The Burden Of Guilt

Have you noticed how some people just don’t seem to feel guilt?

When you’re a child, guilt is pretty simplistic. It’s more along the lines of “step on a crack and break your mother’s back” as you skip along the sidewalk.

My guilt then was that I was the burden my great-grandmother had to bear because my mother wasn’t capable of taking care of me.

She had raised 8 children. Then kept taking care of my grandmother, who never matured into adulthood. She had to raise my mother because my grandmother didn’t have the skills to do it alone.

Then me. She lived until I was 13. She never had child-free years. Never had the option of experiencing life without someone to take care of and feel responsible for.

I wore the guilt of being her final burden. Her adult children never seemed to accept me and that didn’t change once she died.

Guilt is confusing for a child. It interferes with the maturing of confidence and the belief in one’s self as being separate. A child withers under the gaze of people who don’t accept them. Who wish they were gone and gone for good.

So I carried what was possibly an unhealthy supply of guilt into adulthood.

Through the years of my life, though, I’ve known people who don’t seem hindered by guilt. They can do damage and keep on doing it without feelings of guilt giving them pause.

Like a lamb to slaughter, I seemed drawn to men who refused to carry guilt.

There never seemed to be a clear line for me. If they didn’t feel guilt, I thought that perhaps it was my duty to absorb it. To tuck it into the lining of my feelings for them and keep it hidden simply because I shared a bed with them.

I would sometimes think: Enough. You need to go. Leave here.

And then guilt would creep in like the poison it was and stop me in my tracks before I ever got a bag packed.

Until finally, at age 54, I could take no more. I could not help carry another person’s resentment that life had done them wrong. Or be the sponge that helped absorb their unhappiness. I was breaking under the weight of it.

As I drove away, the pull that once kept me there began to lessen and I hoped one day I would be free of it.

Once a few years passed and I was far, far away, I saw it all for what it truly was of course. It took time and distance to see the forest for the trees.

Guilt is a funny thing. Some people walk right into the fire of it. Others run away from it.

And some, unfortunately, are seemingly incapable of feeling it at all.

21 Comments

  1. Brenda,
    I can’t imagine how confusing and depressing your childhood must have been. I have had one hard knock in early adulthood with my first (fiancé) a nice looking charmer and unbeknownst to me a womanizer. I lived at home, going to school and working retail. We got engaged and decided to open a savings/checking account to plan our future. I never looked at our bank statements for about a year. One day a young woman came up to me and said, your fiancé is in love with my friend. After the initial shock, I did some sleuthing and saw them together. Next day, after getting out of school; I went to the bank and withdrew roughly the money I had put in and ended the engagement. Had trust issues for awhile; but eventually met and married my husband of 46 yrs. Life gets better with time and perspective.

  2. I really mangled a big run-on sentence in the above post. I was writing about my mom supporting my dad in his narcissistic behavior. The messed-up part of the sentence should have said, “I think my dad was narcissistic, and my mom supported him in it, and she shamed my siblings and me into doing what he (my dad) wanted…”

  3. Hello Brenda. I was struck by the sentence about men who “refused to carry guilt.” That’s a very interesting expression. I always think in terms of whether people feel guilt but never thought about carrying guilt. I think there could indeed be people who might get a feeling of guilt and for some reason they decide they just do not want to carry that feeling around. They seem to just pass it on like a quarterback throwing a football. Both of my parents and my first husband were that way in our relationships. They were always tossing that guilt ball and I’d think it was my job to catch it, it seems. I think I kept it up for so many years because it started when I was so, so young. I think back in my childhood and I think I was feeling guilty by age four, definitely by age five. I already was feeling so responsible for my parents’ happiness at that young age. Joyce D mentioned a narcissistic husband. I think that my dad was narcissistic, and my mom supported him in it, and my siblings and she shamed us in to always doing what we wanted and I know that I felt guilty if and when he was upset again because I thought it meant I hadn’t been good enough. I had that same sort of dynamic in my first marriage. My second husband is so different. He can admit when he is wrong, say he is sorry, and hates to see me feeling guilty by something my mom or anyone else has said.

  4. I give you so much credit for the woman you are today. No one should have a childhood like you did. I can’t believe how you were treated by your family. I lost my mother at a very young age but never had to deal with all the things you did. I read your blog every day and am amazed at all of the things you do so well. You have been added to my prayers that you have nothing but good days from now on. Love your babies, too. They are so lucky to have you. I know they bring you a lot of happiness because by fur baby does that for me. Continue to be strong.

