No Guilty Feeling Goes Unpunished. (So Stop Punishing Yourself)

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Before I dive into the following story, let the record show that I love cats, always have, and I currently have a cat that I absolutely adore. 

That being said…

A couple years ago, while still attending graduate school, my aunt reached out to me and asked if I could take care of her cats for a few days while she was in New York City for work. Now: I had previously taken care of her three cats and knew how much work it required. These weren’t your typical self-reliant felines; they were feed-me-eight-times-a-day, hold-me-constantly cats that were used to attention 24/7. I had stopped watching my aunt’s cats previously because I told her I simply did not have the time these cats required. Between grad school, working one full-time job and two freelance jobs, and, you know, BREATHING, it was just not realistically possible.

But my aunt used her sugary sweet voice and the “no one gives them love and affection like you do” bit. And surprise, surprise: I felt guilty. 

So I said yes.

Can you see where this is going?

One of my aunt’s three cats had a special attachment to me. She wanted to be held ALL. THE. TIME. This meant I couldn’t do homework on my laptop while I was at the house or do anything productive whatsoever. She would jump on my shoulders or climb up my leg – anything to be held. On top of that, the other two cats were fighting all the time, and all three cats wanted to eat constantly (and were super picky about their food). If they didn’t get their food right away, they’d puke or skid-mark my aunt’s white Gucci rugs beyond repair. As a result, I was always falling behind on my own stuff because I was running around cleaning, feeding, cuddling, and playing feline bouncer. 

Naturally, the constant chaos made me anxious and grumpy. If you didn’t know, cats tend to pick up on those vibes. 

I’d typically stay at my aunt’s house while she was away so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth from my place to hers every day. One morning, I woke up in her bed (which had bright white sheets, btw) and felt unusually sweaty. Like dripping sweat. I sat up and looked at the bed.

It wasn’t sweat. 

I had been sleeping in a puddle of cat piss. 

Apparently my aunt’s cat decided she did not like my anxious state and thought pissing on the bed was a natural solution. 

If only I hadn’t caved in to my guilt in the first place…

When we give in to our guilty feelings, we end up punishing ourselves more than anyone else ever could. We think we’re being “nice” by letting others make us feel guilty and doing what they want, but the outcome is never worth the pain. 

You might be thinking, “Oh, but we all need to make sacrifices and do nice things for others.” Okay, that may be true, KAREN, but here’s the thing: good deeds and sacrifices should never come from a place of guilt. EVER. (So take a seat, KAREN.) When guilt is the guiding force, you end up making unrealistic commitments that almost always end badly and actually make you feel worse about yourself. 

Here are some of the ways you punish yourself when you let guilty feelings be your guide.

You Get Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship

Exhibit A: Me (duh).

I got caught up in two toxic relationships that each lasted 3-4 years. Why? Because I felt guilty. 

Guilt causes you to make excuses for other people. “She’s flirting with other guys, but it’s probably because I’m not as good looking.” “He left me stranded in a parking lot when my car broke down, but it would have been a long 25 minute drive for him.” “She didn’t visit me in the hospital, but she was probably tired after work.” “He kicked a puppy, but the puppy DID look at him funny…”

We don’t like to ever assume someone is toxic for us or is just an asshole. We worry about hurting their feelings or failing to give them another chance. We hold onto hope and keep hitting a brick wall over and over, just like a fly against a window: “Maybe THIS time, this time, this time, THIS time…”

Let me tell ya something, honey: that window ain’t never gonna disappear. You can see what you want through the other side, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a thick slab of glass right there.

And he/she ain’t never gonna open that window.

Funny thing is, if you just break away from the guilt that’s holding you hostage, suddenly things you’ve always wanted start to happen. And then you realize you could have had them all along, had your guilt not kept you tied down. Whether it’s a new, healthier relationship, a better job, more time with friends, or a new hobby, things start heading in positive directions in your life when you allow yourself to detach from that guilt-binding relationship.

Will you be sad at first? Of course, KAREN, we’re not robots. But once you’ve gone through the grieving process of a breakup, you will definitely start noticing big changes in your life.

This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. It also applies to friendships, family, hobbies, habits, and career as well. Don’t let yourself become attached to people or things out of guilt. Be kind to yourself. Otherwise, you will get stuck in a loop of toxicity.

