Guilt-Throwers Vs. Guilt-Catchers
"Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ."1
Another Daily Encounter reader asks, "I'm in my fifties and my mother is still controlling me with guilt. What can I do to stop her?"
Strange as it may seem, this woman is not alone in her situation by any means. Some parents want to control even their adult children until the day they die.
My answer to the woman was, "You can't stop your mother from being a guilt-thrower, but you can stop being a guilt-catcher."
Guilt-throwing and guilt-catching are two sides of the same coin. Guilt-throwers only throw guilt to guilt-catchers ... both are involved in "this dance of guilt" (false guilt, that is). You can't have one without the other. Both are equally in need of help. The fact is that nobody can make me feel guilty or anything else without my cooperation and permission.
What the guilt-thrower does is his problem. How I respond is always my responsibility. That is, if I am a guilt-catcher, that's my problem and my responsibility to overcome. And while I can't stop or change the guilt-thrower, I can change myself and stop catching the guilt that others throw in my direction.
To change myself I need to acknowledge my part and admit that I, too, have a problem. I'm a guilt-catcher because I probably learned it in childhood, and am afraid to say no for fear I won't be liked, or because I'm afraid of conflict. But underneath, when I allow myself to be controlled by guilt or anything else, I feel frustrated and angry!
Two things we need to do to stop being a guilt-catcher. One is long-term. The other is short-term. Regarding the long-term, I need to keep working on my own growth so that I develop a healthy self-concept so it doesn't bother me to say no to someone regardless of whether they like me or not. For immediate results, one of the most helpful things to do is to recognize immediately when someone is trying to lay a guilt trip on you and say kindly but firmly to them, "You're not trying to make me feel guilty are you?"
Of course they will deny it, but if you keep responding in this manner, it won't take long before they will stop throwing guilt your way and look for someone else who will catch it.
If you happen to be a guilt-thrower, the same principles for recovery apply. You need to get into a growth program so you can develop a healthy self-concept so you don't need to be in control of every situation in order to feel okay about yourself. Recognize what you are doing and see how harmful this is to yourself and to others and, with God's help, little by little stop doing it.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, whether I am a guilt-thrower or a guilt-catcher, please help me to see myself as You do, confront me with my character issues, and lead me to the help I need to overcome, so I will 'lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ.' Gratefully, in Jesus's name. Amen."
1. Ephesians 4:15 (TLB) (NIV).