  5. I don’t know what to say, Brenda. I am astounded that you were forced to live such an emotionally impoverished life as a child and young person and yet have become such a caring, loving person as an adult. You have an indomitable spirit and it has sustained the good in you and allowed you to create a snug, happy home for yourself and your dear pets. I think you are a miraculous example of the will of the human spirit to better one’s life. I have nothing but admiration for you and wishes that the rest of your life will be secure and full of love, joy and prosperity. Add to that a big helping of fun and opportunities for creativity. You deserve every good thing possible in life. I mean it!

  6. Thank you for this post about guilt. As another reader commented “you hit the nail on the head “. It’s uncanny how you wrote this today of all days when it applied to me about someone in my life who likes to heap guilt on other family members when she seems to have no guilt of her own. You are a blessing to so many.

  7. Guilt is a useless emotion…along with being on the defensive all the time, that was me. Always feeling I had to apologize and defend myself. Let it all go. You can’t change the past. Waste of your precious time.

  8. I spent 47 yrs with a narcissistic husband. I didn’t realize that he was a narcissist until after he passed away and I started researching why he acted the way he did. He was very controlling and mentally abusive! I thank God every day that he has given me a better life now !

  9. Considering all you have had to live through, you are a remarkable person, Brenda…doubtful most would have made it!! You surely hit that guilt thing nail on the head…I am in the midst (AGAIN) of crap handed out by one of those completely incapable of doing nice…or having any guilt, obviously. ARGH!! Thanks for what you share…and you are not alone!!

  10. Guilt is a strange thing. So many women wear that burden like a hair shirt. We were never taught that it wasn’t our burden to carry. As we get older we seem to lessen that burden for ourselves, but by then we have wasted too much time on the guilt of others. xo Laura

  11. Brenda you have been through so much but apparently you got through it and come out a strong person . Everyone has challenges in life it’s how we handle them that makes us all different. I love your blog wishing you. Happy Thanksgiving from South Carolina

  12. You shouldn’t have any guilt Brenda bc it Never was your fault to begin with! It wasn’t your fault bc the scumbags didn’t want to try to get to know you either! Let the guilt be with them!

    You have both your daughters in your life! A warm cozy home to live in and Charlie and Ivy by your side! You also have us, your virtual friends, that you can talk too anytime!
    They will regret it some day!

    Keep warm and cuddle with your fur babies!

  13. What sadness you have endured through out your young life and into your marriage. All I can say, is look how you got through it all…WOW, you are an amazing and talented woman, full of love, with no regrets (I hope) two daughters and a sweet grand-son, and of course, the two 4 legged loves of your life. How you have spread love to those you love, even tho you didn’t feel much of that growing up. I read your blog each day, the only one that I make sure to read, I enjoy yours so much, because you have the gift of writing, the gift of design, gardening, decorating and photography, and just have an all over warm feeling that you bring to all of us. I thank you for that, a good friend across the miles. Hugs from WI.

    1. I second Bonnie’s response that through this all..you were strong and have come out to helping other women get through daily life by this beautiful blog. I think it is very healthy that you are able to now look back and express your feelings about it all. Peace and best wishes your way.

    1. I stayed with a teacher for awhile. But she had about 10 cats eating out of the food cooking on the stove and I was grossed out and left. She didn’t mind all that much because she got my social security benefits for awhile in exchange for not turning me in as a runaway. Then I stayed with a friend as long as her parents let me. I was pregnant by then. Then I lived on my own for awhile. Then I lived with a minister and his family and took care of his children and home in exchange for a room. At 18 I bought a used mobile home, and me and my daughter lived in it.

  14. The guilt belongs to your aunts and uncles who would not include you in their family and provide you with a safe place to land after the death of your great-grandmother. I wonder how they answered when they stood before their Creator and He asked them “What did you do with that little girl that I sent into your midst?”

    Kudos for having the courage to finally walk away from a destructive man and relationship. Many people stay in that hell until the end.

    One question: what became of your grandmother after the passing of your great-grandmother?

    1. I stayed with her a couple of years. Then a great-uncle took me in, because I wasn’t going to school and he was basically forced to. Lasted 6 months. Tried another great-uncle, lasted 6 months, then pretty much on my own. For her, after I left she had a mobile home I believe next to a relative. Later she went into a nursing home.

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