful relationships require improving your ability to balance consideration for your partner with respect for your own desires. Consideration engenders the warmth of togetherness, while individual pursuits foster growth and passion. Seeking the right balance for both partners requires an ongoing effort that is well worth it.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a Doormat.”

Read “I’m always walking on eggshells. I don’t want to upset my partner.”

Read “Pursuing passions or partnership? ‘You should spend time with me instead of going fishing!’”

Too much Guilt:
“He makes me feel guilty if I don’t do what he wants.”

"Singh Shot" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

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

Read “I’m always walking on eggshells. I don’t want to upset my partner.”