09 January 2012

A crash course on guilt

Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Don't be stingy, says Susan Erasmus. Here's how to make others feel guilty.


While most people would think that feeling guilty is a natural thing, there is actually an art to it.

See how easy it is to make you doubt yourself:  you can't even feel guilty without feeling guilty, and if you somehow don't make the grade. All I have to do is suggest you don't really know how to do it, and you fill in the blanks yourself.

But for something to fall into the Gold-Medal Guilt category, there are a few rules which you should follow.  Keep these in mind when deciding how you next want to berate yourself. You want to get this right, so pay attention.

Guilt tickbox

  • Does it involve a family member or friend many others find difficult?
  • Is it something that happened when I was not around?
  • Does it involve wanting material goods I could never afford?
  • Does it involve a situation which I am unable to resolve by any means?
  • Would changing this situation mean hardship on another level?
  • Will I somehow feel as if I am betraying myself by giving in to these demands?

If you can answer 'yes' to just one (or all five) of these questions, your source of guilt has been well-chosen, is unlikely ever to dry up, or suddenly resolve itself when it's least convenient to you. You are in the guilt VIP enclosure.

How to feel guilty:

  • Think about the issue the whole time, especially at 3am in the morning.
  • Talk about the issue the whole time until you notice people starting to avoid you.
  • Assume that everyone around you is more beautiful, more successful, has more money and so forth. Never fail to compare yourself unfavourably.
  • Do nothing concrete to resolve the situation, such as seeing a professional.
  • Do not discuss the situation with the person concerned. No mature discussion is allowed here, only bickering and endless blaming, or nothing.
  • Blame yourself constantly for the situation, as this will not allow you to move on.
  • Really believe that you are an unworthy spouse/friend/child/parent. Self-fulfilling prophecies are such handy things.
  • Find an unhealthy way to compensate for your perceived shortcomings, such as giving huge amounts of cash to a neglected teenager.

The essential thing is that the issue about which you feel guilty should form a closed circle, such as when you feel guilty for being a working mom, but if you didn't earn your salary, the family would be in real financial hardship. Huge amounts of energy can be expended in this way.

 If people didn't constantly feel guilty about everything, how many regularly advertised products would show a serious decrease in sales? So, solving your guilt issues just isn't good for the economy, so cut that idea.

How to make others feel guilty

  • Make them feel they have no right to put themselves first. (You went to the dentist instead of visiting me in hospital?)
  • Make them feel as if things have always been this way. (Even when you were a child, you always liked to get your own way)
  • Make them feel you are neglected and feeling unloved and it's all their fault.
  • Make them feel responsible for your welfare (the 'poor me' routine works equally well for friends, partners, children and parents)
  • Take no responsibility for your own life. If you can hold out long enough, other people's sense of responsibility will kick in.
  • Remember to complain often in a slightly accusing tone about everything, especially the things over which other people have no control.

And now a final word on guilt and the maintenance thereof. If you want to keep the status quo as it is, never say any of these things:

  • How is this my problem?
  • Don't make your problem mine.
  • So what are you going to do about it?
  • I am sorry you have chosen to feel this way.
  • Just exactly what would you like me to do about it?

Now we are all experts on guilt, and not just because we are South Africans. Although that does give us a slight head start on the rest of the world. Maybe you were born here, because of something you did in your previous life. The good news is that guilt does not have to be contained to this life only. It can follow you around.

And remember:  guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Don't be stingy.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, January2012)













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