Guilt

guilt_carry-manGuilt can slowly consume you until you cannot longer bear it. Guilt is one of those emotions you cannot truly explain or describe. Dictionary.com says Guilt is “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability” and “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined”

Pay attention to the last line “whether real or imagine”. Our perception over the problem is what makes us feel guilty. In psychology it’s the sense that you did something either right or wrong but you did something and you cannot help but think about the effect that something had on someone else. It is cognitive. People think they caused harm. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with a crime. That’s not what I’m writing about. That’s a completely different type of culpability. I am referring to the guilt you feel because you might have hurt someone’s feelings or their ability to see you as they did before. Guilt over your behaviors (overspending, lying, manipulating someone into doing something you wanted, misbehaving, cheating on someone, or cheating on your diet, etc). The outcome is the same; you hurt someone psychologically or even physically. That someone can no longer see you with the same consideration. They may see you now with disappointment, bitterness and resentment. You may see yourself with these emotions as well; addicts do whenever they relapse and the guilt weights on them.

Guilt is so powerful that is the only emotions that can lead you to feel grief and misery. It is a death. The loss of someone, the loss of the relationship you had with that someone. Their love and caring feelings towards you have changed and will no longer be the same. The loss of your development. The loss of your self-worth. The loss of your tranquility and harmony. Your guilt has turned into grief, the cost of your responsibility, your burden and remorse for what you have done.

People will always and undoubtly regret many things in life, they may regret the trips not taken, the adventures not fulfilled or the jobs that didn’t work out and then of course the relationships they left behind. But regretting can be a passive feeling of inconsequential outcomes and in a way it’s safe because with regret you can still move on. You can perhaps do something to remedy the bad experience and it’s likely that it may help to lessen the guilt. In time it may become just a bad memory. However, there are times when you cannot undo the past, cannot undo the event that led you to feel this way. The guilt stays and doesn’t let you forget. How can one alleviate that feeling of guilt? In those cases there a few things I believe might help reduce your guilt feelings:

In cognitive therapy if you change the way you think then you can change your feelings. We try to help patients eliminate their negative thoughts which cause them to suffer. The negative automatic thoughts that can lead to depression and anxiety can be changed but it takes practice. Here are few suggestions:

Stop Catastrophizing things, is done. Nothing worse will happen (hopefully). Take action: If you can apologize, DO IT NOW. If you can do anything to make it better DO IT NOW. Stop thinking how badly the situation is, stop thinking there’s no remedy. Do amends if possible and remember nothing lasts forever, not even the bad things.

Then forgive yourself. You made a mistake, you are only human. You had no intention to purposely to do this (say cruel things, not loaning money to a needy friend, being disloyal to your spouse, not supportive of a friend, whatever that event was). Be kind to yourself. You are learning. We all are. Recognize this will not happen again, you have the ability to do better next time. You will do better. Positive self-talk.

Talk about it. Do not let it eat you. You need to express it somehow e.g. Talk, write, sing, draw, color, anything to get it out there. Be honest, be sincere.

Lastly, if you are experiencing severe grief and depression that becomes impairing in your day to day life, seek professional help. Talking to a counselor or therapist will be essential in regaining mental health.

No!

It’s ideal to take a break every so often to reflect on your relationships and determine if what you have it’s constructive to your life. It’s important to recognize when a relationship does not bring positive energy into your being and actually causes you to feel unhappy and distressed. For instance a bad marriage, or a dreadful working relationship or even a childhood friendship that no longer makes sense. Then we know it’s time to walk away, to start over, to be honest with ourselves and with them. However there are other relationships that are a little bit more complicated to abandon.

I am talking about one type of relationship that it’s very difficult to breakup with: The Acquaintance. Yes, you heard it right. That friendly stranger you keep running into is the most problematic person to breakup with. You know what I’m talking about; we have all been there at least once. You don’t know how to politely tell them you’re no longer interested, you don’t’ care to see them or to call them or to go out with them. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? So you avoid them, you don’t call them, you don’t invite them, you don’t feel curious about their lives and try to send the message without telling them directly that you have nothing in common. I mean if you have shared an event, a school life i.e. Grad school, a neighborhood, a common family friend and got along well, maybe a friendship could have developed but it never really did. After school (or any other common thing you had), you don’t have a bond anymore. Yet, you don’t tell them this and you pretend to be friends with them. You do your best not to hurt their feelings and somehow you end up responding and agreeing to go out with them. You smile, you make small talk, you ask how they are and you try to share enough to have a friendly date. Then you realize (for whatever reason) why you didn’t want to go out with them in the first place. Sounds familiar?

