Verdict: Not Guilty

I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was much younger I was in a relationship with an older guy for more than five years. He wasn’t a bad guy, but it was a very bad relationship for me that left me feeling trapped and has contributed to many of the issues I still have today.

At a time in my life when that should have been carefree and fun, I was miserable.

I cried myself to sleep way too often.

I tried to disassociate myself from the situation and numb my feelings by developing maladaptive coping behaviors I (unfortunately) still rely on today.

So why did I stay when a couple months in I knew that something was off?

It’s complicated, but aside from the fact that I was young and not 1/100th as strong as I am now, the main reason I stayed was the guilt. Everyone around me was jealous of such a “great catch,” and I was convinced that something was wrong with me for not feeling the same way towards him as he did about me. I didn’t trust my own feelings and came to view them as less valid than those of anyone else.

So as miserable as I was, I stayed.

Needless to say, that breakup was a huge breakthrough—I moved on immediately—and I’ve grown leaps and bounds through the years. And while I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned to manage emotions much better and have certainly built up a strong sense of self.

But sometimes guilt still crops up, be it a subtle ache or a stab in the chest.

It’s rarely guilt over actions. Experience has taught me that feeling guilty in those situations gets me nowhere fast (or perhaps more appropriately, it sends me backwards.)

It’s usually guilt over emotion, at sometimes not feeling things that I think I should feel — which is entirely as screwed up as it sounds. You don’t need my examples, as everyone has those things they feel they “should” be feeling or doing if only to make someone else happy or satisfy some societal norm.

But lately I’m learning to let go—of the past, of the “shoulds,” of the guilt.

Because if I’ve learned nothing else through the years, it’s that a) hitting the garbage disposal instead of the light switch at 2am will cause me to crap my pants and b) guilt serves no purpose.

It fills my mind up with doubt instead of acceptance of things as they naturally are, and when I make decisions just to make someone else happy or because I feel I “should”, it usually just leaves me miserable.

While I know I’m not one of those people that can completely let go — I’ll always be a “thinker” and entirely too sensitive — I remind myself that while I can change my behavior when needed, I can’t change what I feel at my core.

Which, apparently, is the need to include the phrase “crap my pants” in this blog post.

But my point is that years ago I vowed never to feel trapped again. While at the time I meant it in terms of a relationship with someone else, I’ve come to realize that it applies to the relationship with myself more than anything.

Guilt is a self-induced trap.

We all have the choice to let go.

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33 responses to “Verdict: Not Guilty

  1. Ugh, what a sucky place to be in. Glad you got out of that, lady.

  2. First step is knowing yourself right? I too am a thinker. I love it but hate it.And so I thought this post was interesting for the simple fact that you knew something within existed and was able to acknowledge your actions because of it. consciousness is a beautiful thing but sometimes unconsciousness is just as beautiful…meaning sometimes we think so much that we start to doubt what we actually feel except when your acting unconciously your true self shows! Enjoyed your post

    • “Sometimes we think so much that we start to doubt what we actually feel.” You captured it exactly, and much more succinctly than I did!

  3. This is such a beautifully written post! And there’s so much truth in it. I’ve blocked myself for many, many years by feeling guilty for things I had done or hadn’t done. You can’t be happy with something just because you “ought to” be happy with it. If it doesn’t make you happy, that it doesn’t. It’s so easy. I’m also learning to let go.

    • Thanks for stopping back by again, Kath! And yes, if it doesn’t make you happy, then it doesn’t. No analysis needed sometimes.

  4. Perfect! All emotions can be traps. It’s learning to trust that you know what you need that frees you. Well done.

  5. Wow! You certainly have gained a lot of insight and express it well!

  6. “I remind myself that while I can change my behavior when needed, I can’t change what I feel at my core”.

    As you know, I too, am a thinker and very sensitive, and like butterflies7474 above, I love it but hate it. Sometimes, I wish I could just switch my brain off, instead of analysing myself all the time – I get to the point where I often doubt what I am actually feeling.

