There is a sweet spot between guilt and resentment. I learned this while listening to Mario Martinez’s book The Mind Body Code. Basically, Martinez instructs you to feel for emotions within your body. If you feel guilt, then you’re probably not giving or doing enough. If you feel resentment, then you’re probably giving or doing too much. The right amount of giving is the balance between these two feelings.
I’d never heard it described this way before, but I immediately knew exactly the internal place of peace he was referring to. I had discovered this place in the last couple of years, since becoming much better at saying ‘no’ to those things I didn’t want.
At the same time as appreciating this powerful insight, I could see a problem with it: women rarely stop feeling guilty. Most of us, most of the time, are thinking about what more we could or should be doing. It’s a thought process that has been ingrained in us by a culture that categorises women as nurturers and expects us to behave accordingly. And if we don’t already feel guilty about the ways we are not meeting these expectations, we can be sure we’ll receive feedback from somewhere in the culture determined to have us fulfil our role.
I’m now better at saying ‘no’, although it’s not been easy to reach this point. And though I know the sweet spot Martinez is referring to, it often still eludes me.
I recently had an experience with someone who did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer. I continually had to stand my ground and maintain my boundaries, and I found it very challenging. I did not want to remove this person from my life altogether, but I found myself considering it several times, especially when trusted friends suggested I should.
This friend, who we’ll call Kim, wanted more of my time and energy than I wanted to give. It seemed that no matter how much I gave, she always wanted more. I was an important part of her support network and it was important for me to be there for her up to a point. Unfortunately, the amount of help she requested constantly went beyond that point and I’d feel resentful. So I said ‘no’.
She made her requests another couple of times in different ways. I repeatedly said ‘no’, believing that learning to resolve her own issues was ultimately what she needed anyway. She asked a few more times, using words that seemed designed to incite guilt in me, and I said ‘no’ one last time. Then after a disrespectful outburst from Kim, I decided to end communication for the foreseeable future.
I’ve long believed that I teach people how to treat me and if Kim was continuing to treat me like this, then I had played a role in that dynamic. I was determined to create new behaviour and results, and if Kim didn’t like it, she had the choice to go find new friends who were willing to put up with her constant neediness and disrespect.
This was not easy for me. In spite of the fact that Kim was a grown woman and had demonstrated many times in the past that she was fully capable of looking after herself, she also seemed unstable and I feared she might self-harm. But I also knew that my constantly being there to fix her mistakes was not what she needed. If it was, then the issues would have been resolved by all the previous times that I had picked up the pieces for her. It seemed the change that most needed to happen was Kim taking full responsibility for her life, rather than me stepping in to rescue her.
Unfortunately, things got worse before they got better. When Kim called a few days later, I reluctantly answered the phone and learned that she had both self-sabotaged and self-harmed with alcohol and other means of escaping her reality. In the light of day, she expressed her disappointment in having treated herself and me so poorly and vowed to behave more maturely in future.
It all sounded positive until she began expressing her disappointment at how I, her friend, had not been there for her when she needed me the most. I respectfully but very firmly told her why I didn’t agree and ended the call.
After I’d hung up the phone, I felt very curious. Something was missing. I mentally scanned my mind and my body and then realised what it was. I had no guilt.
I felt relieved that my friend was okay. And I was guilt-free.
I sat with the unusual feeling and explored it: Of course I shouldn’t feel guilty. I regularly give to many people in my life and it’s reasonable for me to stop giving when it impacts negatively on my own life and wellbeing. If I believe I have reached the point where I need to reinforce my boundaries because they are being disregarded and disrespected, I can do that without guilt.
Then, in the moment when I should have been basking in my empowerment and celebrating that perhaps I’d finally learned to value myself and respect my boundaries, something even more interesting happened… the voice of doubt crept in. That never-good-enough-no-matter-what-you-do voice in my mind rained on my empowerment parade: Well, obviously you’re a psychopath. Only psychopaths are without emotions. How could any normal, sane person not feel guilty after a friend self-sabotages and self-harms?
I didn’t know whether to laugh or get mad at myself. This guilt thing was relentless. Am I not finally empowered and valuing myself, my life and my time? Can I not live my life without drama and guilt? Are you kidding me? A psychopath? Obviously, I’m not a psychopath or I wouldn’t be having this conversation with myself. If I were a psychopath, I wouldn’t even care about being a psychopath. Oh my goodness, does this never end?
I stopped and laughed to myself. I could really drive myself mad with all this fearful self-talk! I wonder if Mr Martinez’s head goes into this kind of a spin when he’s feeling for the balance point between guilt and resentment. Or is it just me and my female friends with a high threshold for guilt?
This article is an excerpt from Dance on the Ashes by Kylie Zeal.