I asked people why it is so difficult to break up with an acquaintance. It is more challenging than breaking up with a lover they said. If you never had a quarrel or a bad experience with them it’s almost impossible to tell them “sorry but I really don’t like you, please don’t call me”. How rude and harsh would that be? But it would be honest. It would be sincere. Can people be as sincere without hurting feelings? How can one tell the other person that no deeper connection will come out of this relationship?  Here are some of my suggestions and with a bit of luck you don’t feel too guilty:

Since you only see each other sporadically and you don’t have an emotional investment, be okay with not answering calls, and be okay with sending a text (the less confrontational way) and say No. No is simple, is real, and is fine. No, I don’t want to go to the party. No, I can’t attend the meeting today.

Accept that No is a clear and authentic answer without going into a lot of details. The more details, the more excuses you will have and thus not being honest with the person. They will get the message (eventually).

Sometimes an email or a letter may be the best way to express your thoughts and allow the other person to take their time and review their response. It may be necessary with certain types of acquaintances such as a co-worker or a neighbor that you cannot completely avoid. Word of advice be clear, be considerate, ensure you’re not being self-justifying, or offensive. Do not be too apologetic either and remember that no matter how you do it people can feel rejected and disappointed. They will not like it at first but it’s only temporary. Let them know you rather keep the relationship professional at work or neighborly. Let them know that you have decided you will not socialize for personal reasons. No more particulars. “I thank you for the invitation but I rather keep to myself”. Or “I prefer not to attend” or something like that. Be firm. Do not say “maybe next time”. Be okay with this, you have the right to set boundaries. After all you have no emotional connection, you are breaking up with an acquaintance remember?

Meow…

IMG_3027I was reading about a cat café that I want to visit when I go to New York City this year. Asia and other cultures around the world are accustomed to Cat Cafes all over; here in the U.S. is still a novelty. As many excited people there were in line when the first café opened, there were many others who couldn’t fathom the idea and couldn’t understand what the fuss what all about.  Cat lovers are all over the world, and for those who can’t appreciate felines or understand the interest in them, I know going to a café with cats roaming around isn’t ideal.

After all cats have a much undeserved reputation (I think dog people initiated this). Cats are said to be discourteous (ignore our attention-seeking attempts, won’t respond to our calls to come here, come here). Cats can be arrogant (will walk gracefully around us, will dismiss us if not happy by slowly walking away), are easily irritated (get upset and scratch us until we bleed, will attack us in revenge if bothered) and of course they are self-centered (will approach us for some well-deserved petting, please scratch here, more there, and leave me alone, we’re finished). You know this, don’t you?  Yes, it’s a little true, after all cats tend to be autonomous and egocentric (hours of grooming, eating and sleeping), right?

Don’t worry this is not an essay on why cats are cool. I am not going to list the many reasons why cats are so loved around the world or the many talents they actually possess.  I am not going to tell you why we love them. You wouldn’t be interested, either you do or don’t know.  Cat people recognize the extra qualities and no bad reputation will stop them from adoring their cats.  After all cats are mysterious creatures that have always been treated like royalty (ask the Egyptians scholars).  However I wanted to focus on why people are so divided on this… I figured there must be a true human reason behind the hostility some feel towards these beautiful felines.

I started thinking why is it that some people are receptive to the idea of having a pet, any pet except a cat. That one’s personality, background, ways of thinking and sensitivity plays a part in choosing a pet, especially choosing a cat. People have always said cat people are crazy. Why is that? Is it because cats can never demonstrate the same loyalty and appreciation a dog could? And why have a pet that won’t love you back? Or so they said but that’s a different argument (my cat loves me by the way).

Yes, cat owners are a little eccentric themselves. I recognize that many of my cat people are a little odd but I don’t think is reasonable to simplify and generalize this, after all I am not peculiar (wink wink). But in all seriousness, I believe people have the tendency to misjudge cats for the same reason why certain people come across as being bigoted, intolerant or xenophobic:  Anxiety. Yes Anxiety (apprehension, fear, worry, concern, doubt).  These people might not be prejudiced, but they’re anxious of the unknown.

We humans are anxious of the unfamiliar; we worry about what to expect, we fear not being reciprocated with the same affection and dedication we demonstrate. We doubt we want to invest in something that may or may not give us return in the end. We are apprehensive in trying to understand the meaning of other’s unfamiliar behaviors, afraid they might hurt us, we don’t know their language (both verbal and body language), and the diverse cultures, beliefs and values they may have.  I know this analogy may not click with everyone, but if you think rationally, you will see the parallels in one’s thinking patterns, one’s life attitude and the way one reacts with felines friends. If one is not  willing to know others, to learn about others, to communicate with others, how can one formulate a reasonable conclusion?

Yes I have simplified my personal social analysis about humanity but I tell you that once you get to know someone and learn from them, you can understand their individuality and at that time you will no longer be fearful of them. You will appreciate them in a much better way… yes! You can be a cat person too (we’re still talking about cats, right?  🙂