April 20, 2011

Guilt and the Ringing Doorbell

When the doorbell rings, and it's not a neighbor or Fed Ex, I dread it.

The reason for this dread, is that I know what's coming - a guilt trip.

Whether it's someone selling magazines, an evangelist, or someone wanting to tell me about their political candidate of choice, I'm going to be faced with an indirect, and sometimes direct, accusation that I'm being "bad" for not doing what they want me to do. Guilt.

Today, the doorbell rang, and I went to "guilt management" mode. I reminded myself there is a note on the door that clearly says to respect us and not knock on our door (except for fed ex and friends). I reminded myself that I am an easy guilt target, and that I have the right to say "no" if I do not want to do what the person is asking of me. And I also have to remind myself that it does not matter of the person on the other side of the screen has a good opinion of me. I psych myself up like this, but it's still hard.

So the doorbell rang, and I opened our little window, to see who it was, and I didn't recognize her, but she didn't look to be selling anything or handing out propaganda. She could be a neighbor who I haven't met yet, or someone looking for help. So I opened the door. She said, "I painted the numbers on the curb, would you please give a donation?"

Now, a week ago, someone came over and asked me for a donation before they painted the curb. I said, "We're not interested in having our curb painted. Thanks." Then, we got a note a few days later informing us that our curb was going to painted (like it or not) and to "please consider" giving a donation.

So when she came to the door today, I said, "No thank you, we don't want our curb painted."

She replied, "I already did it."

I replied, "We didn't ask for it."

She said, with a sigh, "If you change your mind, here's my information where you can make donation."

I replied, "Thank you."

So far so good, not a ton of guilt... a little, but I didn't feel bad about saying "no". Her little bits of sighing and pushing me to give her a donation didn't push any buttons.

Then, as she walked away, she said, "I painted everyone's curb." Now, the words, not so bad in a blog, but the intonation was, "and you're stingy and heartless to not give me something for it."

That's when the pang of guilt hit. Also, a pang of anger. Flash! Guilt and anger. (Why is passive/aggressiveness so good at tapping into both of those feelings?) I felt guilty not because I was being stingy but because I made her feel bad, I made her mad. I felt guilty because she was scolding me. I felt angry because it was an obvious ploy for money, using my personal feelings as a weapon against me.

Guilt is a tool of the vast majority of people who ring my doorbell and want me to give them money. If I feel guilty enough, I'll pay them to go away and make them stop throwing guilt at me (and hence, making me feel better).
They put me in a position where if I do what I want to do, I have to let them down. If I do what they want me to do, I let myself down. Either way, I lose.

So it's up to me to decide what I want, what I believe is right, and what is good for me, and then support myself, and allow the person who knocked on my door their own feelings even if those feelings are negative towards me.

After she left, I felt guilty for a short while, then I was annoyed with her, and finally I was happy I said "no". She did paint my curb, she did do something nice for me, but she did it without my permission, then expecting me to pay her money. Essentially, she expected me to make good on a contract that I never signed.

It is hard for me to stand my ground when I feel guilt vibes coming from the other person. The feeling of guilt is strong and human nature is to make it go away. And the easiest way to make it go away is to simply do what the person is asking. But although that may result in short-term guilt reduction, it all too often then results in long-term resentment, anger, and guilt turned towards the self.

Guilt used as a weapon is heartless and destructive. Sometimes, we need to feel guilt because it points us in the right direction, but sometimes, our guilt monitors go on overdrive. Being in the moment, knowing ourselves, and reminding ourselves to not get wrapped up in trying to "feel better", is the only way to know if the guilt we feel is a guiding light, or a decoy.

May we all be able to acknowledge and accept our feelings in the moment and to be able to make mindful decisions for ourselves in the long-run, without hurting others. Also, may we allow others to feel their own feelings, and not get caught up in trying to appease others for the sake of running away from how we feel, or trying to fix the other person so we can feel better.

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