You Make it Easy for People to Take Advantage of You

If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Hey, are you busy,” “I need help with something,” “I have an idea,” or “How are you hey I have a problem,” I would either have the weirdest wall collage of nickels worth a million dollars or a metal-smelling mansion. 

Whether they’re aware of it or not, people naturally take advantage of you as soon as you start doing things for them out of guilt. It becomes like breathing to them, because the more often you do it and then all of a sudden stop, they act like you cut off their right arm (or left… no bias here). They then use this to make you feel guilty for “letting them down,” so you fall right back into the habit. 

It’s like relying on a paddle. A person grows accustomed to using it to get wherever he or she needs to go. But when it breaks, the person rowing freaks out and keeps trying to use the remaining stick to keep rowing, getting impatient with it, putting the stick through hell and yelling at it for not doing its job.

Don’t confuse kindness with guilt. If you do, you’re only going to break. And it won’t be pretty. (Trust me.)

You Blame Yourself for Everything

The more you give into guilt, guess what? The beast gets larger. You not only continue to feel guilty about things, but you feel even MORE guilty about MORE things. As a result, you start blaming yourself for everything. 

“I was stood up. I must not be pretty enough.”

“She told people my deepest secret. I should have been clearer that I didn’t want it shared with the world.”

“He called me a bitch. I must be a bitch.”

When you let yourself feel guilty all the time, it becomes harder to decipher whether you or someone else is actually responsible or at fault for something. You eventually just take the hit for everything, punishing yourself and taking a garotte to your self-esteem until it slowly withers away.

You Become Jealous and Bitter

Guess what happens when you beat your self-esteem to a pulp? You become easily jealous of everyone else and, as a result, are bitter all the time. 

For example, I allowed myself to feel guilty all the time in my first relationship, so my self-esteem was shot. My boyfriend, in contrast, had the self-esteem of my aunt’s spoiled cats. He did what he wanted, got what he wanted, and fed his ego like an eternally-expanding hot air balloon. 

Since I allowed my guilt to taint my bacon, I found every possible excuse to feel bitter towards him. Every time he made a room full of people laugh at his antics, I hated his guts. Whenever he took off his socks and flung them in opposite directions onto the floor of my apartment, it took everything I had not to shove one down his throat and the other up his butt. 

Basically, I was envious that he was happy with himself and allowed himself to do what he wanted. I, on the other hand, had fed my guilt to the point where I felt bad about myself all the time and punished myself by not embracing my bacon. With green eyes, I watched my boyfriend gluttonously stuff his face with his bacon, longing for bacon of my own.

You Get Stuck in the Past

We’ve established that guilt makes you feel bad about yourself. The longer you let it fester, the more time you waste not glorifying in your bacon self. As a result, you start kicking yourself for wasting so much time. You get caught up obsessing over the past and how you spent so much of it feeling shitty. You feel guilty about your guilt, which is more time wasted.

You can’t change the past. But you can change how you feel today. Get rid of that guilt and start eating bacon.

You Miss Out on the Present Moment

Since guilt gets you stuck in the past, guess what happens? You miss out on what’s happening right now. Guilt keeps you in your head; you obsess about the things for which you feel guilty. While you’re up there in your noggin, life is passing you by. The present moment ain’t going to sit around waiting for you to pay attention. So snap out of it, KAREN!

You Overwork Yourself

While earning my bachelor’s, I was also working four jobs, committing to numerous clubs, and dishing out favors to people like a child with lice in a public school. I gave myself numerous anxiety attacks and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown 24/7. After I graduated, I put myself in identical circumstances for three more years in grad school, working three jobs, handing out favors, and wiping crusty poop from feline buttholes. 

Why did I put myself through all that? Because I felt guilty. I didn’t want to say “no” to anyone, and the idea of taking time for myself was unthinkable; I didn’t believe I deserved it. 

You aren’t doing yourself any favors by feeling guilty. You deserve better. There’s this magnificent bacon that’s just waiting for you to taste it. But you’ll never get even a lick of it if you keep punishing yourself with guilt. Instead, you’ll just wake up every morning drowning in cat piss.