A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a family member about how I was feeling a little burned out by all of the work I was doing at church. I’d come from a service where I was basically involved in everything. Now, I like being involved, I truly do, but I’m terrible at saying no. I’m getting better at it, but it’s difficult for me. I’m a people-pleaser.
Anyway, I was talking about this and I was told that because I have talent I should use it, regardless of how it made me feel. “You can do things that others can’t, so you should use your talents.”
Ah, yes. The ol’ guilt trip.
I think I’ve felt guilty since I was born. My Mom was terribly sick with me during her pregnancy, then I was two weeks late, put my mother through 36 hours of torturous labour before she finally had to have a c-section, and then I came out blue. Then I cried for about a year straight. I’ve actually apologized for all that on occasion.
Guilt is pretty much what kept me in music school for six years. I wasn’t happy, but I felt like I had to use my talent. And lots of other people made me feel guilty for not wanting to do so anymore. “But you make people so happy when you sing!” was a common refrain. If I would have been brave and said, “That may be true, but it’s killing me,” maybe things would have been different.
The fact is I often feel guilty. When I fell ill this past fall, I felt guilty for being a burden and for making people worry. I feel guilty when someone asks me to do something and I have to say no. I still feel guilty over things I did when I was a kid. And at times I’ve been made to feel guilty for my intellect, my loud voice, my feelings and my passionate nature. At times I’ve been made to feel guilty for who I am.
The sad thing is that I bought into it. I don’t know why (and yes, I feel guilty about that), but at this point, the why isn’t that important. What matters is that I stop doing it.
There’s good, healthy guilt and there’s bad, unhealthy guilt. I’m slowly learning the difference between them. Unlike most times in the past, I didn’t cave in that conversation I had with my family member. I wasn’t mean or rude, but I got my point across and made it clear that I get to choose how to allocate my talent. And I didn’t feel guilty at all.