This week the theme of the messages I receive has been GUILT – not FEELING GUILTY, but feeling the brunt of someone
else’s DISOWNED GUILT.
An example: According to Sarah, her boyfriend treats her badly. He makes promises, but doesn’t show up.
Then he showers her with passion, only to go online and talk with other women. When she catches him, he tells her it’s
because she has been cold and angry lately.
Sometimes he invites Sarah over to his place to spend the evening, but when she gets there, he spends the whole time in bed, remains uncommunicative, unaffectionate, and unresponsive.
She feels rejected, stops calling him, and keeps away. Then he suddenly declares his love for her, claiming he was just
depressed and that things will be different.
She acquiesces and they make passionate love, but then he doesn’t return her phone calls for days.
When she finally gets to talk to about this and confronts him, he blames it on HER. He says she is too demanding,
too dependent, and too needy – doesn’t she understand that he gets depressed?! These criticisms and excuses
are cliché. I hear the same ones over and over again from so many different people.
Besides all of the other obvious things that may be wrong with this relationship, Sarah suffers from her boyfriend’s
guilt – his unwillingness to own his own his behavior– his tendency to blame the victim.
What’s the mechanism he’s using? He treats her badly and wants to get away with it. He doesn’t
want to feel guilty over it. But somewhere in his head, a faint voice is telling him that he has behaved badly.
What does he do with this voice? He does everything he can to get rid of it.
The easiest way is to turn the tables. He faults Sarah. He tries to get HER to feel guilty. If he rejects
and criticizes her enough, maybe he can even get her to regret her entire existence. He even turns the tables when she
tells him how much it hurts, by emphasizing his own pain – his depression –and then accuses her of only thinking
Taking his guilt and loading it into her makes Sarah to “look bad” which in
turn, enables him to rationalize his behavior.
Guilt can be so helpful when it’s acknowledged. It gets us to closely examine our actions so that we can evolve
as human beings. Owning our guilt – and sharing our own culpability within our relationships – can lead
to a true reckoning. The relationship then serves as a crucible for positive change.
But guilt without
• intention to make amends
• the will to change
is guilt that gets buried, rationalized, and displaced in destructive ways – destructive to self and others.
This is Sarah’s boyfriend’s brand of guilt. If she can understand the manipulation he is using, she can
stop buying in.
Of course, we all want Sarah to get another boyfriend. But while she’s in this, she can use it as a giant growth