Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“I never saw a guilt trip I didn’t like.”
Uh, huh! Is that true or is it true!? If you, like me, have had your life shot through with narcissistic abuse, you too may be “Addicted to Guilt.”
There’s never a vice we don’t claim. No sermon we reject as inapplicable to us. No unfortunate event that we can’t, somehow, in some tortured way, blame on ourselves.
I for one can raise my hand and claim without exageration that I’m utterly and completely guilty of being addicted to guilt. And if you don’t believe me, ask my husband. He could tell you a tale or two!
These are the confessions of a lifelong guilt addict.
Three years ago, my husband suffered a couple of falls. True to form, I found a way to blame both of his falls on myself. That’s right. When he slipped on the icy front steps, I was in bed…and blamed myself for his fall. When he tripped and fell in the garage, I was in the shower…and took full responsibility for that fall too. If only, if only! I found a torturous, tortured way to blame his falls on myself. To this day, I feel horribly guilty for his falls and can’t bear when the topic comes up.
Luckily, Michael’s not buying it. By getting quite sarcastic, he’s made me aware of the ridiculous lengths I’ll go to and mental gymnastics I’ll do to take responsibility for, well, pretty much everything. For things that cannot possibly be my fault.
My penchant for guilt, guilt and more guilt first reared its ugly head the first time a sink pipe plugged when we were first married. I wrung my hands, apologizing over and over for the plug. Michael shot a very odd look my way. “What are you apologizing for?” he said, “Pipes plug. That’s just what they do. It’s not your fault. I’ll have it unplugged in a jiffy” and he did. (Actually it was he who put too many carrot peelings down the garbage disposal. Just sayin’!)
What a revelation!!! In a narcissistic home, well! Blame! It Must (Always) Be Assigned! For anything and everything, there must be a scapegoat. And blocked drains…they were always my fault. My hair blocked them. I was suspected of sending grease and crumbs down the drain. And, being an utter perfectionist, I always manned-up, confessed and took responsibility because, no matter how hard I tried to catch every hair, every crumb and every loose hair, I knew I never tried quite hard enough. It was easier to be humble and take responsibility.
I’d tried being defensive and weaseling out of blame, sometimes for things I actually had done, but that didn’t work at all! My strong defensiveness was met by stronger lecturing and, to my ears, being yelled at. I was called prideful. Soon I learned it was easier to confess, admit, grovel, cry and apologize. The drama didn’t last as long if I showed empathy for the wounded party. In retrospect, that’s what was being demanded from me: empathy…because the wounded party craved it and had never received it from their narcissistic mother. But I digress.
Being perpetually guilty became my Uncomfortable Comfort Zone. I didn’t like it, but it was familiar. Familiarity grew into normalcy and pretty soon, I was addicted to guilt. It was my “thing.” Shame even became a kind-of turn-on.
My earliest memory of guilt addiction date from my early teens at a strict, religious school that, in restrospect, was more than a little cultish. Each Tuesday, we lost our Study Hall hour (and racked up hours of at-home homework time) to be preached at for an hour in Chapel. Visiting preachers would come from all over the country to preach at us.
Whatever they preached about, I was guilty of it. Every sermon was directed at me. I took each one to heart. To not admit to every vice in every sermon would have felt self-righteous, pig-headed and prideful.
My mother noticed my penchant for guilt and simply said, “If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.” Good advice but, unfortunately, advice that was entirely beyond me.
In retrospect, I’m not so sure I was as guilty as all that. Even when I wasn’t guilty and stood up for myself, I could tell I wasn’t believed. Y’know that sidelong, distrustful facial expression and the drawn out “Okaa-ay” that actually means, “We don’t believe a word you say but we can’t prove otherwise.” Yeah. That one.
Being guilty established the theme for my life. It’s easy to assume you’re guilty when you grow up in a family where the authority figure is capable of blackout rages,. you never know when the next tantrum will occur. I’m told that when I was a baby, post-rage silent treatments would last for three days at a time while the victim never knew what they had done to “cause” it. The operative word is “cause.”
As the rages were always directed in our general direction, it was logical to assume we had done or said something wrong to “cause” the glowering volcano to suddenly erupt. I remember one particular day. I was fourteen or so. My parents refinanced their house that afternoon and we had plans to go out to eat afterward at Old Country Buffet. As it was a Friday, I was so looking forward to OCB’s all-you-can-eat shrimp. Unfortunately, my parents got into some quite silly spat about paying the parking ramp fee. One thing led to another and pretty soon the narcissist was speechifying on and on about how they’d so been looking forward to going out to eat that night and how it’d been ruined for them. Wow! But do you see how the blame, shame and (false) guilt is always deflected away from them onto literally anyone else!?
Yes, you and I are guilty of some things. We’ve all broken a Ten Commandment or two or ten. But we’re not guilty of everything…especially not of all the lies and scapegoating casually tossed our way by narcissists.
Pipes will clog. Dogs will do unspeakable things on the carpet. Knick-knacks will break. Cooking pots will scorch. Coupons will be forgotten. Bills will be paid late. We will be late to some appointments. Tires will blow. People will slip and fall. It’s NOT our fault. We’re simply not all that Omniscient, Omnipowerful and Omnipresent nor all that bad! (If you think about it, it’s a kind of egotism to think we’re “all that and a bag of potato chips” as to actually take responsibility for everything…even if they’re bad things. Who do we think we are!? God!?)
Or to sum up in two words:
But most of the time it’s not our shit. We didn’t cause it, it’s not our fault and it’s not our responsibility to pick it up. If you think otherwise, that’s your guilt addiction (and codependence!) talking.