e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,

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A little more on guilting, with history

According to my mother, my great-grandmother Burks was a champion Guilter--as was her eldest daughter, my great-aunt and first step-grandmother (whoever said families were simple?)  GGM had a partial excuse--she was raised in strictest Calvinism and remained a staunch predestinarian Presbyterian, but she terrorized the family.  My own grandmother (her second daughter) was one of the family rebels; my great-aunt Jessie even more of one, but the first daughter--pretty much forced to be the spinster who cares for mama, until my grandmother died after surgery and my grandfather had promised to care for her--was one of those people who is incredibly sensitive to her own feelings but not to anyone else's.    I was often warned as a child not to be sensitive (it didn't work, exactly, but it did make me aware that my own feelings were not the only ones that counted.)  ANYway: GA (as I will call her to protect any innocent family members I don't know about) told my mother, then 14, that she was responsible for her mother's death, because her birth had been so difficult.   GA also insisted that my mother wear black to her brother's wedding, because GA didn't like his bride.  And that unwanted advances were a girl's fault (in my mother's case, because she had too lush a figure.)

My mother's form of guilting was straightforward engineer: "accidents don't happen; they're caused."   There was a fair bit of "Think first and you won't have to regret afterwards" and "What did you think would happen if you left the milk on the edge of the counter?"  but--due to her own experience with GA--not much of the sneaky manipulative type.  Other people did that.   When I was thirteen, my mother was told she had six months to live; her friends (several of them) took it upon themselves to tell me that if I did anything wrong, it would make her worse (one of them took to coming over to the house every afternoon before my mother got home from work, ostensibly to see her but it seemed to me to make sure that I had washed the dishes and made beds and so on.)   My mother outlived two of her doctors, to her great delight, and nearly outlived the third.  

Others used the classic guilting methods--as I did myself before learning not to--it was how we were all raised, after all.  "Don't you CARE about [starving children, your poor grandmother, so-and-so's feelings, your grades, your chance at college, a sick bunny, whatever]?"  "If you REALLY CARED about me, you'd quit hanging out with her/him."  "If you REALLY UNDERSTOOD, you'd agree with me that I'm right..."   In some cases, it boiled down to a serious control issue--I was easy meat for the Guiltlayers early in life until at some point I realized they wanted to control every moment of my life.  I would try harder and harder to  help (these were always people with problems) .and it was never enough and eventually the rubber band of guilt would snap and I'd blow up and there would go another relationship.  
My therapist pointed out that my intense desire to help and fix things was no healthier than their getting needier and needier to retain control....it's called "rescue fantasy" and I needed to change.  Not to total selfishness--but to healthy boundaries.    It's similar to the literal hot feeling on the back of my neck when I'm about to get mad for a bad reason (hot under the collar is a fact, not a literary device)--there was a pull toward a certain kind of person--a person who seemed lost or lonely or in need of comfort or help--and that particular sensation always seemed to settle on someone who couldn't respond in a healthy way.

Hence a set of personal guidelines (useful for me as an individual, not guidelines for everyone--the person with one leg shorter than the other needs different shoes than the person whose legs are equal in length) for getting involved, based on concepts I was taught back then.  They're similar to guidelines I ignored (though I'd read them) when much younger (like, DUH!  If you ignore the sign that says "Bridge out" and keep driving at high speed, what do you think will happen???)  Because I still have that pull to the rescue fantasy (oh--I'll leap in and do this and that and then everything will be fine and everyone will be happy and at peace)  I need to be alert to the "pull" in the same way that I need to beware that sudden heat on the back of my neck.  (Interestingly, when I'm angry for a good reason--and there are good reasons--my neck doesn't get hot.  I feel like the top of my head just got lighter.   That may not be the same for everyone.)

Do I always stick to the guidelines?  Of course not.  I'm human; I make mistakes (in all directions.)   But when I don't, situations usually get worse (maybe you're going fast enough to leap the gap in the bridge, but not often...) and when I do, situations often (not always) get better or at least don't worsen.  

Today's sermon, especially coupled with last week's sermon, sent me in this direction, along with several recent situations in several different places.  On the drive home from church, I was thinking about the sermon in light of  some past situations between me and individuals--both things that went well and things that went badly.  Although today's sermon was mostly very good, there were a few bits of  imputed motive and generalized assumption that came very close to guilt-laying, and it bubbled up to full awareness in light of a call from a family member yesterday and an email from a different family member last week.   Communication with some family members has always had a sting in the tail, a clear message that  I could've/should've done something (and in the case of the family member who called, this is highly ironic for reasons I won't go into.)   And yet, yesterday, even the sting in the tail of the phone call (and there was one, as always) bothered me less because I have been working on developing the healthier boundaries thing for the past, um, 15 years now.  Yes, he will always try to guilt me, and no, he won't succeed, but at his age I don't expect anything else and have given over resenting it.  (Not ready to quit resenting it from people who are a) younger and b) not related to me.)

Imputed motive goes along with guilting, because it allows the Guilter to "know" why you did or did not do X, without considering any other reason (and the reasons the Guilter thinks of are always bad ones.)  I won't bore you (or risk hurting others) with details of long-dead rows, and I'm sure everyone's had bad motives laid on them, in justification for being guilted.   We've all been told we didn't care, or we didn't care enough, or we were too lazy, or we'd use any excuse, or we did X out of spite because of course we *knew* that the person cared about Y, and so on.  We start having our reality denied in childhood ("Oh, come on, honey, you don't really hate your cousin...Don't be silly, you're not really too hot...")  When I'm on parenting sites, it's amazing how many parents are convinced that tiny babies cry "to make me mad."  What makes it so seductive is that we *do* have bad motives sometimes, and we do try to cover them up...so the accuser has the advantage (especially for those who've read psychology books long before they meet a good therapist. )   "There's no such thing as a mistake" I've heard Guilters say.  "You had a *reason* for making that mistake..." 

So the person who wants you to do something can say (and maybe even believe) that if you don't do what he/she wants--preferably without being told--it's because you don't CARE enough, when it may be that you can see it won't work.  I  wanted a horse madly when I was a kid--begged and begged and begged, and like all kids tried that "If you really LOVED me --" thing.   (Does not work on engineer mothers.  They pull out the checkbook and explain in gruelling detail what maintaining a horse costs and why it's imposible.)   I hated it when my mother nixed my bright ideas (horses weren't the only one) and said "It won't work."  But on the testable items (Will this ball bearing fit into that pipe?  Will the sides of this box I'm making meet neatly?  Can you gather this much flannel into a cuff?) she was always right.   

So my checklist includes items like "How--in detail--will this help the situation?  Is it likely to work (not by wishful thinking, but by experience with similar situations.)    Suppose, my therapist said one day, you did [specific thing someone at the time was bugging me to do]--what would happen then?  What has happened before when you did that [or something similar]?   Did it fix things forever or even for a month?  Um, no.  Well...why do you think this is different?  Um...uh...hm...maybe it's not?   That would be a good guess, yes.   So is it a good idea to do something you can foresee has little or no chance of working?  Would you try to turn on a light by turning on a water faucet?  Um...no.  No, of course not.  Well, then....

This is now after midnight and the brain is shutting down despite dark chocolate (a bad sign) and the plumber's going to be here at 8 in the blankety-blank DST morning, but this may help some (if they need help) in understanding where I'm coming from

Tags: politics, religion
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