Guilt Trip

Have you ever been on a guilt trip? I have, and let me tell you that it is no vacation.  The cost? Too dear. Enjoyment? Not unless you are the sort who enjoys mental anguish. Guilt is a powerful tool when used correctly, and growing up, my mother was the travel guide to many a guilt trip.

When we were little, my mother, a sweet and mild woman, consistently used one weapon on my three sisters and me. But, what a powerful one it was. With two words, and one gesture, she could silence a whiny 4 year-old, or turn a sullen, foot-stomping pre-teen into a simpering fool. She could actually turn a surly teen from defiant to pleading in seconds. The reasons were varied but the effect was the same. Feigning casual indifference, tinged with sadness, she would say “suit yourself” and offer a slight shrug of her shoulders, physical proof that the burden was now on the offender’s shoulders and not on hers. Returning to her ironing, or cooking, the insurgent would realize that she had a choice, either pack her bags for a guilt trip and try to enjoy the ride, or choose the serenity and smugness of martyrdom.  I’m pretty sure that we usually chose the latter, I know that I did. The few times I decided to suit myself,  I realized in a hurry that guilt does not suit me at all.

If pleasing oneself is not all it’s cracked up to be, there is a reason. A happy life is not possible to achieve by always suiting yourself. As a mother and wife, I am thankful that I learned this lesson early. As a child, my mother’s happiness and approval was so important to me, that I was willing to give up what I wanted (sometimes), so that she was not unhappy. This was an important lesson to learn and has served me well. But, I don’t always choose the high road. I read this to my mother and she was not sure if she was happy about it. Ever a model of decorum, She simply said, “does it cast me in an unfavorable light?” “No, of course not!!” I scoffed, “Well,” she sniffed, “you know best” which is the grown up version of “suit yourself.” You know what? Thanks to her, I do, so I did.

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