Thursday, August 2, 2007


We are surrounded by people trying to set guilt traps for us. It’s up to us to dodge them!

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Ever heard someone say they have no regrets in life – and been envious of them? How can that be? You smile and choose to take the declaration with a pinch of salt. Because, more often than not, most of us are riddled with some guilt or the other.

We are conditioned to operate under a cloud of guilt right from childhood, when it is used as a tool to make kids conform. When a child doesn’t fall in line, he is treated to a mix of guilt, shame and blame that tends to stick for life, even without his being aware of it.

We feel guilty about not doing something, then guilty for doing it; we feel guilty for eating, for spending, for not being punctual, for thinking of ourselves first, for having fun, for loving, for hating, for indulging; we feel guilty for being guilty – sometimes even for being alive, for heaven’s sake!

Things came to a head when realization struck one day that even as a senior professional, a wife and a mother, I would find myself referring to my parents’ set of dos and don’ts and attempting to conform to their image of a good girl, daughter, wife and mother!

Struck by the “disease to please”, most of my decisions would be based on what others around expected from me, so as not to disappoint, hurt or upset anyone. In the process, I was being stifled, with no breathing space. I didn’t want to be a “good girl, wife, daughter or mother”; I just wanted to be me – good or bad – and be comfortable within my skin.

Talking to friends, I realized I wasn’t the only one going through this struggle and seeking to connect with my true self. We are all surrounded by people who are forever trying to control us, judge us and make us feel guilty about who we are and what we do.

That’s the trap we fall into. It doesn’t take long to understand the motives of those who try to make you feel guilty – they exert control through guilt; often they are trying to hide their own inadequacies. Sometimes however, when they love you, they could just be trying to save you from what they consider the folly of your actions.

Psychologically, “feeling guilty” is not an emotion; it’s very much a conditioned response. It’s more mental than emotional and exhausts a lot of energy. Once you realize that it’s a negativity that can be done away with, you start discovering how often and for what ridiculous things you have been allowing yourself to suffer guilt.

Sometimes I find myself feeling guilty for cooking green vegetables when my kids complain about not having had enough pizzas and burgers lately! That is, till I pull myself up short!! My mom and husband could send me into paroxysms of guilt with one well-directed look, till I knew better! Mothers, husbands and children – all of them are adept at setting up guilt traps; it’s you who has to learn the art of dodging the same! To learn to have your own firm set of rights and wrongs; your own code of ethics.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say here are no absolute “rights” and “wrongs” – because there are, and yet in many cases, the context decides what is right for you. And, so long as you know your limits and are not hurting anyone in the bargain, you should go by what you think is right. Most people in the West live by the theory of moral relativity, that is, what is right for one person may not be so for another. However, if taken to an extreme, such an attitude could prove to be dangerous because you can actually argue anything into favouring you!

So, one has to tread a fine line and ensure that so long as we are following the broad laws of absolute morality and laws of the land, rest of what we do is really our business. And so, I’m not really answerable to anyone but to myself; so long as I know what I’m doing or saying is right and doesn’t harm anyone, why should anyone be allowed to make me feel guilty?

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