From the Mailbag:
I am struggling with obligations to extended family and the guilty feelings associated with choosing what I want instead of putting them first.”
Welcome to the club, fellow human.
No matter what your dream or goal, you’ve experienced this very same emotion. You feel guilty wanting something else for yourself, or for letting go of some of the responsibility to other people in your life in order to get it.
You feel this way because you’re a nice person.
The good news is that you don’t have to become a sociopath to get over your feelings of guilt. And once you figure this out, you’ll have a much easier path to making your dreams come true.
Why You Feel Guilty
Guilt is a feeling that happens when you think you’ve done something wrong. Notice I said, “think.” While feeling guilty is normal and beneficial when you have broken a promise or hurt someone (and why you then apologize or make amends), it can bring your life to a standstill if you give it permission to judge every single action that could possibly impact another person in any way, shape, or form.
It’s like the butterfly effect in your head. You decide to take a class on Tuesday evenings and your entire family starves in the 3 hours you’re gone because they can’t possibly feed themselves without you. Or something like that.
The bigger your area of perceived responsibility in this world, the bigger potential you have for guilty feelings.
- “He needs my help.”
- “She needs me to do that for her.”
- “They can’t do it without me.”
- “It’s up to me or it won’t get done.”
- “It’s just easier for me to do it than to teach him how.”
The help you first gave out of love and support and interest becomes a requirement that ties you down. You begin denying yourself in numerous areas of your life so you can meet these unrealistic obligations. Pretty soon you’re damn tired, more than a little resentful, and guilty for feeling that way.
The Relationship between Ego and Guilt
Dealing with guilt often starts by dealing with your ego. – Click here to tweet this
When I lived in New Mexico I anointed myself as head of our family. Oh, not out loud, of course, but definitely in my mind. It was up to me to give parenting guidance to my younger brothers, manage my mother-in-law’s adjustment issues with retirement, encourage my own mother to get out of her empty nest funk with college, support my dad through a forced job change, and keep my then-husband in a healthy state of mind through a stressful job situation. Not to mention all that I was doing at work and with my friends.
I was Big Sister on steroids to everyone that would let me.
And damn, was I tired.
When I finally felt “persecuted” by these obligations enough to quit everything to follow my dreams, I discovered a very unsettling fact:
I had an ego the size of Texas.
You see, these people didn’t actually need my help, at least not to the level I was forcing upon them. And it wasn’t until I left town to pursue my own dreams that I figured this out.
They missed me, sure. But they got along just fine without my intervention. All of them. In fact, they did better on their own than when I was “helping” them out.
And when I felt a teensy tiny bit bad about that, that they really didn’t need me as much as I thought they did, I realized the problem was my ego.
Is Your Ego in the Way?
You’re a nice person. We’ve already established this. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an ego problem.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations to your extended family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, it’s time to figure out whether you are bringing it down on yourself.
(Which is actually a good problem to have because you can fix it.)
Imagine leaving your regular life for the next 3 months. You have to go far away to work on a very secret project and can have no outside interaction with your family and friends for the entire 3 months, even by phone or email.
What would happen to all those people you left behind?
It may not turn out like you want or how you would do it, but much of the time people can get along just fine on their own. They learn, grow, and stretch their boundaries. They become more capable.
- Sometimes things don’t get done (and the world doesn’t end)
- Sometimes people stumble (but they recover)
- Sometimes they have to learn the consequences of their behavior so they’ll stop doing it
Less Ego = Less Guilt
When you give yourself permission to follow your dreams you’re telling the people around you it’s important for them, too. You’re giving them a chance to try new things, make mistakes, and generally participate in life. You are telling them you believe in them.
By taking away your nonessential help, you’re helping them become more capable of helping themselves.
And when most of us are successful in creating the lives we want, we have the energy and time to help those who truly need to be helped.
If you’re living your life for someone else (by accident or on purpose), we can help you straighten that out in about 218 pages. Click here to learn more about confidence, speaking up, and living the life you want.