Why some people need to make others feel guilty to feel better themselves

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(That’s my work of art^) Ugly. I know.

We all have different ways of and responses to handling stress. Some of us shout, scream and throw tantrums, others like to recede quietly into their shell and cut themselves off everyone, some start hyperventilating, some blame themselves and/or others. There are different defense mechanisms all of us adopt to adapt to stressful situations (You may recall Frued’s unconscious defense mechanisms at this point) The key aspect of these defense mechanisms is that they’re unconscious reactions to stress and anxiety. An individual does not plan these reactions. They occur based on the individual’s past experiences, environment and upbringing.

One of the personality types that I find highly interesting is the one that I like to call the ‘guilty me-guilty you’ personality type. This is someone who needs to shoulder responsibility in order to feel worthwhile or validated and feels guilty about not doing or contributing anything. But when things get overwhelming and extremely stressful, tends to make someone else feel guilty for not doing as much as he/she is. Their response to stress is transferring the guilt, because they can justify blaming someone else for the stress by telling themselves that they shoulder too much responsibility. It makes them feel both a victim and superior to everyone else. “What is my life about?”, “Why me?”, “My whole life is about handling responsibility. I have no life” and “He/She doesn’t do as much as I do. They are selfish and greedy. I’m the one getting ground in the machine here” It escalates pretty quickly. The fact that the individual had chosen to take up responsibility themselves is lost somewhere in the process of constructing a defense for the ego.

In family structures, this might happen with the breadwinner. It can be the father, mother or their children who work. Families who manage their finances on a monthly basis and pretty much anticipate a heart attack on the 1st of every month are sure to have a member who behaves this way.

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The fact that they have devoted their lives to taking care of their families validates all sorts of behaviors for them. This is most commonly seen in patriarchal Indian families where the father justifies his absence from household matters and disinterest in his children’s lives by dangling the paycheck in front of his wife’s eyes, and that if he were to become more homely they would lose all the comforts that his money has bought. His typical reaction to stress would be to make his wife feel guilty for watching a television serial or taking a nap in the afternoon because after all he cannot afford those luxuries. This sort of emotional abuse can cause a lot of harm, which the abuser may not realize.

This guilt tripping can cause a major dent in the self-esteem of the abused (in this case the wife) They constantly keep trying to please the abuser in order to assuage their own guilt. They try to make their abuser happy by attempting to help out wherever they can or making themselves better in any which way. They ignore their own lives and focus only on making their abuser’s better. They are led to believe that somehow, they can make things better. Their emotional state depends on the emotional state of the abuser. If the abuser is happy, they are happy. This applies to all emotions. But the truth is they cannot help, no one can. This is a never ending road that leads to nowhere except a deeper pool of guilt.

What does one lose in this journey? Self esteem, self worth, confidence and courage.

On the other hand, if the husband were to suddenly find himself devoid of any responsibility, he may start feeling guilty himself for not doing anything, and start looking for excessive responsibility. Basically, people like him thrive on stress and burden. They need it to survive and feel worthwhile, but at the same time project their guilt upon others when things get out of hand. It’s a never ending cycle that is harmful towards all the people involved. An interesting by-product of this personality type is that such people feel they are entitled to whatever they wish to have. Perhaps this response stems from the belief that “I work my ass off and take care of so many people. I go through so much stress everyday. How could I be wrong for demanding this?” In the example mentioned above, the husband might feel that he is entitled to his wife’s attention and time even when she’s busy, because he’s the “important” one in the equation, or that he is entitled to enforce his opinion on his children because he has “experienced so much more”.

Maybe the root cause of this behavior is to feel a sense of entitlement or a sense of worthiness, or maybe both – the end result is destructive for everyone involved. It’s not being pleasant on either side of equation and causes distress and dysfunction at every level.

I personally believe that such people need appropriate therapy so that they and their family members can lead a healthier life. Or just shove a couple of SSRIs or Benzos down their throat to make life even simpler. Works for me.

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