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Action Steps to Deal with Guilt Trippers | Psychology Today Canada
  1. An Open Letter to People Who Surrender Their Pets to the Shelter
  2. 'You feel like a failure': When it's time to give up your pet
  3. Guilt Tripping: What It Is And Isn't, And How To Deal With It -
  4. Single-mindedness, Integrity, and Diligence Through Grace

An Open Letter to People Who Surrender Their Pets to the Shelter

It is uncomfortable, even very painful, but it is no longer an unknown and unknowable quantity. We are all capable of internalising emotions so that they become part of us rather than something we experience. As we remember things best in the situation we learnt them, this usually leaves such a person not only deep in shame for the current incident but awash with it from past experiences too.

Not just 'throwing their pets away'

This makes it very hard, or even impossible to look inside oneself and undertake the work needed to develop as an individual — the caring and confident interaction with the self and the life around us that is so important to neurosis-free growth. If every peep inside shows us a loathed and sub-standard individual, why would we go through that pain and knowledge willingly? The problem then arises where this person begins to believe that his or her shame is beyond help and surrenders to it.

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With the process always ready to click in, it gradually needs less and less actual stimulation before it is in full play as, for example, a spider phobic might develop original fright from sight of the creature to eventual fear of pictures the shape, the word or even sudden movement. If it is accepted that neurotic shame tends to build out of a family dysfunction, a parent with the same problem perhaps, or a parent unable to give the confirmation of adequacy, confirmation that people can be trusted, emotional feedback, nurturing and support, so necessary for the infant to begin to trust its beliefs and develop self-worth, then the process has been induced and is open to change.

Supported experimental work in the areas of setting aside negative self-talk and a gradual building up of successes that bury the old failures can work wonders. However, this is not easy; internalised negativity has a hair-trigger, and a fear or alarm response has survival potential and is stronger and more demanding of action than an event or perception that arouses pleasure. The person involved needs to understand that this is just physiological, the way the body works, and is not an indication when there is no actual physical danger that the hair-trigger or fear response is more important that the pleasure or other non-threatening response.

Quite the contrary, it is irrelevant and damaging and needs to be put aside. Skilled support can help this process to begin. Sometimes, this can be obtained via a good mutual support or recovery group. This is the interaction we all receive first as infants — the emotional interaction we find with our mothers or others significant adults before we can put our needs into words. Such a powerful time of learning must inevitably leave us with a need to see approval of ourselves in others — a reflection — throughout our lives even if this is simply a confirmation of our own feelings of self-worth.

A good group can help here in three ways — by showing that these emotions are common to many people; that they are understandable as a response to powerful others at an early and very vulnerable age, not as a useful, current evaluation of the self; and that these group members care and empathise. The latter is very important. Sympathy is not needed as this feeds into the shame.

It is an emotion from the perceived strong, applied to the perceived weak and is a very personal experience. We are all born needing empathy from our mother or the significant carer in our lives as, without verbal and adequate motor functions to express our needs, we are helpless and are going to suffer unless the mother is tuned into us at a very deep level. Ideal empathy is then likely to make us, the baby, feel quite powerful as, unable to differentiate between our self and the rest of the world, we probably perceive the rapid satisfying of our need for nourishment and comfort as obtained through our own will.

This would lay the basis for a permanent, healthy need for such a connecting. The problem is, if the empathy is not there, for whatever reason, the infant and the future child will probably experience anxiety, isolation and loneliness at a very deep level. A family that uses guilt and shame to control its children will, almost by definition, be unable to provide empathic support for the growing child and will, almost as certainly, not have provided it for the helpless infant.

In this way a vicious circle can be set up where the sufferer, urgently in need of empathic connection to establish his or her viability and fundamental sense of being accepted and respected, is, because of internal conflicts, unable to establish this vital empathic bond. Caldwell points out that many of us are so overwhelmed by our own feelings that we cannot tolerate exposure to the pain or need of others. However, he points out that such a wall can easily become a fixture.

Hiding behind it, we experience little outside pain, but we also miss out on the vital, enriching interaction, emotional and intellectual, of the surrounding community.

Caldwell sees shame as the opposite of empathy, that in shame the vital affirming connection is withdrawn and this person is left only with the damaged and vulnerable self as protection against a perceived cold and threatening world. In the latter situation, the deeper the wounds and more vulnerable the self, the quicker this person falls into attack mode. This will feed in to the need to present an image of the self in a certain way.

Within groups the duality of empathy can also be a problem. That is, empathy is intellectually centred, requiring us to try to put ourselves in touch with the experience and mind-set of others; but it can also be a process by which we try to help these others connect with how we feel. In an ideal situation, this empathy requires the person to risk identifying with the other and taking his or her experience into the self prior to experiencing an internal understanding and a final drawing back to observe the responses this engenders in both.

However, if the person has problems with empathy, almost invariably due to bad early learning experience, he or she might have a flawed approach to it. That is, this person might have a very poor or even aggressively negative sense of what is required and see empathy as only one way, or predominantly one way — outward as part of a huge personal need for self-expression. If this need has elements of rage in it, or is projected by a person whose wounded character development has allowed the essential self-centredness of babyhood to linger beyond its normal life stage, it may be driven by a need for the other to experience this pain.

Hence the bad group where poisonous and rage-full venting takes the place of empathy. Even when this negative empathy is not in place, the shamed person is likely to be projecting a false image. Most work in this area states that good empathic connections can be made in later life even after an extremely adverse infancy. However it is pointed out that such connections can be very fragile. There are a number of suggestions and mitigating circumstances to be looked at when dealing with any kind of shame. He further states that the more temper, frustration, anxiety, depression and fear etc.

