Isn’t guilt a horrible thing? Yet at time we can be overwhelmed by it.
As a daughter I look back and feel guilty about what a horrible teenager I was and the pressure it probably put on my parents.
As a mother, I feel guilty for any of my perceived frailties that I may have passed on genetically. I sometimes feel guilty that I may have been too overprotective; not protective enough; too strict; not strict enough; too alternative etc.
As a friend, I feel guilty if I haven’t managed to keep in touch with someone for a few weeks (or months); I feel guilty that a low mood might have been interpreted as disinterest. Or my scattiness and feather-brain-ness (yes I’ve made that up!) meant I forgot to say hello or goodbye to someone and they might think I’ve upset them or am ignoring them.
It is normal to feel guilt. We all have guilt, to varying degrees. I defy you to find someone who doesn’t feel guilty about something.
I have noticed most of all that when we lose someone; a friend, partner, family member, our initial feeling, alongside grief, is guilt. What didn’t we do? What didn’t we say? Why didn’t we notice this or that? Why didn’t we give them more of our time? Perhaps we’d had a row; or not told them an important piece of news. Maybe we’d postponed a visit.
We always notice the things we feel we failed to do , chose not to do, or just ran out of time to do.
Guilt is such a destructive feeling. It has a way of taking all the good times we had , all the wonderful things we shared, all the help we offered, all the support we gave and squash it into a box labelled ‘inconsequential’. Then we take all our perceived failings and shortcomings and set up an exhibition of them to indulge and feed our guilt.
But we should really get this guilt in check. Generally we are good enough. Think of all the things you DID do. All the things you DID share. All the support you DID offer. Nobody has a relationship in which they’ve never been upset or angry at the other person. Everybody wishes they had more time for everyone they love and care for.
As for family. We are often presented with the perfect fairy tales of families who never fight, all love each other, talk every day etc. We must remember that most people only share some facets of their life. Talk to anyone. I bet you they think at least some of their family are weird or difficult. I bet every son/daughter has hangups and issues that they blame on a parent and that has, at times, affected their relationship. It’s normal. And it’s normal to feel abnormal about it. AND it’s normal to grow that completely out of proportion and riddle yourself with guilt over it when that family member dies.
When it’s a friend who died, try and remember, it was a mutual friendship. They were your friend as well as you being theirs. I bet you don’t feel they failed you. Even if sometimes they or you weren’t perfect (who the hell is eh? we all have our hangups).
As I said only the other day in response to one of the many chain mail type things that go round on social media. ” If you are my friend it’s because I believe you are stunning inside and out, unique, extraordinary and totally lovely, with all your foibles, concerns, quirks, and cracks… I love the real you.” I feel sure that feeling is mutual. Even though I sometimes have guilt about what a poor friend I am sure I am being(!)
The guilt you feel is totally disproportionate. If it follows a bereavement then it’s part of grief and it’s normal. Try and make a list of all the positives. Get them out of that ‘inconsequential’ box and put them on display. Look at them, wallow in them, share them, celebrate them. They were your friend for a reason. And you were their’s for the same.