For many years I used to joke that my mother had a black belt in guilt. She lived in Vancouver and I used to tell people that she was a faculty member at UBC; that she taught guilt three nights a week and spent the other four nights practicing.
I used to tease her mercilessly about her guilt tactics although, of course, Mom didn’t do this at all. She just did what all mothers seem able to do; twist us kids around her little finger at will.
She died ten years ago and I miss her terribly. The topic of guilt always reminds me of our joking conversations so I couldn’t help but think of her earlier this month while I was coffeeing with a potential client who was lamenting the challenges of working with several of his staff members who seemed reluctant to willingly and gleefully jump to obey every order he barked out to them.
He told me that in order for him to gain compliance form his staff and have them perform at an acceptable level he needed to constantly remind them of all he has done for them, how lucky they are to have him as their boss and that were it not for his devotion to them they would be languishing elsewhere in dead-end jobs.
He went on to say by reminding them of how much they owe him, how much gratitude they should be showing him, he can squeeze extra performance out of them.
He told me that experience has taught him that making people feel bad, sorry or remorseful is a powerful means of motivation and has become his default method of ensuring compliance – even, he admitted, with his three kids at home.
And the stress of having to do this was killing him. Why couldn’t everyone just do what he told them.
At first I thought he was kidding but I soon realized he was dead serious when I had told him that I was unable to work with him as a new client as I was too busy at present to take on any new clients and would be unavailable for at least six months and he responded by telling me that I had to find the time to help him because he had driven all the way across the city to meet me and also, that if I didn’t help him he would probably have a complete meltdown and it would be my fault.
I debated telling him that if I did take him on as a client I would probably end up in an institution and it would be his fault but I quickly realized that the subtlety of my humour would be lost on him.
Needless to say we have had no further communication.
Guilt is an interesting tool. It is nothing more than a powerful man-made invention designed for ultimate control.
Guilt is used to make us feel bad so that we will comply with, or blindly obey, whatever is asked of us.
It is a tactic used to control us so that we will do the bidding of another.
It is intended to invoke in us a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense or wrongdoing that may be real or imagined.
It is a terribly manipulative tool.
And many of us have been its victim.
And some of us may even have used it on others
By accident, of course.
But there is good news for those of us who have ever been made to feel guilty.
It will never happen again because no-one on this earth has the capacity to ever make you feel guilty again.
Unless you let them.
Unless you consent to giving them power over you.
And you will never, ever do that again.
Because we always have the ability to choose how we will feel in any situation.
And by choosing how we feel, we choose how we respond.
And we choose to never feel guilt again.
Which means our response will never be driven by feelings of guilt.
And if you happen to be in that small group of folks who use guilt as a tool for getting what they want.
Cut it out.
So promise me (and yourself) you will never again stoop to that low level of using of guilt to sway the actions of others.
Say “I promise.”
It’s the least you can do for me.
After all I have done for you.
Till we read again.
P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours will soon be available on Amazon in both hard copy and eBook formats.