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A little more on guilting, with history [Mar. 8th, 2009|11:32 pm]
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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


[User Picture]From: farmgirl1146
2009-03-09 06:05 am (UTC)
I get it. I got a "helping or three" of this too. Luckily my father wasn't having any of it. His one comment about guilt that I can remember at this instant 11 p.m. PDT is "People have hangovers to punish themselves because they feel guilty for drinking too much. You drank. So what. Don't do it if you're going to feel guilty. Or don't feel guilty." I was about 16 at the time. No, I did not drink.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:16 pm (UTC)
It was a lightbulb moment for me when she led me through it.

Keeping the lightbulb *on*, when facing similar situations, has taken years.

I often feel like an idiot. I think it goes with being conscious and awake. (I just figured out today that one reason the window in my study won't open is that something's wrong with the mechanism on one side--and if I push the flaking-plastic-covered spring-thing sideways, suddenly it works.)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:17 pm (UTC)
Good luck--been there, done that, the T-shirt was made of hair and itched like crazy.
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[User Picture]From: sdn
2009-03-09 06:44 am (UTC)
your posts always make me think, which is no small thing.

i like the "engineering" -- the quantifiable examples/comparison.

as for guilt/manipulation, i have always "loved" when i have been asked (by the guilter/manipulator) "i just want to UNDERSTAND why you [did this, think that, whatever]." makes my blood boil.
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[User Picture]From: comrade_cat
2009-03-09 01:09 pm (UTC)
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.

When I'm angry about abstract things, about some kind of injustice to an animal or another person & I'm ultra-sure about it, then I feel like the top of my head sort of lifts up & feelings shine out. This doesn't happen when I'm angry at someone in my personal life - I get too guilted about that, any feelings I have towards someone in my personal life will be way too complex for just feeling my shadow get taller.
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[User Picture]From: deliasherman
2009-03-09 02:44 pm (UTC)
This is very interesting, and resonates with my experience. I, too, have been trained to ride in on large white horses in shining armor and Fix Things.

When the Things are purely practical, it's very satisfying for all concerned. When they're systemic, it's usually borne in upon me that I'm allergic to horses, my armor is rusty and missing pieces, and the Things aren't fixable--by me, anyway. Sometimes we can be Paks. Sometimes we're just Don Quixote. We just have to learn to tell the difference.

Easy-peasy. Ha.

Also. Mind-reading? Doesn't exist. And even if it did, what would probably show up in the mind of the guilter is a morass of confusion and hurt, in which it would be impossible to identify a single, simple, achievable desire you could address. If someone doesn't really believe they're lovable, taking out the garbage isn't going to persuade them that you love them.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:19 pm (UTC)
And besides, you took it out the wrong way--you KNOW they always put this sack in the can first, not that one.
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[User Picture]From: liz_gregory
2009-03-09 02:53 pm (UTC)
I had quite a bit of the "The children in [insert 3rd world country here] would LOVE to have the food you're throwing away" and other such things that only ever annoyed me. I read behind them the "I want you to eat everything on your plate" so would do as requested.

After becoming a parent and reading copious books and magazine articles and newsletters from the pediatrician, I got a better handle on the feeding habits of small people. I also heard the stories behind my mother's admonitions to eat everything on my plate. The questions "did you have enough?" rather than "did you enjoy your food?" was an indicator to me that, when growing up, Mom didn't always have enough to eat. The attempted guilting suddenly made sense, and I stopped worrying about it, accepting that those turns of phrase were in her standard lexicon and no longer held that meaning to me.

Learning how to accept people's personality differences (whether they manifest in actions or words) has been very difficult or me. I have had to do similar things to your next-to-last paragraph before responding or deciding whether to get mad or just breathe.
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From: otterb
2009-03-09 03:05 pm (UTC)
I'm about a decade behind you. Generalized guilting by manipulation, yes, been there (my mother, though a wonderful woman in many ways, had a tendency toward passive aggressive). This is one of the reasons I found Atlas Shrugged so appealing when I read it in college: it said to me that no one has the right to ask you to be less than what you are, or to demand that you live your life by their rules, and I needed to hear that. It took me years to see that the book and its philosophy had failings in the other direction.

Don't get me started on that @#$% children's picture book about the Rainbow Fish, whose message is that everyone has the right to ask for pieces of you and you're selfish and stuck-up and deserve to be lonely if you refuse.

And I was amused by your engineer mother explaining, in grueling mathematical detail, why you couldn't have a horse. My lawyer father taught me more than an 8-year-old needs to know about zoning laws to explain why we couldn't keep a pony in our suburban back yard.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:22 pm (UTC)
I missed the Rainbow Fish, thank goodness. (In the context of a world in which some people let fish eat the dead skin off their feet, it sounds particularly horrible.)
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[User Picture]From: silverbackbutch
2009-03-09 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this!! I, too, have spent much time in my life trying to fix things. I'm learning boundries, and am currently trying to find/build good boundries at work. Not always the easiest thing, but it's a good goal and I'm glad to be working on this.

Although for the first 6 months of my job almost anything I did seemed to be rescuing the department from the chaos of my predecessor. He was a likable guy, but just didn't have the organizational or long range planning skills.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:27 pm (UTC)
If you're being paid to Fix This Mess, then that's an appropriate task (I would think)...but you're not being paid to fix the psychological quirks of everyone else in the office (well, not unless you're a professional in the field called in to Fix This Mental Mess.)

