Guilt Trap: How To Escape It

Main Course

guiltGrowing up, there were certain foods on the menus that my mother cooked for us. Some were my favourites.  Ackee & saltfish (when she could afford the latter), curried chicken served with rice and peas and of course, oxtail and beans.  Jamaican cuisine, if I may say so, is quite enticing and these dishes are among the best tasting. However, there were other side dishes on my mother’s menu. The one that would stay on my palate for ages was guilt.

Mind you, she was not a Catholic but my mother was well versed in dishing out guilt. “Catholic guilt” is a term used to identify the supposed excess guilt felt by Catholics and lapsed Catholics.” You can read more about that on Wikipedia. As for my mother, somewhere in her mind she thought that it was her duty to feed me a diet heavy with all the things that I was indebted to her. My childhood story has been shared in part before but if you missed it you can check it out here.

Guilt Trap

Until my 43rd birthday, I was caught in a guilt trap, crafted and ensnared by my mother. Please do not read this as another person shifting responsibility for her life on bad parenting. That would be jumping the gun and coming to the wrong conclusion. The contrary is true.

Having been emotionally trapped for years, feeling that I owed my mother:

  • My life
  • Every penny that I earned
  • My first-born who would be in service to her and, if he had lived, and every other child that was born to me
  • Anything that she wanted, needed or simply envied the neighbours for having.

Invaluable were the lessons learned from paying her every bill for over a decade.  Unable to buy some of the essentials that my immediate family needed because of that, I had no savings for my daughter’s college education.

The Gift That Keeps Giving

American novelist and humorist Erma Bombeck, is often quoted on guilt: ‘Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.’ How right she was. For, when you suffer from guilty excesses, you are likely to simultaneously suffer from fear of disapproval, shame, embarrassment, depression, anxiety, and self-downing.” Russell Grieger, Ph.D.

guiltDr. Grieger was absolutely right, at least in my case. My trap was finely threaded with all of those emotions along with low self-esteem. There was also a lack of self-confidence that I artfully masked with a bravado. I could have won an Oscar nomination were we living in Hollywood.

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Many if not all of my relationships – intimate, professional and even several platonic ones – suffered or plain out died.  The wounded child in me had no psychological support, adult guidance or spiritual compass to help me heal.

Wounded Healers

The first window to healing, at least the first that I recognized, came in my mid thirties at a New Thought sanctuary in Kingston, Jamaica. Sawing the lock on my guilt trap commenced as I learned to question the fables told to me. They were ‘stories’ about my responsibility for the  downward spiral of my mother’s life and the strong suggestions, demands even, to rescue her.

My healing heated up after we migrated to Canada. Physically separated from her but only a telephone demand away. Things got so bad for me emotionally that I would dread Sundays. Panic attacks ravaged my body and psyche until Monday mornings when the chances of a call from her for that week dissipated.

Through chaplaincy training and later psychological and spiritual counselling after suicide attempts, the trap was finally destroyed. My dark night of the soul brought me light.

It was then that I could honestly, fully and fearlessly live my life – at 44+ years of age. Only then, my mess really became my message. Part of that message is shared with you today. How to destroy any guilt trap you might still be ensnared in.

An essential step in this process is letting go. I have shared several posts on this subject. Check them out here. As well, the book that I am still reading, Care Of The Soul, will help the process along. Buy a copy through this link which will take you to my Amazon Associate page.

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Escaping The Trap

Below is a working table that I created to help you (and myself as always) take control of your journey. It will also help you release yourself from any guilt trap – either existing or ones in the making. Feel free to adjust or adapt as you see fit.

Guilt Trap©

Identify those who would ensnare you and use these statements to set yourself free. Adjust or adapt as needed.
Parents* You owe me
* I didn't have the chances but made sure you did
* You are being ungrateful
"I am grateful for all you have done for me, however, I will be (doing this, going there, unable to ....) for my life, my welfare, etc.
Siblings* You were always the favourite
* You were luckier than I was
" You and I know that is not true, that everything that I have today came about from my hard work, etc
Spouse* I need you
* But, you are my wife/husband
* I have no friends
"I love you very much and want nothing more than for you to be happy. I want to support you however I can but some things you have to do for yourself..."
Employer* You are salaried
* So many people are looking for work now, you are lucky to have a job
* You have to be a team-player
"I am grateful for this opportunity and really enjoy the work we do here together. However, I am also committed to my (family life, integrity, self-respect, personal development, etc)

As always, should you need further support or to continue the conversation elsewhere, you can contact me through my Facebook page or use my coaching services.  Subscribe and receive an update of my weekly post!

Free yourself from guilt, today and forevermore.