    You’re right, it’s about letting go.

    Thank you for such an insightful post.

  7. I had a similar issue, only replace “old guy” with “insane guy.” So much fun. Oh the years I want back!!

  8. This post really spoke to me. I like to print articles, essays, posts that I really like or mean something so I can keep them all together in a neat little binder and read them all together and this post is going in the binder. 🙂 As serious as the subject is, the garbage disposal comment made me laugh. I am so glad my switch is behind my microwave.

  9. Great post, Abby, and just what I needed to hear this morning. I’ve been having a bit of an identity crisis lately. Mainly because of work. My boss told me not too long ago (and tells me fairly often) to be “true to myself.” She feels that I’m not being myself at work and that I need to let go of doing that. So I try to start being more “myself” or at least the self that she thinks I am. I get chipper, happy, a better attitude in general. Then my coworker tells me that she doesn’t think I’m being myself anymore and that she doesn’t know who I am anymore. I have a feeling this might be an endless circle of who everyone thinks I should be…I’ve been guilted into thinking that there’s a certain ME that I’m not being and so I try to change to please others. Truth is, I AM myself. I’m always myself and relying on the guilt of not pleasing others with my one true self is getting me nowhere fast. In fact, it’s making my life pretty damn miserable.

    I may have taken this in a direction you didn’t intend for it to go, but guilt rears its ugly head in a number of ways. And for a people-pleaser, it often drives your life. It’s driven mine for way too long.

    Thanks for the pep talk, Abby.

    • Nope. Your direction is spot-on, as everyone has their own “shoulds” and things they feel guilty about. Just remember that you don’t need to “try” and be more yourself–you just need to “be” yourself and not worry how others will see that. You’re you, and as long as you’re happy with that, that’s all that matters. It’s not selfish. It’s self-awareness.

  10. This post made me a little uncomfortable, because it’s me and perhaps I’m not slightly as in control of the situation as you are and I want to feel guilty for that. That’s how I know that you’re not just an amazing writer, but an amazing person, and I thank you.

    • I really appreciate your comment, as you know I respect and value you as a friend, but “in control of the situation” is giving me a bit too much credit. 😉 I still really struggle with this in a lot of areas of my life, but writing about it reminds me that when I slip back into that “shoulds” mindset, I only feel trapped. It can be hard to remember that we have a way out, and that while we’re finding our way out, we might have to deal with some guilt. Ironic, eh? But in the end, it’s worth it to remember that only you can make you happy and it’s not your job to worry about how others will feel about your decisions all of the time. It’s not comfortable, but it’s freeing 🙂

  11. I too was in a relationship with an older man. I stayed because his daughter was going through a personal hell, in and out of psych wards diagnosed with serious stuff I can’t even spell without the spell checker. But I felt trapped. So trapped. He controlled everything about me, my life, my friends. It’s no wonder his daughter kept my phone going all night with emergency calls!

    I left him but kept her. We are now each other’s guardian angels. I can’t hate him because it’s thanks to him I found her. Like you I promised myself to never allow traps to build around my life whether I built them or outsiders did. But I also found out that most times when we do find out we’re trapped, it’s because we’re really caught in it.

  12. Yeah, it’s hard when you are young to really trust your gut, especially when all outer influences are contradicting those feelings. Good for you for finally listening to those inner voices. I think we learn from our mistakes, if we are lucky, and it sounds like this was one you made and adjusted accordingly. That is the only way to get through this crazy and confusing life. And paying attention to those inner red flags is a good starting point.

    • Yes. It was a long, long time ago, but it was a good point of reference for this post. Live and learn…and then remind yourself that you have to relearn a lot of the same things over and over 😉

  13. “guilt serves no purpose.” You got that right. It’s taken me years to learn that as well. And sometimes I need a reminder.

    From what I’ve read on your blog and in your book, you’ve done an amazing job learning from your life lessons. And, you rock. That is all.

  14. switch this subject to “mother” and it would be identical to what I feel.

    Guilt: what we SHOULD do, we apply it to ourselves even though we may have unique one in a million circumstances.