I have been in situations where one of the other people's psychological messes impeded the fixing of the mess I was assigned to fix, and that's when I have to be very careful not to say (for example and choosing something entirely wrong for the situation--names and diagnoses changed to protect everyone) "A good therapist could help you with that paranoia, er and while you were gone to the therapy, the rest of us could reorganize the office..."

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From: indywind
2009-03-09 03:23 pm (UTC)
You might enjoy the book Conscious Discipline by Rebecca Bailey. It is ostensibly a behavior-management text for teachers and caregivers of young children; it also manages to be a primer, in simplified lay language, on the effects of what I think psychologists call "framing" on interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions, including a greal deal of discussion & example on how guilt & blame impair useful interaction even when blame is "justified"; and alternative approaches which are demonstrably more effective. She does cite scientific sources in support, particularly where she talks about biochemistry; though I'd've liked to see more research support, many bookos of this sort don't offer any, so it's a step in the right direction.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:29 pm (UTC)
That sounds interesting. I've become joined at the hip with Pryor's _Don't Shoot the Dog_ for behavior management, but it doesn't deal with the other things you mention. I'll have to look this one up.
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From: zackthedog
2009-03-09 04:15 pm (UTC)

No guilt

I must have the only Catholic mother in the US who did NOT use guilt. My mother is well known for "I don't care why you are doing that bad thing - knock it off. Now." All the "But she - " justifications on our end were met with an icy glare, and we knew better than to push it. (Sullen muttering perhaps, but only at a safe distance.) Pretty much everything rested on the granite foundation of "The rule is..." and "I told you..." No guilt, though.

My mother-in-law was a champion guilter, including reaching out from the grave. My in-laws were married and divorced to each other 5 times. She never forgave him for finding happiness with someone else on the 6th trip to the altar. As she lay dying, my mother-in-law guilted her youngest daughter into ordering the headstone bearing her maiden name (which she hadn't used in 45 years). When it was installed there was instant uproar among the siblings (except my husband, who rolled his eyes).

I heartily concur with concept of boundaries. Once my husband got his firmly established he was a much happier guy.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:32 pm (UTC)

Re: No guilt

Your mother and my mother would have gotten along, at least on that score.

Boundaries are great once you get them...getting them can be arduous. It took me *so blinkin' long* to realize that I was screwing things up (and didn't know why.) Pure intelligence does not, by itself, produce wisdom.

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[User Picture]From: ramblin_phyl
2009-03-09 04:49 pm (UTC)
Were we cloned? Are you my long lost cousin?

I was raised to be a professional doormat. Everyone's wants, feelings, sesibilities, nerves, etc were much more important than my own. And Oh, Yes, please do walk all over me rather than take a chance of getting you angry.

Very glad I grew out of it even though my big sister threw a screaming hissy fit in the middle Waldonbooks when I didn't roll over as say kick me instead of asking the manager why he didn't have a copy of my first book when he had 6 copies of #2, 3, and 4 and he replied. "We sold them all. Was I supposed to reorder?"
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:33 pm (UTC)
I trust your sister has learned better and now lets you visit bookstores alone....
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From: 6_penny
2009-03-09 05:14 pm (UTC)
What you say brings to mind the time that my aunts cornered me to say that I was depriving my parents of grandchildren because I wasn't married. I resisted the urge to comment that the second was possible to achieve without the first, and to remind them of the many miscarriages that one of them had had before she managed to carry one child to term.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, lord, the people who guilted us about not having children (we were struggling with infertility and did not want to explain to every member of my mother-in-law's church, my mother's accountant, etc., all the medical details--it was none of their business anyway.) Speaking of boundary violations...
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[User Picture]From: anghara
2009-03-09 06:22 pm (UTC)
My mother, whom I love dearly, is nevertheless a certified travel agent for guilt trips. She knows my buttons, she pushes them any time it pleases her, and these days I am getting better at squirming out from underneath the guiltload that follows but by the same token I'll be *46* this year so you might say that it took me long enough to learn. Before that, I would be in tears - a lot - on the basis of a simple phone call or a craftily throwaway sentence that would send me into a flat spin.

The kicker in my case was the classic coda of "I only do/say these things because I *love* you".

There is no way of responding to that which doesn't somehow negate a mother's love for her child. This is guilt on top of guilt, guilt a la mode served with a topping of guilt, guilt squared, guilt magnified, guilt focused to a laser beam that *burned*.

Still. Nothing bad ever happens to a writer. It's ALL material.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-09 06:38 pm (UTC)
I confess that though my mother has been dead since October 5, 1990, I still feel twinges of guilt when I don't live up to her standards...housekeeping, for instance (though I did clean a window today...whoopee!)

But you have my sympathy.
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[User Picture]From: sablia
2009-03-11 07:39 am (UTC)
Hmm so this is where Kylara's so-called "lost puppy" habit came from...

Have you ever had a chance to work with dolphins?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-03-11 05:52 pm (UTC)
No. And I discovered that I'm not as good a 'shaper' as many--my reaction time for reinforcing desired actions (or components thereof) isn't fast enough. I was actually better with our son, whose "wiring" has a slower bus speed (as it were) so that I could time the reinforcements precisely enough. So I wouldn't try to work with dolphins (or set up as a trainer of anything, really.) I'm fairly decent with horses who have minor problems (won't take the bit, are confused about what's wanted) but not expert by any means. I understand the process thoroughly--it's the execution that gives me trouble.
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