Claudette P. Esterine

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26 thoughts on “Guilt Trap: How To Escape It

  1. I’ve never dealt with guilt from family, but since I’ve started focusing more on my business and our recent move I feel little guilt jabs from friends. Things about me not having time for them, etc. After laughing I clearly state that we are working with a timezone difference and that I have work to do. We can schedule a time to talk that is convenient for both. Nooooo…..I should accommodate them, even if that means wee hour talks. Nope, not happening.

    1. Ms Claudette

      I know exactly what you are going through. People want you to prove your “love” of them by hating on your own life/agenda/priorities. Certainly, for our lives to be whole, it is important to be rounded and have others be part of our experience but not at the expense of your dreams. Much love to you and all the best with your endeavours!

  2. I live by freedom statements. I don’t let people control my mind and make me feel guilty. Only I can make myself feel guilty about things, but I have such a wonderful support system that talks me out of those thoughts immediately!

    1. Ms Claudette

      That is wonderful Gigi! You are truly blessed!

  3. CourtneyLynne

    My mom is queen of laying out the guilt. Swear she plays victim more than anyone I know lol….I’m convinced that’s why I grew up to be the total opposite.

    1. Ms Claudette

      Quite possible, very likely although I can tell you that at points throughout your life you will see yourself doing things like her. 🙂

    2. OMG My Mom was the ame RIP, I love her for what she did for me and for the gift of life…I now know I am fully responsible for my success.

      I love the Freedom statements Claudette. Such a deep post. I had to read it again, a portion of it ws like my own life in text eh!

      1. Ms Claudette

        We are one Julie. 🙂

  4. My mother is famous for the guilt trips. She is a wonderful cook, but also a food pusher. I know she means well but it doesn’t help me any when I have battled my weight my entire life. She is good at other guilt too. At 61 years of age, I don’t see her changing.

    1. Ms Claudette

      No, it is hard to change such behaviours, especially when the person thinks and firmly believes they are doing it for your good. Thanks for sharing Chrystal. 🙂

  5. Nicole Escat

    Guilt is a hard thing, but it can be overcome. Thanks for sharing this, you are so nice!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Awww….thank you! Yes, guilt can most definitely be overcome. Thanks Nicole.

  6. wendy

    Wow! I was in awe when I read this because I have realized how much that goes on in our society. I have heard people I knew do this to their kids. Guilt can make someone bend to someone elses will and seems to stifle you in the process. Thank you for writing a wonderful post.

    1. Ms Claudette

      And thank you for reading and leaving a comment. Yes, many people/children are living through this right now and my only hope is that someone will show them how to get from under the burden.

  7. Elizabeth O.

    What a tough situation to be in. I don’t understand why parents do this to their kids. If you made kids just so you can have them work hard to support you in the future, that’s seriously just wrong. My kids don’t owe me anything, I brought them in this world, it was my choice and not theirs, why should they owe me their life. That’s heartbreaking.

    1. Ms Claudette

      In fairness, maybe they had the same thing done to them and so the cycle keeps going. I think this is so because I catch myself at times, very infrequently wanting to go there with my daughter 🙂 I pull back immediately – because, when you know better you do better. 🙂

  8. My whole family are uber catholic, and the guilt trip is a favoured tool in their arsenal of keeping one in line. Have to admit though, I’m one of those who just didn’t care. Perhaps for other reasons. I have not set foot in a church, or bent my will to others, or allowed their voices in my head. I’m weird, I know, but it can be done.

    1. Ms Claudette

      You are not weird, you are free, using the talents you were endowed with to live YOUR life! I truly commend you! 🙂

  9. It sounds like you have really done the work of introspection. Always good to know more about yourself and your motives and things like guilt that get in the way.
    Carol Cassara recently posted…What to do about privilegeMy Profile

    1. Ms Claudette

      It indeed is Carol! Thanks for the visit. 🙂

  10. Wow! Thank you for your transparency in this post. This is an awesome testimony and shows that the guilt CAN be overcome!

    1. Ms Claudette

      Thank you Taria and yes, guilt is not something anyone deserves or need to wear unnecessarily. 🙂

  11. Love this. So often we are held captive to others because of guilt. We must learn to turn the guilt around and off of us so we can move on with our lives and needs.

    1. Ms Claudette

      You are so right! We have to have the strength of will to so do. Thanks for the visit. 🙂

  12. Guilt is a very powerful motivator, and most of the time erroneously so. My husband has spent his life trying to get out from under the guilt his parents heaped on him. Like yourself, he too is learning to live for the first time. 🙂

    1. Ms Claudette

      It is such a tremendous weight to carry! I am so glad to hear that your husband is living his way through it. Namaste

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