    Trying to be kinder to myself, more forgiving as I enter this 2nd half of my life.

    I love your posts…makes me feel less alone.

    xo

  15. I get confused a lot because I don’t feel the way I’m “supposed” to. I often worry about what’s wrong with me more than what I actually feel. That’s approaching the issue from the wrong end, which brings this thinker a lot of grief.

    We’re very much alike, you save me a lot of writing.

  16. I know exactly what you mean. I was in a really toxic relationship, also with an older guy, for about 2 years and breaking it off was the hardest, and best thing I’ve ever done.

  17. Thank you, Abby. I really, REALLY needed this at exactly, precisely this window in time.

    Sometimes it’s hard to remember that my feelings and assessments are at least as valid as everyone else’s, even if they are the “elders” – that sometimes, I really am the “grown-up” in a situation, regardless of who’s older, and that sometimes, there is a huge chasm between “I hurt for you, and I have compassion for your situation” and “I owe you trust and/or a relationship,” and refusing to volunteer myself for emotional abuse and manipulation doesn’t make me disrespectful, it makes me mindful. I can’t/won’t go in to details, at least not here (and not yet), but just thanks.

    Completely uninitiated, totally-not-even-about-me-and-my-situation validation from someone you respect is often the best kind 🙂 You rock. ❤

  18. We were just talking about watershed moments in our lives at my book club. I have a feeling this might have been yours. No matter how functional anyone seems, he or she has issues and things that have gone through. For a long time I harbored the guilt over feeling like I should want a child. It’s taken a long time to move through that. Life is a process. Sometimes I wish it could be easier.

    • Yes. As I said, it was more than 10 years ago, but it’s a good point of reference for me when I start to question my motives with things and my own feelings. Half the time I don’t know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want. In some ways, that’s just as powerful.

  19. Very well said. I’ve wasted years of my life on feeling guilty over what I should or shouldn’t feel in a given situation, and the older I get the more I realize, I have nothing to feel guilty for.

  20. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

    So insightful. I definitely feel you on this one. It’s because of everything that’s happened in my life thus far that I choose not to feel guilty, embarrassed or regretful. Stuff happens, and that’s just our life, beating ourselves up about anything is never going to be an effective solution.

  21. I could really relate to the not trusting your own emotions. i have gone against my instinct a few times and it has always led to bad things. Great entry. Good read. I posted mine on http://www.writereadrepeat.com

    Erica

  22. This is the kind of post that makes me keep coming back for more. And it’s the kind of post that most (but I’d bet all) of us can completely relate to. I’m going through what Jen talks about above and even though I know I can and should (haha) let it go, it is such a struggle.

    Thanks for the inspiration to keep working on letting the guilt go.

    Are you sure you aren’t a therapist?

  23. Fascinating post.

    I spent almost 5 years with someone who was 21 years older than me, from ages 21-25 or so. It sounds like a different story than yours, though I do also know exactly what it’s like to be with someone who is “such a great guy,” and yet not be happy. It never works. Good for you for reminding us that you can’t love somebody because of the way they love you, or because they’re “such a catch.”

  24. Yep, I’m there with you! I like to keep “spares around, especially if there’s risk of them going extinct. I always have two blow dryers in the house, two toothbrush heads, two pairs of this wooden carving of a man in a barrel (when you take the barrel off, he’s completely naked) – a souvenir from a vacation. I feel way more “in control” of life if I feel that I am prepared for emergencies…like a naked barrel man shortage? You get the point. And don’t even get me started about lip balm or gloss. Last time I took inventory, I had 7 at work, 6 in my purse and double digits around the house. Most are the exact same, I just can’t ever need one and not have one on hand.

  25. 1) I totally relate to this situation – both the older dude and the guilt. 2) This: “Because if I’ve learned nothing else through the years, it’s that a) hitting the garbage disposal instead of the light switch at 2am will cause me to crap my pants and b) guilt serves no purpose.” is the best sentence I’ve read all day!

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