Guilt. Constant guilt. Every waking moment of every single day. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

Why!?! That’s what I want to know.

Learning About The Conscience

I remember the very day my mother taught me about my conscience. Oh, I must’ve been about five or six. She lovingly explained what it was and it’s job. “Always listen to your conscience, Lenora,” she said. “If you ignore it, it’ll become seared and won’t work anymore.”

So I did. I listened to it. And listened and listened and listened.

Conscience as a Life Soundtrack

There’s only one problem with trusting your conscience implicitly: when narcissists play on it to control you and me. And guilt, usually false guilt, is their greatest, strongest and most oft-used weapon to control us, isn’t it? They strum the tune of False Guilt on the harp of our consciences. After years of being brainwashed to feel guilty about, well, everything, it becomes our normal. The melody forms the soundtrack of our lives. It warbles legato in our ear from the moment we wake, reaches a deafening forte crescendo midday and whispers a pianissimo lullaby as we drift off to sleep.

Addicted

In some ways, I’m complicit in my own false guilt. After my faith was destroyed at fourteen, I figured that heaping “shoulds” upon myself would shame me back into the Kingdom. Or, at the very least, by raising the bar higher and higher, I’d be inspired to become a very good person indeed.

To that end, I immersed myself in books about great women of faith. You know the ones…they rise at 5 a.m. to bake fresh bread, sing in the choir, minister to the needy, teach Sunday School, sew clothes for their huge families, grow weed-free gardens, have perfect homes, serve amazing meals, raise happy children, spend time in prayer and retire each evening with every hair in place and a smile on their serene, unfatigued faces.

Och aye, and the moon is made of lemon meringue.

Strength of Mind

But I didn’t figure on two things: 1) my strength of mind and 2) my lack of energy.

After suffering decades of shame and false guilt, imposed from both without and within, I became incredibly strong inside. I had to for survival. Read all about it here in my HuffPost article “How to Drive Your Daughter Bat-Crap Crazy.” Instead of bowing to the crushing false guilt, I bore up against it. Resisted it. Fought it. And frankly, I just don’t have the energy to live up to my own (and others) exactly standards.

Low energy is bad. But strength of mind? It may be one of the only good things to result from narcissistic abuse. As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing.” 😉

Criticism and Gossip

It didn’t help that I always seemed to find myself around people who love to criticize and gossip about others. What they didn’t realize was that there was silent, uncritical, undiscerning listener, taking exhaustive notes. After all, I didn’t want to be like those bad people so worthy of righteous condemnation. In hindsight, how I wish I’d used some discernment before I swallowed these criticisms, hook line and sinker.

I was taking notes on the day I overheard some misogynist claim that women can’t possibly provide “equal work” for “equal pay” during their monthly period…and how they cheat the company by using their sick time for cramps.

I was taking notes when I heard coworkers who took breaks, especially smoke breaks, roundly criticized.

I was taking notes on the many days I heard other women’s housekeeping, which apparently equated to their worth as human beings, trashed for not matching Suzy-Q-Homemaker’s exactly standards.

And I was taking notes when I heard that parents who allow their adult daughters to move out “Just don’t love them much.”

How It Haunts Me!

My false guilt, augmented by a huge collection of criticisms to avoid, made my life a misery.

When the agony of cramps almost rendered me immobile, I popped Ibuprofen, plastered a smile on my face and forced myself to work even harder than usual. After all, I didn’t want to be one of those pathetic females that cheat the company! (What a horrible thing to think or say. Readers, you know I don’t actually believe that!)

When fatigue and stress tempted me to join my smoking colleagues outdoors after yet another horrible team meeting, instead I stayed immobile at my desk, working, drowning my sorrows in Doritos. Heck! I even felt guilty for running to the bathroom. It’s a wonder I didn’t develop a blood clot from sitting at my desk, motionless, for hours.

When I look around my cluttered cottage, festooned with the evidence of my husband’s hobbies, I see not a happy husband but my own failure as a housekeeper. (Wrong!)

False guilt drowns me.

Pushme-Pullya

Do you remember the Doctor Doolittle books and movie? Y’know, the vet who could talk to the animals. Remember the Pushme-Pullya animal? It had a head one both ends, both of them could talk and they could walk either forwards or backwards. That’s kinda’ how my life is.

Regardless of what I’m doing, I outta’ be doing something else. If I’m writing…I should be cleaning. If I’m cleaning…I should be cooking. If I’m cooking…I should be doing laundry. If I’m mopping…my husband is rolling his eyes and saying, “Knock it off! It’s midnight. Are you coming to bed sometime tonight?” False guilt is like living with a Pushme-Pullya in your mind.

No matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough. No matter how hard I work, it’s never hard enough. No matter how much I earn, it’s never enough. As Bernadette said in TBBT, “Nothing will ever be enough.”

Strength of Mind

Like you, I’m still in recovery. Oh heck! Who are we trying to kid? We’ll always be in recovery. But the good news is that it does get better. It really does. As I write this, I suddenly realized that my false guilt is much weaker, much less intrusive than it used to be.

It takes work though! You’ve got to consciously fight your instinctive thoughts. Consciously question, examine and rework the collected “shoulds” from your past. Use discernment to throw out all the nonsense that was used to control you. Sift the wheat from the chaff. And watch out for that damned OCD, the unscratchable itch that always makes you feel that something, something is wrong.

It’s time to kick False Guilt in the balls. It has no validity. It was just a ploy to control us. Well, that’s over and done with. We don’t need to be controlled now and we never did.

We need to be free!

Photo by Lachlan Hardy