Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Learning about guilt

Have you ever noticed how, whenever you're going through something, everyone always knows exactly what you should be doing and how you should be feeling?

New mothers with tiny infants are told exactly how they should be handling the business of being a Mom and how they should feel about all the things their new babies do. Newly bereaved people are told exactly how they should be responding and are given only X amount of time before the good graces of friends start to wear out because they really should be over it by now.

And my situation is, of course, no different. Everyone knows exactly how I should be feeling. And it seems the one thing I should not be feeling is guilt. "You've done nothing wrong!" they assure me. And they're right... in a way. But that changes nothing.

I guess I've known on some subconscious level that there are different kinds of guilt, but right now, I'm neck deep in it, and am intimately acquainted with it.

As a practising Christian, I subscribe to the notion of sin, repentance and redemption. I do. And when I sin, I experience guilt. So I seek forgiveness. And - I believe - I get it.

But that doesn't have bearing here. Because, of course, not all failings are sinful. And, if I were the only one to be impacted by the failure of my business, I could handle that.

But I'm not.

Yes, my business is a limited liability company, and so my personal assets are not forfeit to the collapse of the business. But, the collapse of the business has meant a loss of income. And my failure to find an alternative source of income does place our personal assets at risk.

And this is where the guilt comes in.

You see, my husband works extraordinarily hard. He always has. It's the nature of the man. He currently commutes two hours each way, every day. Scooter, train, tube, train, walk. He would prefer not to, and when he started at the company, the plan was to move his role to a town 20 minutes' drive from our home. But the recession put paid to that idea. So he continues to commute, two years later.

He hasn't failed at anything. He continues to work to the same standard. He continues to earn the same salary. But he still stands to lose his personal assets (including, under extreme circumstances, his home).

Now you can paint that any colour you want, but I did that, and I have to live with it. He is not angry with me. Good grief, what kind of man would he be if he did? He fully supports me in every way.

I have been harangued fore and aft for feeling guilty over this. I have been told I shouldn't because it doesn't make sense on a logical level. I have even been told that my guilt is unChristian and sinful, because it is tantamount to saying that I don't accept God's forgiveness. I simply cannot get people to understand that I don't believe I need to be forgiven.

I tried to explain it to one person like this:
You are told that you have to hold out two 5kg weights at arm's length and at shoulder height. The moment you let them drop, someone large and powerful is going to slap your husband (wife, son, daughter) humiliatingly in the face and kick him in the stomach. So you hold those weights. You hold them beyond endurance. But eventually, you simply cannot. You are not capable. You reach the end of your ability, and you are forced to let them drop. Your husband is duly slapped and kicked.

Now tell me you don't feel guilty.

You didn't sin. But you did fail. The task was beyond your capability, you were not able to perform it, and he paid the price.

Okay, it's a simplistic analogy, but please tell me you get my drift. Sometimes you fail without sinning/wrongdoing. But you still fail. And you still feel guilty when your failure hurts the ones you love.

Surely this is perfectly reasonable?

On a side note, permit me to brag. My husband had a long talk with our younger son (the older one is out of the country on a gap year) about the possible implications of our situation. He asked him what worried him most. Did my 17 year old talk about the loss of the nice big house? Did he express concern that his driving lessons could be forfeit? Did he worry about not being able to afford the lifestyle he currently enjoys? No. He said he was worried about the impact on my well-being. He was concerned that I would feel like a failure and that my confidence would take a knock.

In the midst of everything falling down around my ears, that strikes me as a success story, wouldn't you say? We must have done something right. I am so proud of his lack of selfishness that I could just burst.


lizit said...

Just wondering if you have given this posting the right title, or whether it should be "learning about responsibility" or "learning to be human" or "learning to trust God"?

Neither you nor your husband has done anything wrong in the sense of any meaning I know of 'sin' - at least in what you have written, you haven't.... You have both acted responsibly in providing a home for your children and in working for their benefit, and I suspect also contributing to both your real and virtual communities.

However, none of us is an individual and we all are faced with situations and circumstances where things do not go according to plan and those things have consequences which affect others - and if we feel responsible then we feel guilty. Not guilt for wrong doing but rather acknowledging our responsibility and accountability for the mess.

You probably know the poem 'footsteps in the sand' - maybe this is one of those times when you need to let God carry you and your family and trust him to know why things are working the way they are - you know Romans 8.28 as well as I do.

Take care

The upsycho said...

@Lizit You are not the first one to raise the question of faith. Rest assured that my faith has not diminished one jot through all of this. Quite the contrary it is what sustains me. I can only take one day at a time. But my God is big enough to deal with me exactly where I am, without my having to pretend that things are better than they are. And, if it is all that I can do to take refuge in His lap in the darkest moments, I can think of no better place to be.

V Yonkers said...

I think when people say, "you shouldn't feel guilty," it is because some people become paralyzed with guilt when something that happened was not totally his or her responsibility. Of course, you have every right to feel what you feel. The question is, how do you handle that? It seems to me that you are balancing that sense of guilt with action.

I tell my kids all the time that they have every right to their feelings, but how they handle them is more important than whether or not they have those feelings.

Just as an aside, I think we often underestimate our kids reactions, trying to protect them from "bad stuff". Just like each person is entitled to his or her own feelings, each family member is entitled to participate and know the truth of what is happening to family (not just the good stuff). As I mentioned when you first posted about the bankruptcy, I was glad when my parents finally let us know about the tough times they were having because I felt I had a role in the family. It seems to me that your son feels he has a role: letting his mom know that she is valued regardless of what happens to her business.

The upsycho said...

@Virginia You're right. The guilt can be crippling. I have felt at times that I might collapse under the weight of it. But the trick is definitely to keep moving.

And, yes, our son is now old enough to know that life isn't all beer and skittles and he wants to feel that he isn't being 'done to'. We have assured him that, wherever we end up, we will make a home for him. That provides him with the secure platform that the basics have been taken care of.

He recently offered to take me to the movies and I couldn't bring myself to let him spend his money on me. When I told my husband, he (gently) reproached me and pointed out that I had denied my son the opportunity to feel like he was making a difference.

I am not very good at accepting help, although nothing makes me happier than to help others. I really need to learn to stop seeing myself as a burden when I need help, and rather as an opportunity for other people to do something that they can be proud of.

V Yonkers said...

You actually bring up an interesting point. I think one of the hardest things in the world is to become dependent on someone else and accept his or her help.

When I was 26, I had a bad ski accident which made it impossible for me to take care of myself for 9 months. I had to learn to accept that my mother did cook the way I did, did not fold my cloths or organize the way I did, did not do the household accounts the way I did (she had to cash some checks and pay bills while I was in the hospital). It was awful! But I had to bite my tongue and appreciate her help because I couldn't survive without her and she had my best interest at heart.

Of course, years later, as she fails and I am helping her out, she does not appreciate that we have different ways of doing things. It is tough on both of us!