Eby also discusses research on the developmental needs of the individual and points out that some theorists see inner conflict and neurotic or similar dysfunction, including guilt, shame and dissatisfaction with oneself as an essential point to work from for fullest development. This has been a common occurrence within the charity over the past years. In most cases, being able to talk about the problem and the feelings that went with it, made a good start towards dealing with the pervasive secrecy and shame that such painful development engenders.

In such a situation, a good support and recovery group can be hugely useful. As discussed in other literature, none of us with children would sit down and explain to them at two years of age, what is expected of them for the next year and how we want them to act — that would be ludicrous — but we tend to do this with our wounded, defensive and shamed child-selves. A rule of thumb might be that it is difficult to over estimate the power of shame within a shamed person. A second rule might be that some people are so ashamed of their shame that they are ashamed to even acknowledge it to themselves.

Both Cloke and Shultz cite research which suggests that shame, or the mechanism for experiencing it, is born in us as a neural or biological affect, and both also point out that shame has a link to joy and pleasure so that we are at our most vulnerable to shame when something interferes with the stimulus of an ongoing feeling of pleasure, excitement or joy. In this situation, the shame response triggers very easily.

As was discussed previously, empathic connections can be made in later life, but the early wounding of original shame can leave heavy scars. Children understand words long before they can speak themselves. If the infant was never helped to understand the meaning of his or her needs by parental empathic and verbal communication then, as an adult, this person might never achieve a sense of where he or she ends emotionally and where the rest of the world starts.

'You feel like a failure': When it's time to give up your pet

The infant may give up its need to be independent, to have a true sense of self, if the parent is not giving enough of what little, but very precise, requirement the child has of the parent. Where rage, particularly the rage of a small child is perceived even in the vaguest possible way as the response to understanding this, defences go up. Cloke points out that it is never too late to recover from early shame and that learning to bridge the gap between self and others is possible at any age. Attachment to others, an acceptance that attachment is essential to all humans, is part of the answer as is the development of compassion, respect, understanding, empathy and acceptance towards others.

Guilt Tripping: What It Is And Isn't, And How To Deal With It -

In this way, people can begin the slow and painful process needed to recover. Caldwell also makes the interesting suggestion that we should attempt to change our neurotic, original and other non-acceptable shame into normal guilt not neurotic guilt. People tend to use what they have, and many people have a lot of shame. So it can be easy to work well within ones abilities be lazy or slapdash and put subsequent failure down to natural and inevitable weakness within ourselves that we choose to believe that we can do nothing about.

Acceptable guilt has internal boundaries unlike most original shame and is easily within our purview to deal with.

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And unlike shame, it is usually something we can share with others. According to Caprio, conscience is recognising the difference between right and wrong actions. It is not feelings, as in one feeling guilty about something, but the response to the decision the person makes about these feelings. This requires a broad range of information hopefully including ideas that are challenging or different, not just supportive and comforting, or from parents. The third level is the decision of conscience itself, when the person takes a moral stance.

The decision may not be correct according to the cultural majority, but it needs to be honest within the person, and thought out. Dunn discusses the severe conscious interestingly and is worth reading in full see references.

He describes the normal conscience as like an attentive teacher or guide, admonishing in a healthy way, which helps us to steer a course through the difficult area of morality. On the other hand, the punitive conscience is described as finding nothing worthwhile or of value within us, and being something that bludgeons and hammers without mercy.

Dunn goes on to say that such a punitive conscience can lead to a person hearing the concerns of others, including positive feedback in the form of warnings about conduct, as harsh and unfriendly. This type of conscience will naturally lead to the bearer expecting too much of him- or herself, trying to live up to impossible standards and almost certainly expecting the same of others. In this way, such a conscience owns the bearer and ensures that he or she is, at best, difficult to be around and learns very little from what social contact is managed.

Dunn sees such a conscience stemming from a childhood where the person is punished suddenly and harshly, or receives little positive reinforcement or praise, or where the parent or parent substitute swings between lack of involvement with the child and harsh criticism.

Dunn further discusses the ways in which families who over burden the young child can induce a severe conscience.

Single-mindedness, Integrity, and Diligence Through Grace

Dunn suggests that a therapeutic approach to dealing with such an excessive conscience might be helping this person to think through problems such as perfectionism, over-responsibility for others and over self-reliance. Anxiety Care encounters many people who deal with a pervasive but unfocused guilt or anxiety by trying to give it substance — for we can deal with, or defend ourselves against, things that we can see.

Hence the difficulty in dealing with a severe conscience can sometimes be turned outwards by the sufferer so that the whole world, or at least that immediately adjacent, seems threatening and untrustworthy. Within the charity, people suffering in this way have been helped to suspend their disbelief and to accept others at face value, rather than to blame and criticise which, as Dunn says, often occurs without reflection or insight.

Watching others in a good group respond positively time after time to something that this person for deep personal reasons needs to perceive as an attack, is very therapeutic and eventually tends to change the owner of a severe conscience for the better. Doctor Erich Fromm has produced a great deal of interesting and perceptive work. His essay on characterology might be worth looking at here with regards to the subject of conscience.

Fromm points out that character traits are necessarily moulded to fit a person within his or her culture; that the modern industrial culture required the work force to freely accept big changes in lifestyle. These included a willingness to commit much more energy to regular work, punctuality, discipline and orderliness. He further points out that these changes had to be more than voluntary — they had to be integrated as drives into personal character if they were to lead to a smooth running society. He further points out that if these natural needs are thwarted in the interaction of a person with his or her actual world, they lead to a striving by the individual for conditions that better meet these absolute requirements.